DC Comics' cinematic universe got off to a very rocky start. While fans exist for Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad they weren’t universally loved, critically or even commercially. It wasn’t until Wonder Woman that things began to change. It really does seem like Diana’s first movie will be turning point for the DCEU as the buzz around Justice League is positive.
Wonder Woman is the peak of DCEU’s achievements so far but it’s not the only highlight. Even if there are flaws with most of the DCEU’s line-up, they still managed to pull off more than few things correctly.
Some elements have been lacking, for sure, but it’s not all a mess. By and large, when the DCEU sticks to the comics or at least tries to honor the source material, that’s when things go the best for them. The closer the movies gets to the comics, the more “right” everything seems and feels. The further they stray, that's when the problems emerge.
Regardless of the qualities of the overall movies, these are some of the best and worst individual elements of the DCEU. It might seem like cherry picking but the goal is to show that not everything in the DCEU has been a failure before Wonder Woman. The DCEU appears to be hitting its stride but it’s most being reminded of the highs (and lows) so far.
Here are the 10 Things The DCEU Did Right (And 8 Things It Completely Got Wrong).
18 Right: The Amazons
Wonder Woman stands as the shining star in the DCEU’s current filmography for a number of reasons. When it comes to judging the movie just based on it honored the source material, the portrayal of the Amazons must be noted and praised.
Diana’s warrior sisters can be very tricky to pull off because they are such a bundle of contradictions. They are peaceful people, who won’t hesitate to chop off their enemies’ heads. They're completely isolated from mankind and distrust them, but they don’t necessarily hate them. Wonder Woman took all the mess and wrapped it all up into a layered and interesting culture.
The contradictions of the Amazons aren’t distracting in Wonder Woman. Director Patty Jenkins and everyone else making the movie understood that those contradictions are what make the Amazons fully-fledged characters and flawed human beings. The flaws make them real.
17 Wrong: Batman Kills (A Lot) of People
The DCEU is not unique for turning Batman into a killer (or at the very least a “manslaughter-er”). Bruce Wayne has killed people-- or let them die-- on the big screen before, but in Batman v Superman the murder was particularly evident and outlandish.
It was there for a reason for it, as the movie was about Batman redeeming himself. This doesn’t change the fact that BvS went a little too far in taking their Batman over the edge of darkness.
Batman killing so many people in BvS (and using a gun) was visual shorthand for showing how brutal he had become as a vigilante. It was also a betrayal of the character that made an already dour film even drearier. Batman’s "one rule" of no killing might be pretty flexible but the DCEU could have introduced a slightly less killer Batman.
16 Right: Superman's Status as an Alien
The DCEU hasn’t done a whole lot right with Superman, which is absolutely no fault of the actor Henry Cavill. If given the opportunity and the right direction, Cavill would be a perfect Superman.
The issue is that the DCEU has stressed and presented the Big Blue Boy Scout in the completely wrong light. However, the one element of Superman that Zack Snyder has been interested in (and done superbly) is the character’s status as an alien.
To make Clark Kent more relatable, the fact that he’s an alien from a dead planet was stressed heavily in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Both movies made sure to emphasize Clark’s isolation and the sadness of wanting to be a part of humanity but always been held at arm’s length.
Typically Superman's status as alien is either brushed off or embraced to the point of camp, with the DCEU this element of the character has been kept in a grounded and emotional reality.
15 Wrong: The Suicide Squad Feeling Dangerous... At All
The Suicide Squad are bunch of criminals-- mostly killers-- who are recruited by a shadowy government organization under the threat of their own deaths. They’re supervillains of the worst kind and incredibly dangerous people. In the movie though, almost every sense of menace was taken out of the characters.
The cinematic Suicide Squad don’t feel at all dangerous. They function like any other superhero team. There’s some lip service to them being “bad guys” and wanting to cause mayhem but it never really materializes. Everyone’s much more of a lovable misfit than a dangerous criminal, which shouldn't be how things work.
The Suicide Squad are unique because they are such pure anti-heroes. They might be sympathetic and empathetic but they’re not cuddly and misunderstood, which is exactly how the movie portrayed them.
14 Right: Understanding the Importance of Lois Lane
The DCEU movies have understood the importance of Lois Lane. To a casual comic book fan, Lois might seem synonymous with the “damsel in distress” archetype. Serious fans (and the DCEU) knows that Lois is much more than the woman that needs to be saved by Superman.
Lois is more than Superman’s girlfriend. She’s his partner and equal in every sense of (both) words. Lois is many ways the ultimate example of humanity. The same way Clark represents the ultimate superhero / alien. Clark often feels like he has to measure up to Lois, not the other way around.
Amy Adams’ portrayal full covers this aspect of the character. Lois has been the heart of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman (especially in the latter’s Ultimate Edition which has her story included in full and not chopped up into plot hole filled pieces). There’s been many Lois Lanes over the years but few are as confident and magnetic as Amy Adams in the DCEU.
13 Right: Alfred and Bruce's Relationship
In the movies, Batman might not always have a Robin but he always has an Alfred. Bruce Wayne’s butler and de-facto father has been a staple of every cinematic Batman. While it’s arguable if the newest Batman and Alfred are the best iteration, they’re definitely among the best of the DCEU.
The clever thing about Alfred is that although he is wholly loyal to Bruce, he doesn’t often approve of his actions. In previous Alfred adaptations this disapproval comes out in the most harmless ways possible, with sassy asides and bitter remarks. With Jeremy Irons’ Alfred during BvS there’s a real sense of his frustration and hopelessness throughout the movie.
Alfred never really approves of Bruce’s plan to go after Superman and subtly tries to nudge him in a different direction. Yet, in the end, Alfred will always be devoted to Bruce. It's this dichotomy and contradiction that's the heart and hook of their relationship.
12 Wrong: The Rivalry Between Batman and Superman
There are tons of ways Batman v. Superman could’ve taken the title fight. Batman and Superman are two of the three core pillars of DC’s universe but they do butt heads nearly as much as they join together. It can’t be helped. Batman and Superman come from two very different ideologies of super heroics. It’s ingrained deep within them.
Yet in BvS, all of this complexity and depth wasn’t explored except on a surface level. Batman and Superman didn’t fight because of their opposing viewpoints or because of a personal conflict that had grown out of proportion. They were manipulated and coerced into it by Lex Luthor.
The building blocks are there in BvS for the real complexity of the rivalry to come out but they were buried in building too much of the rest of the universe, introducing Wonder Woman and the controversial (and silly) “Save Martha” twist. Batman v. Superman isn't a total failure but it missed the mark of the movie's most important relationship.
11 Right: The Abusive Relationship Between Harley and The Joker
Suicide Squad made more than a few characters look much, much different. Nearly every character in Suicide Squad looks more grungy, grimy (and like they shop exclusively at Hot Topic) than they did in the comics. While these looks might be strange, in personalities Suicide Squad did get a lot right about the characters.
This is especially true with Harley Queen. Margot Robbie did a fantastic job bringing Harley Quinn to life in a way that felt modern and fresh but the film particularly nailed Harley’s abusive relationship with The Joker. While Jared Leto’s Joker received (rightfully) mixed reception, Suicide Squad did portray their romance as twisty and abusive as it is in the comics.
There’s few moments in Suicide Squad, besides the torture scene, where things get very violent between them. Yet there’s an undercurrent of manipulation and psychological warfare every time they are together. Harley and Joker’s romance might be popular but it’s a mad and twisted love.
10 Wrong: Lex Luthor (and Almost Every Other Villain)
Lex Luthor is the best / worst example but the DCEU has a real problem with its villains. DC Comics has the best rogues gallery ever but all the movies have churned out is two passable but barely notable villains (Zod and Ares). Every other central antagonist in a DCEU movie has either been straight out of evil central casting or nauseatingly annoying.
If Jesse Eisenberg was playing a different character in BvS, his twitchy and manic performance might be more bearable. Eisenberg is, however, dreadful Lex Luthor and that holds true for most of the other villains. They just don't live up to the hype.
The DCEU has had no interest in developing their villains into anything approaching a developed character. From Enchantress to General Ludendorff and Doctor Poison, the villains have been little more than human shaped obstacles.
9 Right: The Tragedy of Deadshot
Even though he’s relatively prevalent, it’s easy for most comic fans to dismiss Deadshot. In generalities, he’s just another assassin in the DC Universe. Yet the thing that DCEU understood (and hardcore fans know) is that Deadshot is much more than just another Deathstroke clone, despite the similarity in their names.
While Deadshot’s job and skills aren’t that interesting or unique, he does shine for his personality and backstory. Deashot is a hired killer but he’s also a father. Despite of his profession he’s a pretty good dad too. Suicide Squad has many faults but Will Smith’s portrayal of Deadshot and the emphasis on the fatherly angle wasn't one of them.
Suicide Squad had an interest in telling and exploring Deadshot outside of his mask, mainly because he was being played by one of the biggest movie stars ever, but there was also a respect for the character. The DCEU wanted Deadshot to come across as a tragic and sympathetic character and they succeeded.
8 Wrong: A Depressed Superman
Tragedy and grimness works on a lot of characters in DC Universe. It doesn’t work on the character that the DCEU has been pushing the most depressing material on: Superman.
If Henry Cavill was able to inject a little bit more of own personality into his Clark Kent and Superman, the character would immediately jump up to the best portrayals ever. However, the DCEU has mired their Superman in moping as much as humanly possible.
It's not that Superman can’t be in dire and dramatic situations. It's just that Superman should be the light in that darkness. The interesting part of Superman is how he can be so optimistic and well-natured in the face of mounting obstacles. Superman is meant to inspire hope but Snyder’s hero was nearly as drab as the melodrama surrounding him.
A depressed Superman is like a Batman whose made peace with his parents’ death or a male Wonder Woman, it simply doesn’t compute.
7 Right: Making Steve Trevor Worthy of Wonder Woman
They might not have as long a love affair as Clark Kent and Lois Lane but Steve Trevor was Wonder Woman’s first major love interest and he’s been an important part of her life ever since. Yet despite the history of Steve Trevor, the character hasn’t always seemed like a perfect match for Diana.
Steve Trevor should be Diana’s equal and someone who respects her (and her power) fully but that hasn’t always been the case. The best versions get this aspect of the character right and Chris Pine’s portrayal in Wonder Woman is one such version. Chris Pine is not only tremendously charming as Steve Trevor, it becomes clear very quickly why this literal goddess would be attracted to him and fall in love.
Steve Trevor is in awe of Diana almost immediately but their dynamic always feels on equal footing. Neither one of them is objectifying the other in any way and they have wonderful give-and-take, balancing each other out.
6 Wrong: Jonathan Kent's Horrible Superhero Advice
The DCEU’s Superman is very mopey but he does always try to the do the right thing. Clark’s heroic nature is something that is ingrained in him and impossible to shake.
Normally this sense of responsibility and compassion comes from his parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. In the DCEU it just seems like Clark was born with it because he’s getting next to nothing from Jonathan Kent.
Rather than Jonathan and Martha being the people who inspire Clark to put on the cape, his parents stop at almost nothing to dissuade him. Jonathan actively campaigns for Clark to hide his powers. It’s coming from a place of love (and fear) and it’s not an entirely uninteresting character motivation, it’s just not Jonathan Kent.
Jonathan and Martha should represent the best of humanity. They should lead by example proving to Clark that every single person is worth saving. Instead the DCEU Jonathan is so mistrusting of the outside world, that he makes his son watch him die in a tornado, just so he won't expose his powers.
5 Right: An Interesting Batman AND Bruce Wayne
There have been many great Batman portrayals. However, there have been almost no good Bruce Wayne portrayals. Almost every cinematic Batman adaptation has treated Bruce as a chore to get to the “good stuff” of Batman. Ben Affleck’s time in the role has created a character who is equally interesting, whether he’s inside the cowl or outside of it.
There are really three layers to the DCEU character, which is the right way to ho. There’s Bruce Wayne as the public playboy persona, Batman (of course) and the more complex mixture of the two, the “real” Bruce. It’s such a delicate character balance to pull off but it’s something Ben Affleck has been doing wonderfully.
The character draws attention and is the source of action while on-screen, whether he’s punching criminals or not. Batman is far more than just the cape and cowl. The man underneath matters just as much (if not more) than the myth.
4 Wrong: All of Superman's Supporting Cast (Minus Lois)
Superman truly has one of the best and most underrated supporting casts in comics. Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and Lana Lang aren’t just familiar names, they're fantastic characters with a wealth of history and story attached to them. That impression would be completely lost, though, from watching any of the DCEU films.
Neither of Zack Snyder’s Superman films have shown any real affection or respect for Superman’s family and friends, outside Lois Lane. Jimmy was killed off as “fun moment” in BvS, Perry (and actor Lawrence Fishburne) has been reduced to spouting catchy headlines as “jokes,” and Lana is present but barely more than featured extra.
It is Clark’s co-workers and friends who make him more human and give him something to believe in as a hero. In the DCEU, Clark has Lois, his mom, and pretty much no one else.
3 Right: Everything About Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is the best character in the DCEU, by quite a large margin. Wonder Woman’s live-action cinematic portrayal has been a very long time coming but the DCEU delivered, in a huge way.
Wonder Woman is a tough character for many people to bring to life because of how much history and contradictions seem to be there. Wonder Woman’s central idea of peace through “loving submission” can go very awry, very quickly. However, the DCEU combined the efforts of director Patty Jenkins, actress Gal Gadot and many others into a near flawless Wonder Woman.
Diana is compassionate, optimistic, caring and terrifically magnetic. The DCEU took almost every single positive aspect of Wonder Woman’s long history and put into one complex and imminently watchable character. Wonder Woman made Gal Gadot into a star and convinced everyone there's much more to Wonder Woman than just being the "female Superman."
2 Wrong: The Death of Superman
There is a ton of plot threads stuffed into Batman v Superman, some of which are resolved by the time the movie wraps up and others which were planted there for Justice League and beyond. It’s a little messy but most of it ends up coming together. This is except for one major twist, the death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday.
The Death of Superman isn’t one of the greatest stories ever told but it’s an important one in comics history. It’s a tale that needs a whole movie to be properly explored and to have real dramatic weight to it. BvS really just tacked it on to the end of the third act with no real grace.
Superman’s sacrifice and the subsequent mourning over him is full of great acting, but it lacks any real depth. It feels like a box is being checked off which should never be the feeling associated with the death of a major character. The fact that it’s going to last even shorter than the “death” in the comics, with Superman set to return for Justice League makes it an even bigger mistake.
1 Right: Batman as a Detective and Fighter
Nearly as many actors have stepped in the role of Batman as James Bond. Each as brought an element of the iconic character to life. Michael Keaton perfected the mythical feel of The Bat, Christian Bale got the grittiness down pat and even Adam West incorporated parts of the comic into his portrayal.
Few portrayals-- and no live-action versions of the character-- have balanced Batman as the “world’s greatest detective” and one of the most accomplished hand-to-hand fighters like Ben Affleck’s Batman.
As much as Batfleck spent Batman v Superman punching out criminals and literally snapping necks, the movie also showed off Batman’s detective skills. Batman was equal parts investigator and martial arts master. It was so refreshing and so very right.
The casting of Ben Affleck was met with a lot of anger and confusion. Yet for all Batman v. Superman’s faults Ben Affleck’s Batman was a creative home-run, managing to be a fresh and faithful take on the character.
What have been your favorite (and least favorite things) about the DCEU so far? What do you think the movies have done right? Sound off in the comments below!