For Warner Bros., the DC Comics universe is still an untapped gold mine. They’ve made plenty of amazing DC adaptations before, and plenty they’d like you to forget. But the true goal is a shared cinematic universe — that’s where the real money lies. Since 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel Studios has basked in the success of their own superhero cinematic universe. DC Entertainment released Man of Steel in 2013 in the hopes of creating a successful universe of their own.
The DC Extended Universe (comprised of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman thus far) has not been met with the same critical and financial success as Marvel’s. With some of the weirdest and most controversial design choices that even comic book fans weren’t prepared for, we’ll be looking at some of the more divisive DCEU developments based on the backlash they received, as well as some moments that are downright embarrassing.
By no means is the franchise a complete failure, but there are some casting, writing, and marketing decisions that just don’t add up. There’s always room for improvement, but these bewildering controversies can’t be erased. They may own some extremely popular characters, but brand recognition alone won’t earn them success. Here are 16 Most Controversial Things The DCEU Has Done.
16. Killing Jimmy Olsen
Jimmy Olsen — a young reporter at the Daily Planet and good-natured friend to Superman — actually exists in the DCEU. He isn’t a young reporter in this universe, however, but instead a government agent sent to pose as Lois Lane’s photographer in Batman v Superman. If you missed him, don’t worry. His name isn’t even mentioned in the theatrical release of BvS other than in the film’s credits. If you missed the credits, it doesn’t even matter; terrorists (the ones he and Lois were sent to interview) find a tracking device in his camera, and he is immediately killed.
Nobody was clamoring for a “comic-accurate” Jimmy Olsen, but this narrative choice seems silly. Why did he have to be Jimmy Olsen in the first place? It seems like a pointless Easter egg, especially considering he could always just be an unnamed extra at the Daily Planet. This interpretation of the character is edgy for no reason, and audiences wouldn’t even recognize him like this anyway. Oh well. Sorry, Jimmy!
15. A Grittier Superman
Man of Steel has a handful of issues that divided audiences. The most obvious is the film’s tone, which lacked the hopeful themes and aesthetic most people associate with the blue boy scout. The color palette is washed out, the inspiring messages are muddied with angsty moral ambiguity, and Superman himself never seems all that heroic. Instead, we see him disregard collateral damage comparable to some of the world’s worst natural disasters.
This can be attributed to director Zack Snyder’s interpretation of the character, as well as influences from the darker Superman: Earth One comic series. While a modern interpretation of Superman has its merits, it just didn’t mesh with audience expectations and the classic themes of the character. His rebirth in the upcoming Justice League film may help ameliorate this tonal issue, but nothing can change his gloomy first outing.
For the uninitiated, Flashpoint is a DC comic story arc that deals with the Flash experiencing alternate versions of the universe — and that is putting it simply. While not a direct reference to the Flashpoint storyline, the concept is heavily hinted at in Batman v Superman when the Flash appears to Bruce Wayne through a portal following the infamous Knightmare sequence. The scene plays out as if Bruce was dreaming, but it clearly suggests the presence of the Flash and his ability to move through dimensions via the speed force.
The controversy here is in the context. Hinting at something so obscure for mass audiences so early in the franchise makes little sense. If they wanted to set up the Flash’s standalone project, some hints would be appropriate, but this is ridiculous in the context of the film. It isn’t explained, and it hasn’t yet payed off. Comic fans might get the gist of it, but for most viewers, it was a weird and vague scene that killed the pace of the movie.
13. Doomsday? Already?
If you know anything about Superman comics, you probably know that Doomsday is bad news for our hero. He’s the end-all, be-all of Superman villains. Doomsday’s most well-known appearance comes from the infamous arc “The Death of Superman” and is probably not something that should be adapted so early in the franchise. Apparently, the folks behind BvS decided “Why wait?”, and did it anyway.
Not only was this a controversial choice for the still-new Supes’ second major villain encounter, but now the villain has been used on film and that cannot be undone. The same way that Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn or Heath Ledger’s Joker are still fresh in our minds, it would annoy audiences to reuse or re-adapt Superman’s most dangerous villain any time soon. His appearance in the film was disappointing and a missed opportunity in the eyes of many. Sadly, the trigger has already been pulled, so anyone hoping for a live adaptation of “The Death of Superman” might have to settle for the animated one.
12. The Death of Superman
Speaking of which — yeah, that happened. Similar to the use of Doomsday, Batman v Superman (this Man of Steel’s second appearance, mind you) kills off Superman in its third act. Clark sacrifices himself in the battle with Doomsday to save the world, which makes complete sense.
The controversy here is twofold: it’s way too early to adapt a storyline with such finality, and audiences have not yet learned to truly care about this iteration of Superman. Very few were shocked to see him die fighting Doomsday, and even fewer were shocked when the film hints at his resurrection. Did anybody really think DC would kill off their most prominent character in their brand new cinematic universe? Whose bright idea was this?
Perhaps his death may have yielded some emotion solely based on brand recognition. Even then, he’s clearly not dead because he’s clearly in the Justice League, and we’ll obviously see him again. A truly powerful moment was wasted for no good reason.
11. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
Thankfully, this slightly controversial casting is all but irrelevant after the massive success of Wonder Woman. Upon the news of her casting, Gal Gadot was somewhat of an unknown quantity. She had only played small roles beforehand, which naturally put her acting talent into question for many fans. Her appearance in Batman v Superman was the highlight of that film for some, but she still wasn’t given much of a chance to shine. The first major adaptation of the character was important for her mainstream success, and Gadot needed to live up to the iconic and powerful role set before her.
If you’ve seen her debut, you know how silly anyone was to worry. Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince is graceful, strong, kind, heroic… and she kicks tons of ass. Her casting might have made for a controversy at the time, but Wonder Woman as we know her now is not. Unless you’d call being totally awesome a controversy.
10. The Many Cuts of Suicide Squad
Editing troubles are not uncommon in the filmmaking process, but sometimes, they can become alarmingly major issues. In the months leading up to the release of Suicide Squad, rumors arose that the film had been re-cut to better resemble the music video style of its trailers and marketing. These rumors began to affect the buzz around the film’s release. Director David Ayer himself asserted that the theatrical release was in-fact his cut of the movie, but skeptics were unsatisfied.
This fire was only further fueled upon the film’s debut, as it was met with a critical bashing — one of the many issues being the movie’s bizarrely shoddy editing. On top of this, there were reportedly lots of scenes that didn’t make it into the theaters, specifically ones featuring Jared Leto’s Joker, who was featured heavily in the marketing. In the end, Suicide Squad received an extended cut for home releases anyway (almost none of which featured the Clown Prince of Crime), but reports of behind-the-scenes drama in the editing room were pretty rampant at the time.
9. Batman’s Okay With Murder Now
Batman has often been perceived as a violent yet non-lethal vigilante. He’ll break some bones, maybe put a guy in a hospital, but he isn’t a murderer outright. If you’ve nitpicked the character enough, you’d probably spot some debatably lethal encounters, especially in his live-action films. In BvS though, Batman isn’t so discreet. He blatantly kills a number of faceless henchman: sometimes with guns, sometimes with cars, one time by kicking them into a small room containing a live grenade.
This vicious new interpretation may not sit well with every fan, but despite his arguably murderous big screen history, he’s certainly never been as deadly as it is in Snyder’s film. Why is it that he’ll kill everyday thugs, but not his own villains? Technically that question is yet to be answered, but if he has no problem ending ordinary lives, how is he going to justify letting the Joker live? Or Mister Freeze? Or Scarecrow? Or any of his notoriously dangerous and violent antagonists? It’s bad-ass, but still very bizarre characterization for a guy who’s supposed to be a hero.
8. Superman Kills Zod
It’s one thing for Batman to be extra violent, but Superman? Like Batman, the Man of Tomorrow has been portrayed in plenty of different ways, and not all of them make him out to be the golden boy-savior as his reputation may precede. In Man of Steel, Zod threatens a family with death via laser vision. Superman, with Zod in a headlock, has seemingly no other option to diffuse the situation other than to kill the villain.
The scenario seems a bit contrived; and in a film that already boasts a darker, grayer Superman, his very overt killing just rubbed audiences the wrong way. It isn’t the first time Supes has killed, but this is the most flagrant display of violence the character has committed in mainstream entertainment. We see Clark’s pain and remorse afterwards, but after knocking down most of Metropolis, his reaction doesn’t do much to soften the moment.
7. The Infamous Email
The first film to really boast Warner Bros.’ new DCEU, Batman v Superman had to provide a sense of depth with world-building and cameos. The most important cameos — the members of the Justice League — were highly anticipated. Although, instead of cameos that naturally flowed with the pace of the film, they come all at once, in email attachments of all things.
It feels contrived and, much like the Flash’s speed force visit, it appears in the movie at the cost of pacing. Diana Prince opens the email from Bruce Wayne and sees four attachments, each containing a video clip of a future JL member. They’re even color-coded with each hero’s logo printed on it, oddly enough.
She opens the files and we’re treated to a taste of each hero, but with no real relevance to the movie we’re currently watching. It may have provided cool fan service, but it’s unwieldy sequence in an already choppy film, leaving fans to wonder why this is how the DCEU chose to introduce their core franchise characters.
6. Joss Whedon Replacing Zack Snyder on Justice League
Largely responsible for the DCEU’s house style, Zack Snyder was set to continue the franchise as the director of the upcoming Justice League. Fans were shocked when it was announced he would be stepping down from the project due to a family tragedy — the loss of his daughter to suicide. Snyder left to spend time with his family and mourn his daughter’s passing. His motivation for leaving is an admirable one, as nobody should have to suffer such heartbreak.
The real controversy came afterwards, as he was replaced by none other than Joss Whedon, director of the massive MCU hit, The Avengers. Many fans and critics see the two directors as stylistic opposites, which put Justice League‘s future into question. Whedon’s fans anticipate the potential levity in the visuals and dialogue, while Snyder’s fans were afraid Whedon would infringe upon the dark and gritty style already in place. We won’t know the effects of this production change until it hits theaters, but reports already claim that Whedon may have deviated from Snyder’s original vision.
5. Batman v Superman (Yes, the film itself)
You’ve already seen a lot of BvS-related entries on this list, and this is precisely why. Prior to its release, the hype around it was off the charts. The world would finally see the two most popular comic characters in existence share the silver screen together. DC’s cinematic universe was finally born, and people couldn’t wait to get a taste. This meant we would get Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, the Justice League, and so much more — the news was squeal-inducing for fans everywhere.
And then… Batman v Superman was released.
The high hopes for many were dashed at the sight of poor critic reviews, bizarre casting choices, weird pacing, and an all-around dull franchise entry. The movie has plenty of fans and passionate defenders; certainly many that love the film just for the sake of the implications above. Sadly, the overall consensus just wasn’t the explosive welcome that fans were hoping for.
4. Not My Lex Luthor
Perhaps the most interesting casting choice in the new franchise, Jesse Eisenberg was chosen to portray Superman’s greatest nemesis: arrogant business mogul and hyper-genius Lex Luthor. The classic interpretation of the character was mostly tossed aside for a version that was younger, quirkier, and very unstable.
Hints of classic Lex appear throughout — in his wardrobe, his motivations, even in the eventual loss of his hair — but Eisenberg’s portrayal did not go over well with fans. His twitchy, over-the-top demeanor felt more akin to the Riddler than it did to Lex Luthor. This new interpretation was so maligned by audiences that reports claim he may have even been cut from Justice League, though the extent of his role is unknown. Better writing and direction can fix this, but don’t expect the sour reaction to his performance to fade away any time soon. He’s one of their most important villains, after all.
3. The MARTHA Moment
Sorry, we’re still on BvS. We’re almost done though, we promise.
The climax of the battle between Batman and Superman was… unexpected. As Bats stands atop Superman’s throat ready to end the fight once and for all, Supes pleads with him to save his mother, Martha Kent. This comes in the form of the word “Martha”, which throws Batman into a furious stupor since his mother’s first name is also Martha.
What’s supposed to have been a moving moment — one where Batman would suddenly grasp the extent of Superman’s humanity — is instead awkward and unintentional comedy. Batman screams “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!” several times before Lois Lane explains the confusion. Needless to say, this sequence became the target of many jokes and parodies. Because having mothers with the same name is apparently a great way to diffuse tension.
2. The New Joker
From the moment Jared Leto’s Joker was revealed, reactions were divided. Heath Ledger’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime is still beyond iconic, and the spotlight on the a new Joker meant tons of scrutiny and criticism. Accompanied by the new visual design, with tattoos head-to-toe as well as the grill and purple trench coat, it wasn’t exactly the look most people were expecting.
Fast forward to the marketing push for Suicide Squad, where we were met with a litany of Joker-related controversies. Leto’s method acting was a highlight, with reports of creepy on-set stunts like sending other cast members bullets, live animals, and… used condoms? His performance was also a popular topic, as supposedly his work was groundbreaking. The Joker was also ever-present in the marketing for Suicide Squad, which would come to mislead audiences, since he’s barely in the film.
The attention on Leto’s Joker seemed to amount to nothing. But one thing set the internet ablaze with controversy like nothing else has before or since. And by now, you probably know exactly what it is…
1. Ben Affleck As Batman
Not since Heath Ledger’s casting as the Joker have fans of movies and comics been so outraged. Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader himself — what a divisive choice. He’s had plenty of success in the past few years, but nothing was too sacred to hold against him when this news went public. Gigli is still a punchline in cinephile circles, and his involvement in 2003’s Daredevil is a major blight on his resume to this day, especially since it’s in the superhero genre. To say the choice was unpopular is a serious understatement.
It doesn’t end there either. Even now, in the middle of his tenure as the Dark Knight, he is constantly the subject of controversy. He dropped out of directing The Batman, now helmed by Matt Reeves. His hanging up the cowl is also in question, with rumors about stepping down from the role becoming a common occurrence in the movie space. And let’s not forget that timeless Sad Affleck meme.
He’s only portrayed Batman in one film thus far. He hasn’t won everybody over just yet, but the consensus on his performance was generally positive. Maybe audiences just have to get used to the Batfleck.
Do you agree with our list? There are plenty of DCEU fans out there, and not every franchise is perfect. Be sure to leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!
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