Wonder Woman Can’t Save Them All
Take a breath. Clear your mind. Try not to hold any grudges against DC as a result of Batman v. Superman or Suicide Squad. We all have our opinions, mostly negative but both sides of the arguments refuse to see things from the other side. One thing is for certain- the DCEU is a mess. How did it come to this? Let’s take a look.
Remember: SPOILER ALERT
The DC Extended Universe, Warner Bros.’ answer to the MCU, was kicked off in 2013 with Man of Steel. Their goal was to create a cohesive narrative that spans across multiple standalone movies starring their most prized heroes. However, that’s much easier said than done, as we can all see how unfortunate it turned out. How could a film franchise that started with such promise end up in disarray?
Man of Steel
Despite popular belief, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was an incredibly solid film. It was dark, moody and a refreshingly beautiful take on Superman’s origins. Snyder tried to make the iconic character’s story as grounded as possible without being too cartoonish- and it worked! Well… sort of.
Die-hard fans were absolutely offended by the ending of the film. During the final battle between Superman and General Zod, we see the villain get his neck snapped at the hands of our supposed righteous hero. This goes against everything Superman is supposed to be. Although I understand their frustrations, I like to believe that Snyder’s intentions were to root Superman’s core values in a specific event that haunts him from that point on, ultimately fueling his motive for never taking things further than they need to go.
Aside from that one major shocker, Man of Steel was able to portray a unique take on the tired plot of a man trying to find his place in the world by presenting it in the perspective of someone who isn’t from this world. The most touching and heartbreaking scenes in the film come from flashback sequences showing Clark Kent as a small child coming to terms with his emerging abilities.
In one particular scene, an adolescent Clark accidentally shows his power while saving a bunch of kids from drowning. His father is upset, and one student is noticeably shooken up. Clark’s father tries his best to explain the reason behind keeping his abilities secret, while letting him know where he truly comes from. Imagine learning you are not from this planet and that your parents aren’t really your parents.
Just watch the scene below and tell me it’s not touching.
Man of Steel set the tone for a promising and expansive universe in which Earth is introduced to the concept of real superheroes. On the heels of Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Dark Knight Trilogy, Snyder tapped into a more grounded take on comic book characters.
This tone would have been a perfect contrast to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which built its way into embracing the outrageous, yet loyal takes on their heroes. How could it go wrong?
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
When Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was announced as Snyder’s follow up to Man of Steel in 2016, DC nerds rejoiced. Everyone was thrilled at the thought of seeing two of arguably the most iconic superheroes of all time on the big screen together. Then it was announced that the storyline would be based off of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Rises graphic novel, our excitement rose. The cherry on top was the first image released of Ben Affleck dressed in a classic TDKR inspired cowl.
Upon arrival, the film was almost universally panned by all audiences. The story was bloated, inconsistent and worst of all, portrayed Batman as a ruthless killer. Look, Ben Affleck was not a bad Batman at all. He was the perfect choice for a middle aged, experienced Batman who could pull off the action and stunts believably. In fact, I got chills in the warehouse scene when we see the Dark Knight savagely pummel a group of thugs with his fists.
Just watch the warehouse fight scene below:
The only conceivable reason I can think of as to why this film ended up so messy is because of the corporate bigwigs. Someone high up at Warner Bros. must have forced Snyder to speed up the world-building process due to Marvel/Disney’s success with the MCU. Being impatient, they wanted to rush toward an epic team up of characters over the span of 3 movies, whereas Marvel’s Avengers was preceded with 5 carefully written films.
I can only imagine that greed played a huge part in derailing Zack Snyder’s epic plans for a cohesive and dark universe. Otherwise we may have had the pleasure of witnessing a beautiful contrast to Marvel’s colorful, 21-film story arc that is set to conclude in April 2019.
In the very same year that BvS released, Suicide Squad was also set to hit the big screen. Fans weren’t too optimistic in the lead up to the film as its marketing campaign had a dorky Hot Topic-esque feel to it. Suicide Squad was an obvious answer to Marvel’s highly acclaimed Guardians of the Galaxy.
Once again, the film was a hot mess. Audiences hated it, critics hated it and I imagine the only ones who loved it were the stars who were in it. That said, the best parts of the movie were Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot.
My personal gripe with Suicide Squad is simple. In Man of Steel, we are to believe that Earth is innocent to the idea of superpowered, supernatural beings until Superman makes himself known. Suicide Squad takes place on that same Earth, yet there are evil witches, a guy who can turn himself into a fire god, a lizard man and a woman with a sword that can hold spirits. To believe that these two movies are in the same universe is almost laughable. Yet, here we are.
After the polarizing reviews for BvS: Dawn of Justice were followed up with an even worse reception with Suicide Squad, confidence in the DCEU started dwindling. People were beginning to wonder if the franchise could recover. I mean, even Marvel’s worst film (choose your own) isn’t bad to the point of derailing your franchise. Yet, the DCEU now had two. At this point you’d think that WB would take a moment to reflect, right?
The following year of 2017 saw the release of the highly anticipated Wonder Woman standalone film. Feelings were mixed in the lead up to the movie for obvious reasons, however audiences were pleasantly surprised. Wonder Woman was critically acclaimed and was a refreshing change to see the first fleshed out character since Man of Steel. She was one of the only good things that came out of Batman v. Superman, and she held the same energy in her very own movie.
Almost everything was done right in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. It inserted itself into the wider DCEU by having her story told through an introduction to Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. Some originality was lost as this film is to Captain America: The First Avenger what Suicide Squad was to Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m not complaining! It turned out fine.
However, my firm belief is that Wonder Woman had potential to be even greater than it was. Let me explain:
2017’s Justice League made us aware that Earth housed three Mother Boxes, significant artifacts that play a huge role in the plot of the movie. We learn that one is used to create Cyborg, another is on the island of Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s home, and another in Atlantis, tying in a future Aquaman movie. That said, given the fact that Wonder Woman released before Justice League, they had the opportunity to cleverly tease their Mother Box on Themyscira. How cool would that have been!?
Anyway, Wonder Woman was a great movie. It showcased what the DCEU could do with standalone films all while staying true to the tone of the franchise. It was fun, action-packed, had some funny moments and most importantly, it had a grim, dark feel. As a viewer, I believe that the Wonder Woman movie exists in the same world as Man of Steel.
This brings us to…
As mentioned before, Justice League uses elements laid out in the preceding films to set up its own plot. More specifically, in BvS we are quickly shown footage of the heroes who would ultimately make up the League. The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. This is in addition to the already physically present Batman, Superman and shoehorned-in Wonder Woman.
It’s hard to judge Justice League as a film as there are circumstances surrounding its production that possibly played a part in its failure. In case you didn’t know, Zack Snyder handed the reins over to Joss Whedon after Snyder stepped down to deal with a family tragedy.
As you know, Whedon directed the nearly perfect Avengers movie of 2012. Getting him on board was seen as a win for the franchise, however he and Snyder had two completely different methods of storytelling.
Snyder’s whole vision is based on a stylistic approach to storytelling. Whedon’s style is mostly campy, clever and light-hearted. This worked in favor of Warner Bros. plans, as critics stated time and again that the tone of the franchise was “too grim”. The fact that Whedon joined the fight when Snyder was basically finished with the movie is the reason it is such a mess.
The result was an awkward, rushed and tonally messy movie that moved faster than we could keep up with. The plot was almost too similar to Avengers and Whedon’s comedic approach didn’t fit with DC’s traditionally darker characters.
There are some great action scenes and Ezra Miller’s Flash is genuinely funny. The villain is underdeveloped and the gravity of the larger narrative at hand is never truly felt. That said, I enjoyed the movie but I did so by accepting that no sense would be made by associating it with the larger DCEU as a whole.
All of this on top of the fact that Henry Cavill’s now infamous CGI’d mouth led to Justice League ultimately failing all expectations. What started off as a promising interconnected universe culminated in a less than worthy film.
Finally, we have Aquaman. DC’s first shot at redemption following critical failure. Was it enough to save the franchise? I won’t get into too much detail, but you can read my full review here.
Aquaman was a fun movie. It was not amazing by any means, but it did what it was supposed to do- entertain the audience and make money. The takeaway was that it was much better than the preceding films, aside from Wonder Woman.
Aquaman was directed by James Wan, most known for his string of horror films and Fast and the Furious. Wan brought an exciting take on the otherwise boring character of Aquaman. His attention to action gave us fun fight scenes, awesome chase sequences and an overall rush of adrenaline.
The movie is incredibly bold and hits most of its marks. However, in order to be as exciting as it was, Wan had to remove any sense of realism and logic. The mechanics of Aquaman’s world don’t exactly make sense and definitely don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the DCEU, considering it’s supposed to take place on the same Earth as Man of Steel. In fact, Aquaman seems more at home with Suicide Squad.
What’s Next For the DC Extended Universe?
So what’s next for the DCEU? We haven’t the slightest clue, and it seems neither does Warner Bros.
There are currently about 7 DC films in production, one of which is a standalone Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix that will NOT take place in the DCEU. Yeah, confusing. To make things even weirder, James Gunn is set to direct the Suicide Squad sequel after being fired from Marvel, and according to recent reports, the sequel is being dubbed as a “reimagining” that may or may not take place in the DCEU and might not even be connected to the first film.
The next film on the slate is Shazam!, starring Zachary Levi which looks fun, but it’s not certain where this movie stands in terms of the DCEU.
All of this said, what can be done to correct DC’s course? I’m almost certain that it is now too far gone to save. Unless Shazam! finds a way to work a miracle and save the franchise, DC is better off disbanding the DCEU altogether.
I know this all sounds incredibly bias and critical of DC Films and Warner Bros., but believe me when i say that I’m not a hater. I want them to succeed and I will still go to the theater to check out ALL of these upcoming films. The problem is that although I will watch the movies, I don’t expect to enjoy them and I know I’m not alone in that boat.
Let’s hope they can change our minds.