With the DC Expanded Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe currently going head-to-head on the big screen, it couldn't be a better time to be a superhero movie fan. However, it would be impossible to suggest that both franchises have been equally successful. The DCEU has shown several impressive displays at the box office - most notably with Suicide Squad - yet the critical reception to the three movies in the series has been decidedly more mixed.
There have been many attempts to pinpoint exactly why the DCEU films have been falling foul of critics. Some believe that the franchise's dark tone in comparison to other franchises causes the movies to come across as too serious and heavy. Others have claimed that the series prioritizes visual aesthetic appeal over genuine substance and story-telling which leads to attractive, yet shallow and unfulfilling, narratives.
In a new video essay however, YouTube personality Patrick (H) Willems states that the biggest problem with the DCEU is actually the characters. In the clip, Patrick presents his argument using examples from all three movies in the franchise whilst also making comparisons to examples of effective characterization, not just in the MCU, but in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy. Essentially, Willems believes that the DCEU has, thus far, failed to give audiences a central character with clear motivations and goals and strong character development over a proper story arc.
The essay's in-depth look into the characterization of Superman in Man of Steel and Batman V Superman and the entire cast of Suicide Squad is both well-argued and evenly balanced - with the video also highlighting some of the franchise's strengths. Perhaps surprisingly, Patrick is of the opinion that Suicide Squad actually came the closest to giving movie-goers a fully fleshed out character arc with the likes of Deadshot and Rick Flag, but goes on to suggest that this potential was ruined by poor plotting and the decision to relegate Flag to a supporting role.
Whilst many detractors of the DCEU would agree with the argument presented in the video, an equally strong claim could be made that the franchise's biggest problem is actually its stories, rather than its characters. Similar to the Suicide Squad example, Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne had the potential to be a strong character in Batman V Superman and - as Patrick himself claims - was set up with a clear motivation for disliking Superman. This initial promise was swiftly neutered, however, by the film's increasingly muddled narrative and poor pacing - in the theatrical cut of the film, anyway (the Batman V Superman Ultimate Edition is another story).
Whatever your opinion of the DC Expanded Universe, it's difficult to argue that Willems' video doesn't have some merit. After all, a movie featuring both Batman and Superman should've been one of the cinematic events of the decade but instead polarized opinion in a way few superhero movies have done. Fortunately, as the video alludes, the upcoming Wonder Woman has a chance to set things on the right course if it gives its protagonist a clear character arc that explains her reasoning for breaking the rules of her people and aiding the rest of humanity.
Source: Patrick (H) Willems
- Wonder Woman (2017) release date: Jun 02, 2017
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Cyborg (2020) release date: Apr 03, 2020
- Green Lantern Corps. (2020) release date: Jul 24, 2020