The Changing Tonal Tide of DC Films: A Sentiment Analysis

December 13, 2018 9:16 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Having previously looked at the emotional occurrence within DC film posters , I wanted to take a look at whether WB/DC films had changed their tone from the initial slate of Man of Steel (2013) to Justice League (2017) and how this compared to the Kurt Vonnegut theory of a successful story. The article will then forecast the graph of the new DC release of Aquaman (Staring Jason Momoa)

At this point, it’s important to point out that this article will be based solely on the screenplay dialogue and will not take in to account, due to availability, the screenplay scene notes or additional detail to character dialogue.

Kurt Vonnegut , Shapes of Stories

A video by Kurt Vonnegut (below) shows a theory of successful stories on a basic curve, showing beginning and end, against good fortune and ill fortune.

This will set the scene for this article …

Although any sentiment analysis gives us the overall return of the sections of the screenplay, it does not (as mentioned earlier) take in to account the impact of talent associated with the film, the cinematography, the real-world trending topics or the budget of the film.

For this task, I will be using Indico API to complete the analysis and return a sentiment value to Python. Here, a sentiment score of 0 is very negative, 1.0 is very positive and 0.5 is neutral.

To test out the API, let’s take a quote from Man of Steel (2013):

Jor-El: You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

The API returns a value of:


Is this score reasonable? Yes, I think so.

Let’s test it with something that would be expected to give us a reading from a little lower down the scale:

Bruce Wayne: that guy brought the war to us two years ago. Gosh, Alfred, count the dead. Thousands of people. What’s next? Millions? He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s a ONE percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty… and we have to destroy him.



So how does the API work? Well, according to their website:

The sentiment analysis API abstracts the machine learning process into an API call, so you can use a pre-trained model on any input text. Send a list of strings, get back a list of scores. It is optimized to be fast, robust, and “accurate enough” (90% accuracy on IMDB), so it is well suited to the task at hand, where we want to score many samples across a story.

To look at the sentiments (positive, negative) within each of the DCEU films, I will analyse each of the scripts from Man of Steel, Batman v Superman (Theatrical Cut), Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League.

A Python algorithm will read each screenplay and use chunks of words, to form a window of overlapping samples. This will give an data range for each screenplay, which can then be illustrated within a simple graph.

Let’s start off with:

Man of Steel (2013)

What does the synopsis say?

With the imminent destruction of Krypton, their home planet, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife seek to preserve their race by sending their infant son to Earth. The child’s spacecraft lands at the farm of Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent, who name him Clark and raise him as their own son. Though his extraordinary abilities have led to the adult Clark (Henry Cavill) living on the fringe of society, he finds he must become a hero to save those he loves from a dire threat. [Sentiment rating: 0.9476607110433547]
Overall, the synopsis is showing a highly positive outcome with a 0.95 sentiment analysis. Again, reasonable, when taking in to account the number of high impact words.
Man of Steel Director, Zack Snyder, continued where Christopher Nolan left off, creating a visual, dark, gritty and grounded live action comicbook movie. We can see grounded practice throughout the graph shown below. We start on Krypton, Kal-El is sent to earth, Krypton’s is destroyed.. Kal-El battles General Zod before finally being welcomed to The Planet by Lois Lane.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Theatrical Cut 2016)

It’s been nearly two years since Superman’s (Henry Cavill) colossal battle with Zod (Michael Shannon) devastated the city of Metropolis. The loss of life and collateral damage left many feeling angry and helpless, including crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, Batman embarks on a personal vendetta to end his reign on Earth, while the conniving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches his own crusade against the Man of Steel. [0.6379907994647595]
Batman v Superman (Theatrical Cut) has received a lot of criticism for being too negative and depressing. The synopsis shows a more neutral return with a 0.64 sentiment analysis score. However, it’s important to point out that this was always meant to be the case.
The graph below shows that the screenplay illustrates a building of positivism during the middle part of the film. This is then followed by a steep decline at the later part of the film. This is where Kal-El dies from the injuries inflicted by Doomsday. The first half of the film does not show as much of a positive return as Man of Steel. It would be interesting to see the return on Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman Ultimate Cut.
I must say, that I was surprised with the size of the positive peak within the return. However, as mentioned before, the screenplay and dialogue is only one element that can create emotion and sentiment for the audience.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Figuring they’re all expendable, a U.S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated supervillains for a top-secret mission. Now armed with government weapons, Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc and other despicable inmates must learn to work together. Dubbed Task Force X, the criminals unite to battle a mysterious and powerful entity, while the diabolical Joker (Jared Leto) launches an evil agenda of his own. [0.9726448670951787]
After the negative criticism of Batman v Superman, WB/DC Films seemed to have returned to a more positive synopsis with Suicide Squad.
Although the dialogue may have returned low sentiment values, there is a large amount of pop music within the film which, as a viewer, may increase the positive feeling and emotion when watching the film.
The graph below shows a very positive start and end, with a very low negative score for the second and third quart of the film. Although, when taking in to account the nature and task of the Suicide Squad, this may not be surprising.

Wonder Woman (2017)

Before she was Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, Diana meets an American pilot (Chris Pine) who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny. [0.9881691220318172]
Zack Snyder spoke to Screenwriter, about the difference between Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman.
“She offers a unique opportunity to speak to what it is to be a strong, powerful, independent woman. It’s a glance that is necessary in the world, as well as the way that we represent heroes onscreen. Having that equal representation of male and female energy is really important to me. I love that there’s a purity to Wonder Woman. She doesn’t have the broken past, she’s not seeking revenge on people that wronged her. She can just be a hero”
We can see this difference within the graph below:

Justice League (2017)

Fuelled by his restored faith in humanity, and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly-awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes in Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash, it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions. [0.9606022830859511].
Unsure where to begin with Justice League (Joshice League). I guess the best place to start would be the graph below. A very positive trend throughout…
The graph appears to closely resemble Vonnegut’s “man-in-a-hole” story plot (see below), but with an extended start (positive) and shortened middle (negative). The last quarter is also very positive.
Results of Justice League:

Putting them together …

I think it’s fair to say that, even on dialogue alone, Justice League returns a significant increase in positivity throughout the film and a reduction in negative dialogue.

When we compare the different DCEU screenplays, we can see that even though they start off at different points, they all have a very similar middle section. There’s a big hump of positivity, which is proceeded by a drop in negativity, including loss, tragedy, and difficulties.

However, this is an exception to this – Suicide Squad. This seems to build positivity during the screenplay with the last part being more positive.

We can conclude, based on the dialogue within the screenplays, that WB and DC films are moving towards a more positive releases, possibly in an attempt to reach a wider audience? or compete with Marvel?

Whatever the reason, I’m sure we can expect a similar trend within the release of Jame Wan’s ‘Aquaman’.

This is what James Wan told Collider:

WAN: … I feel like the good thing about having something that isn’t really established is I get the opportunity to set the world, set the tone, set the flavor for who this guy is and the world that he lives in. That’s what we love about superheroes, right? We love that they represent the best part of who we want to be, right, what we strive for and what we aspire to be.

Let’s revisit the final trailer …

What do you think? Has there been a change to the theme and tone of WB/DC films? Let me know what you think either in the comments below or on the contact page.

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This post was written by noxford

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