Being a DC fan can be frustrating at times, especially when it comes to the movies. As a fan of all things DC and Marvel, it’s disappointing to see one struggling in its cinematic universe, while the other breaks records. The most frustrating issue with the DCEU is Warner Bros’ inability to make the right choices. There are many ways the DCEU could’ve panned out, but it seemed right from the start there was no plan. Here is our critique of the DC Extended Universe.
Man of Steel
Directed by Zack Snyder and released in 2013, Man of Steel served as the opening of a shared universe. Now, honestly? I always believed Man of Steel was a pretty good movie, except for one major flaw. The message at the end of the film leaves a sour taste for almost any Superman fan. The idea that we have a Superman so early in the universe who killed was not the right choice. One of the essential qualities that Superman breeds in the comics is that he doesn’t kill. He believes in saving a life, not taking it. The problem didn’t only affect Man of Steel, though – which leads me to my next point.
The idea of instilling a Superman that was even partially okay with killing, especially when it was so early in building the DCEU tarnishes what we know about Superman’s morals. My problem with this doesn’t end in Man of Steel, though. The problem continues in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice where Superman had an issue with Batman because of his brutality and that he kills. Just one movie ago, Superman killed Zod, and now he has a problem with Batman killing? Had Man of Steel established a Superman who was an avid believer in not killing, no matter the circumstance, it would make sense for Superman to have an issue.
Batman v Superman.
While Man of Steel had its issues, it did things well for the most part. At the least, it introduced Superman to us and fleshed him out as a standalone movie should. The most significant issues of the DCEU could be traced to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This movie should not have even existed at this point. Instead of shoving Batman into what should’ve been a standalone Superman sequel, they should’ve introduced Batman in his movie first. The fact that our introduction to Batman is of him mostly being a secondary character is a massive problem because we don’t know this version. After all, he is a veteran vigilante who had at this point, lost Robin. It was almost like being thrown into a movie halfway through and be expected to fill the holes ourselves.
This wasn’t the only problem, though. We hadn’t adequately gotten to know Superman yet. Sure, we had our first standalone movie for Superman at this point, but we don’t know enough to root for the guy. Instead of having a film which focuses on two of the most prominent DC characters, give us a sequel to Man of Steel. A sequel that tests Kal-El not just in another physical challenge, instead, give us a villain that would test Superman’s mentality and intellect. Who better to do that than Lex Luthor? We didn’t need Doomsday, Batman or even Wonder Woman. Just a Man of Steel movie that tests Superman in a way that no other villain could. This way we’d have more time to build a connection with Cavill’s Superman, instead of focusing on Batman.
One of the more significant issues of the DCEU is the poor casting choices for some characters. Of course, my mind naturally jumps to Jesse Eisenberg, Jared Leto
Which leads me to the choice of Jared Leto as The Joker. Of the three choices, this is the one I had some hope for. Leto is a good actor when given a good script, but Suicide Squad left no room for him to shine. Unlike both Jesse or Ezra Miller, Leto wasn’t given much screen time to prove his worth. However, when he was on screen, it was a letdown as David Ayer never understood how to write Joker. His version never felt menacing, and quite frankly, Joker should never be a side character in an ensemble movie like Suicide Squad. He should’ve either been the main villain or not be introduced in a SS movie.
Justice League… but not really.
I know I said most of the issues could be traced back to BvS, and I stick by that. However, the biggest failure was Justice League whether it was because Snyder dropped out of the movie, or because of Warner Bros’ interference. This movie came far too early into a universe that wasn’t remotely fleshed out. Releasing this movie before we even had Cyborg, Aquaman or a Flash movie was a mistake. For those three characters, it was our first time seeing them. We had no reason to care for them, no reason at all to be excited. While the movie tries to build those three characters, it doesn’t do it well. Traces of Snyder and Whedon didn’t mix well in the film and it was noticeable through the tonal changes. JL would go further in messing up by giving us an awful main antagonist, Steppenwolf.
Unlike The Avengers, Justice League didn’t reuse an already fleshed out villain. Unlike Marvel, DC/WB hadn’t introduced at least half its main characters before giving us a massive ensemble movie. Steppenwolf is one of the worst villains in a superhero movie for one reason. No character development. Nothing about him was exciting, and the fact that our first JL villain was a CGI alien didn’t help. Compared to Loki in Avengers, Steppenwolf had no personality, no wits or adequate motivation to make us understand him. Perhaps carrying Lex Luthor over from a Man of Steel sequel into a Justice League movie would’ve been the smarter approach. This way, we’d have a fleshed out villain, Superman would be familiar with him and therefore, making this fight more personal.
Surprisingly enough, Aquaman did well in the box office, and most people ended up enjoying the movie. Aquaman was a desperately needed win for DC/WB. James Wan truly understood the character and translated so much of Aquaman’s lore exceptionally well into the movie. Jason Momoa was always enthusiastic about playing Arthur Curry; but he didn’t have much to work within Justice League. Thankfully, Momoa was set free and given tons of material where he could express himself. Along with the great cast, the action and tone were great. With its fast-paced action and a rather simple story, the movie never feels boring. However, moments of clunky CGI did, at times, affect the mood of certain scenes. Proving yet again that WB is still struggling with perfecting the special effects.
However, as good as Aquaman was, the problem was more with what the DCEU had already established. There was a disconnection between Aquaman and Justice League. On the one hand, that’s a good thing because it allows the movie to focus on itself, rather than the universe. On the other hand, disconnecting Aquaman from the world raised questions. The most significant example of this was that this movie made it out as Mera and Arthur had never met. This was rather odd especially as the film takes place after the events of Justice League. However, later in the movie, Mera mentions Steppenwolf to Arthur. Inconsistencies like these are essential to avoid, especially when the DCEU is only slightly finding some footing.
Zachary Levi is the perfect choice for Shazam. This isn’t a movie I loved; however, it was a fun movie. Shazam, as we immediately knew from the trailers, was always going to be a goofy/campy movie. What I believe this movie did well was not focus on the superhero aspect. Instead, a focal part of the film was Billy’s reaction to the powers he would obtain. Too many superhero movies nowadays carry the message of being responsible that they usually forget the question people almost always ask themselves when watching an origin story: “What would I do if I had powers”.
Nevertheless, Shazam does have a villain and a story that mostly leads Billy into being a “hero”. Personally, that’s when this movie fails. Nothing about Dr Sivana seemed interesting, and his motivations were cliche. The story of Billy finding his mother was nothing special but was necessary for Billy to grow as a person and further appreciate his orphan family.
Arguably the best movie of the DCEU for many fans out there. Patty Jenkins did a great job fleshing out Diana, as well as the side characters of the movie. The relationship between Steve and Diana clicked immediately and was one of the stronger aspects of the movie. However, as good as the movie was in telling its story and developing Wonder Woman, it fails in its villain and third act. These are two issues that the DCEU is all too familiar with and Wonder Woman didn’t do much to break out of that habit. David Thewlis as Ares was never the right choice as he just never had a threatening vibe to him. The take on Ares in Wonder Woman felt almost cartoonish and it was hard to take him seriously.
Something Wonder Woman didn’t do well was building Themyscira. There wasn’t much of Themyscira in this movie, and it’s a shame because it could’ve been fascinating to learn about. However, the movie becomes too concerned with getting away from the Amazon-filled island and focuses on Diana’s journey to the outside world. That’s when this movie exceeded as it was incredibly fun to watch Diana reacting to regular aspects of life. All in all, a good film with a weak third act and an under-developed villain, while suffering as another example of bad casting.
The DCEU had suffered hard blows, especially when it came to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Justice League. However, it seems they’ve found some footing with Aquaman, Shazam and Wonder Woman. Going forward, the DCEU needs to make sure they’re focused on building a well-thought universe. Currently, what we have is a world that’s still attempting to balance, but one mistake could be problematic. Now is the time to take advantage and focus on big character movies. Working on movies like Birds of Prey isn’t what fans want. Instead of trying to establish three main characters, excluding the villain, they should be focusing on individual character stories.