A few years ago, when Warner Bros. announced that they would follow up Man of Steel with a shared cinematic universe of movies based on DC Comics characters, it got a mixed response from fans. Some were excited to finally see the Justice League on-screen together, while others called the idea a shameless rip-off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And then with the disastrous releases of Batman v Superman and Justice League, the fan reactions have only gotten more and more mixed.
The DCEU has a lucrative opportunity to rival the MCU, but it’ll need to make some changes first. (And bear in mind, there are still plenty of things it’s doing right.) So, here are 5 Things The DCEU Needs To Change (And 5 Things It Should Keep The Same).
The way that Zack Snyder characterized Superman in Man of Steel bothered a lot of fans, because it was completely unfaithful to the character as we know him. He was the personification of Snyder’s love for Ayn Rand’s tenets of objectivism; he wasn’t the bright, colorful, all-America hero whose only gripe is that he can’t save everyone who needs saving that we know and love from the comics.
It’s clear from interviews that Henry Cavill is a massive fan of Superman and would probably do the character justice if the writing and direction did the same. As it stands, this generation’s Superman is gloomy and mopey and angsty and it’s a total bore.
The initial DCEU movies – specifically the ones directed by Zack Snyder – for criticized for being too dark and gloomy. They were attempting to replicate what worked about Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies, but it felt empty. It was just a dark tone for the sake of a dark tone, and aside from Batman, it didn’t suit any of the characters.
One of the few wise changes made to the franchise by Warner Bros. in the wake of the initial criticisms was lightening up the tone. Films like Aquaman and Shazam! with a nice, light, breezy tone (without sacrificing any emotional weight) have been far more effective and enjoyable, so they should keep on that track.
In Batman v Superman, we were promised a post-apocalyptic future in which Darkseid had dominated the world and Batman was battling Parademons and an evil Superman. We were also promised a prequel story in which the Joker murdered Robin and tagged his costume with graffiti.
We were also promised a storyline in which the Flash went back in time to warn Bruce Wayne about the coming of Darkseid and the murder of Lois Lane. They stopped the movie in its tracks and distracted from its own plot, but at least they were teasing some exciting future movies. There were also plenty of sequel setups in Suicide Squad. But now, it seems clear that none of those Easter eggs will be paid off. It’s disappointing to get invested in something and have it continually rebooted.
Warner Bros. have found far more success with DCEU movies that have barely any links to the other ones, like Wonder Woman and Aquaman. These movies feel true to their own vision, with Patty Jenkins and James Wan (respectively) being given the freedom to make movies that stand on their own more than the cookie-cutter MCU solo movies that are better when considered part of a collective whole.
Wan made Aquaman feel as big and important as something the MCU would spend years building towards, like Infinity War, but it was just because Warner Bros. let him put all his cards on the table and run with it. The DCEU should have some connective tissue, but standalone movies are working wonders for the franchise.
Fans have noticed that the action scenes in the DCEU don’t stack up to the action scenes in the MCU. They’re far less memorable, for one. But a lot of those fans have struggled to put their finger on exactly what one is doing right and the other is doing wrong. At least a big part of it is DC’s lack of character moments.
It makes the scenes feel interchangeable with the action in any other CG-ridden blockbuster spectacle. The one exception to this rule is the fact that Batfleck nailed Batman’s precise fighting style better than any previous big-screen Dark Knight. Other than that, the action sequences are bland and impersonal, and as a result, forgettable.
The MCU didn’t feel truly fleshed out until, after introducing the best-known characters in Marvel’s roster like Iron Man and Captain America (at least the best-known ones they had the rights to), they started bringing in obscurer characters (back then, anyway) like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Black Panther.
While the DCEU started off focusing on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – the holy trinity of DC Comics – it has since brought in Cyborg, the Suicide Squad, and Shazam. Introducing lesser-known characters is exciting for comic book fans who never thought they’d get to see them on the big screen and a great way to develop a wider universe.
So far, the villains of the DCEU have been generally underwhelming. The MCU is criticized for its “villain problem” more than the DCEU is, but that’s only because the DCEU has so many more problems than that, whereas it’s sort of an isolated issue for Marvel.
In Wonder Woman, the villain Ares represented everything that the titular hero stood against and fit into the plot thematically, but other than that, DC’s villains have left a lot to be desired, from Jesse Eisenberg’s laughable Lex Luthor to the entire roster of Suicide Squad minus Harley Quinn. There is hope in this department, because Margot Robbie’s female-fronted supervillain ensemble Birds of Prey and Joaquin Phoenix’s Scorsese-flavored Joker solo movie might go some way towards fixing this problem.
Warner Bros. kicked off the DC Extended Universe with a very distinctive visual style curated by Zack Snyder. It wasn’t to all fans’ tastes, but at least he had a clear vision and he stuck to it. The same could be said of other DCEU directors: Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins, Aquaman’s James Wan, Shazam!’s David F. Sandberg.
The studio is clearly putting a lot of trust in its directors as they focus more on standalone films and not on building an intricately devised universe like Marvel (aside from the movies by James Gunn, Taika Waititi, Joss Whedon, Ryan Coogler, and maybe Jon Watts, the MCU movies feel like they could’ve been directed by anyone). This is a good idea and they should continue trusting in the vision of their directors.
The biggest problem with the DCEU and the reason it keeps losing the attention and love of fans is that it keeps rebooting itself. A lot was established with Ben Affleck’s older Batman and now that he’s out and he’s been replaced by the younger Robert Pattinson, Warner Bros. are throwing it all out the window. They’re also rebooting Suicide Squad, recasting Jared Leto’s young Joker with Joaquin Phoenix’s older one, they’re on the verge of rebooting Superman and the Flash, and it doesn’t seem like they want to consider Justice League canon anymore.
They need to stop rebooting all their characters and storylines, because fans who invested time in the original ones feel like they wasted it. Warner Bros. screwed up a lot of the early DCEU movies, so some things did need a reboot. But what they need to do now is nail Pattinson’s Batman, Phoenix’s Joker, and James Gunn’s Suicide Squad reboot and then stick with them and build on them so no one’s time is wasted.
Batman v Superman set up a deeply interconnected universe of films – one that would perhaps be even more interconnected than the MCU – with sequel setups and Easter eggs taking over from the plot every few minutes. No one is suggesting that the DCEU should go back to this, but it shouldn’t distance itself from interconnectivity too much either.
The roster of characters that Warner Bros. have under their belt has the potential to make up a universe that’s as engaging and investable as Marvel’s. It just needs to do the characters justice and flesh out their arcs in the same way that Marvel did with Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Thor Odinson. Fans do want to see these characters on-screen together, just in good movies.