The DC Extended Universe has faced a lot of flak over the years. Thanks to the ham-fisted world-building, tonal inconsistencies, and unnecessary cameos crammed into each other’s films, the critics have branded this franchise a shambles. But it’s not a total mess – there’s been good things, too.
Some might even say the DCEU is unjustly maligned and that there’s a lot they’re getting right. The franchise is about halfway between shamelessly imitating the Marvel Cinematic Universe and breaking off on its own and figuring out what it should be. So, here are 4 Things The DCEU Is Doing Right (And 6 It’s Doing Wrong).
10 WRONG: BATMAN AND SUPERMAN ARE MURDERERS
Superman doesn’t kill. He does not kill. That’s one of his things. He has a red cape, he’s from the planet Krypton, and he doesn’t kill people. So, it was a major betrayal of the character when Zack Snyder decided to have him murder General Zod at the end of Man of Steel. Is he insane? And then he went and made Batman a murderer in Batman v Superman, too. Batman’s a little different.
He’s killed before in the comics, but only under extreme circumstances. In the DCEU, he uses guns and kills people like it’s totally normal and it’s just not characteristic of him. We get that he’s supposed to be a bitterer, darker, more violent Batman than we’ve seen before, but there’s other ways to show it.
9 RIGHT: CASTING
Most of the criticism levied at the DCEU is aimed at things going on behind the scenes: direction, writing etc. The actors rarely get any flak, because the franchise has been cast well. Jason Momoa turned Aquaman from a laughing stock into an undersea warrior who fills more seats with his first movie than Batman did with his last movie. Gal Gadot empowered women across the world and managed to overshadow Batman and Superman in a movie called Batman v Superman.
Ezra Miller does a great job of playing his Barry Allen both faithfully and separate from Grant Gustin’s TV version. Margot Robbie saved Suicide Squad from being completely unbearable with her intoxicating turn as Harley Quinn. Ben Affleck’s Batman was spotty, but he’s out now.
8 WRONG: VILLAINS
Some people say the MCU has a “villain problem,” but it’s nothing compared to the DCEU. Does anyone actually remember anything about Doomsday or Steppenwolf or Zod or Enchantress other than their general terribleness? Even the Lex Luthor and Joker of the DCEU are forgettable.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Luthor as a rip-off of Heath Ledger’s Joker and Jared Leto plays the Joker as a straight-up psycho when he should be a cold, calculating, intelligent psycho. When you’ve screwed up DC’s two most iconic villains, your DC movie-verse has a villain problem.
7 WRONG: HUMOR
With the exception of a few fish-out-of-water gags in Wonder Woman, the humor in the DCEU has always fallen flat. Batman v Superman was criticized for being humorless, but no humor is better than bad humor. Warner Bros. tried to cram as many jokes into Justice League as they could – including Aquaman’s creepy, out-of-character objectification of Wonder Woman – and it just smacked of desperation.
The movie turned Batman’s seriousness into the butt of every joke, just like in The LEGO Movie, and characterized the Flash as a hyperactive nerd whose every line was a meta reference to the other heroes. Humor will always have a place in superhero movies (unless they’re genuine cinematic masterpieces like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, although this is the DCEU, so be serious), but it has to be, y’know, funny.
6 RIGHT: SOLO MOVIES
Wonder Woman and Aquaman are the DCEU’s biggest hits for one simple reason: they follow the singular vision of a great director. Wonder Woman is the vision of Patty Jenkins, a World War I tale that empowers women and has moments of both humor and gravitas, while Aquaman is the vision of James Wan, an escapist caper (or “escaper”) that’s set in a well-rounded fantasy world a la Star Wars and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
These movies don’t feel like they were designed by committee, and as a result, they have a consistent tone, they work well as standalone pieces, and they’re just good movies.
5 WRONG: SETTING UP FUTURE MOVIES
One of the main problems with shared cinematic universes is that they can stop their movies dead to set up a future installments. The plot of the movie will be flowing nice and smoothly, and then there’ll be a totally irrelevant, out-of-the-blue scene that sets up a future movie.
The MCU has sort of figured this out by finding a way to make their setups necessary to each movie’s plot – like Doctor Strange’s cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, which was worked into the story to get Thor from point A (needing to find his father Odin) to point B (finding him). The DCEU does these scenes terribly – they just shoehorn them in wherever.
4 RIGHT: HENRY CAVILL'S SUPERMAN TRILOGY
Batman v Superman is seen as the Iron Man 2 of the DCEU (the one that sets up a universe instead of telling a story) and Justice League is seen as a complete mess. But those movies do succeed at one thing: completing the Superman trilogy that began with Man of Steel. That movie told his origin story and introduced that he can make mistakes. Then BvS saw him face repercussions for those mistakes and make the ultimate sacrifice for them, and like most second parts of trilogies, it ended on a cliff-hanger.
Justice League completed his journey as he was reborn and achieved redemption in the eyes of the public. A lot of the DCEU is all over the place as a result of Warner Bros. winging it, but the character arc of Henry Cavill’s Superman seems carefully considered and it’s one of the only things in the franchise that pays off.
3 WRONG: TONE
The tone of DCEU movies is all over the place. Do they want to be manic and tongue-in-cheek? Solemn and serious? They seem to be shooting and writing each scene based on that day’s mood – there’s no consistency whatsoever. The tone of MCU movies is painstakingly established by each director and it pays off in spades.
Batman v Superman has the slick, dark, glossy visual style and old, bitter Batman of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but it lacks the substance, so it’s big, gorgeous, expensive – and empty. Tone applies to the story and character of a movie as well, not just how it looks.
2 RIGHT: PRODUCTION DESIGN
The DCEU movies look exactly how DC Comics fans would want their favorite characters and their worlds to be portrayed on the big screen. Gotham City is gorgeously brought to life with the perfect noir-ish blend of glitz and gloom. James Wan’s world-building in Aquaman was spectacular, and as a result, Atlantis is as fully realized a cinematic world as Wakanda or Knowhere – maybe even more so.
The same goes for Themyscira. And Wonder Woman’s World War I sequences are as brilliantly rendered as any actual war film. Plus, sequences like BvS’ Knightmare scene might be written, directed, and edited all wrong, but they look spectacular.
1 WRONG: STICKING TO ZACK SNYDER'S STYLE
The Zack Snyder style of filmmaking set the house style for the DCEU with Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and half of Justice League, and it’s just terrible. The action sequences are full of super slow motion, the editing is more like that of a music video than a movie, and the color-grading is really, really dark and gloomy and saturated.
Not all of Snyder’s movies are dreadful, but this style works better for weirder, more obscure movies like 300 and Watchmen than the mainstream superhero stories of the DCEU. Despite the say he gets as executive producer, Warner Bros. should depart from the style Snyder established and start making these things look and feel more like actual movies do.