Warner Bros. had quite the task ahead of itself in getting the DC Extended Universe off the ground, especially as the studio was lagging behind, compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Feige got the latter off and running with Iron Man in 2008 but it wasn’t until 2013 that the DCEU staked a claim and took its formative identity with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. This has led to fans constantly bickering that this head start is what has allowed the MCU to cover more ground and come off as the better of the two.
However, in addition to having to catch up, there were some other questionable decisions made internally by the DCEU which may have slowed its progress. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any positive decisions though, because with the likes of Geoff Johns reshuffling things after the disastrous Green Lantern film, along with Snyder’s vision, the DCEU has carved out things like a signature look, a strong appeal for women characters and fans, and many other key points that paint it as attractive. With that in mind, CBR decided to dissect these amazing decisions, as well as some of the wrong ones for DC’s major heroes and villains on the big screen.
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for all DCEU movies.
15. RIGHT: MAN OF STEEL
The DCEU made a smart decision kicking off with Man of Steel because it set the stage for the dynamic between godlike entities and everyone else in the cosmos! This movie dealt with Kryptonians that were virtually unstoppable and truly gave a human perspective that the universe was way bigger with things we cannot fathom. Most importantly, it made it easier to imagine where aliens (who were basically gods) and mankind (who feared what they don’t understand) could be positioned.
Apart from the real-world scenario of a helpless Earth, Zack Snyder also created an imaginary space where we could even see metahumans fitting in. Science and technology were major components of this flick, gearing fans for other worlds such as Apokolips, and villains like Brainiac if that direction was embarked upon, but MOS’ otherworldly presence also crafted the illusion that a place like Themyscira or its mythical beings could exist.
14. WRONG: BATMAN V. SUPERMAN
Man of Steel did a really great job of setting things up so that people in this world would fear, and of course, grow to hate such a powerful being like Superman. But such cynicism was not a proper reason to rush this feud. Whether it be comics or animated movies, this fight needs to feel organic and like it’s the right place and right time. We didn’t have a Batman yet in the DCEU, so to just introduce us to this darker, grittier Batman who wanted Superman dead felt too hasty.
This showdown was inevitable but should have happened over the course of a few movies or maybe after they formed the Justice League and fell out. One movie in and it didn’t feel like Snyder had enough substance to pit the two against each other. Sure, Bruce Wayne lost a lot but despite his recklessness, Superman did save the world!
13. RIGHT: WONDER WOMAN
Introducing Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman was a stroke of genius but taking the amazing reception to her and really pushing its momentum into a Wonder Woman movie was even more masterful. The DCEU toyed with the character years ago, with Joss Whedon having written a script and Michelle MacLaren once eyed to direct, but things somehow never stuck. That is, until Zack Snyder got Gal Gadot to steal the show from the World’s Finest in BvS.
New director Patty Jenkins had a lot of pressure on her shoulders, as did Gadot, whose Hollywood career appeared a bit stagnant, but backed by the likes of Geoff Johns, our faith was repaid with a film that garnered immense critical and financial success. In fact, the studio believes it’s such a landmark that they’re pushing it for the Oscars in the Best Movie and Best Director categories.
12. WRONG: THE JOKER
The bar for how the Joker should be characterized on screen was set pretty high in the past thanks to Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. Even on the animated front, Mark Hamill is iconic as the Clown Prince of Crime, especially his laugh. However, Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad felt like he tried to borrow from each earlier interpretation and in the process, lost his own identity. From his tattooed look to his costumes and overall demeanor, he only felt like the Joker in spurts.
Apart from this inconsistency, word has emerged that the DCEU could be looking at standalone Joker stories set outside main continuity. We’re not sure why the studio wants to look at other iterations and Elseworlds versions of the character when they’re yet to nail this one! Leto himself expressed concern and we’re waiting to see if David Ayer’s initial vision for the psycho ends up stabilizing.
11. RIGHT: UNAFRAID OF DEATH
The DCEU doesn’t shy away from death, making their stories real and relatable. In the comics and cartoons, death is a revolving door and characters keep resurrecting but on the big screen, it’s smart to show that the stakes are high for heroes and villains and that it’s not just about innocent civilians as collateral damage.
We’ve seen Zod die at the hands of Superman, Jimmy Olsen perish thanks to terrorists, Jonathan Kent die in a tornado, Steve Trevor sacrifice himself to save his allies and of course, there’s Superman, who traded his life to protect the world from Doomsday. These all show that big names are on the table, which we’ve only really seen the MCU do with Quicksilver. With the DCEU, even if you’re a big name, you’re expendable. The studio can always revive these figures but in the interim, most of these deaths (except Superman) feel permanent.
10. WRONG: DIRECTOR ISSUES
When Joss Whedon and Michelle MacLaren didn’t pan out for Wonder Woman, the DCEU was still in its nascent state. But what ensued later is nothing short of turmoil. The Flash, for example, lost writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to the Han Solo movie after they were tapped to direct. Seth Grahame-Smith signed on but left due to creative differences with the studio, as did Rick Famuyiwa.
That movie is now retitled as Flashpoint, but it’s still ambiguous as to what is planned for the character as a new director is yet to join. The Batman solo flick also had Ben Affleck writing and directing only for Matt Reeves to take over the chair. Zack Snyder also stepped away from finishing Justice League due to family issues, leaving Whedon to reshoot and finesse it into a final product. DC has a large slate planned with its films, but it’s apparent it needs directorial stability.
9. RIGHT: BATFLECK
Ben Affleck may not be directing the Batman solo anymore but he’s still busy in the headlines, and no, we’re not talking about for promoting Justice League. Multiple reports keep emerging that he’s set to leave the role; Matt Reeves coming aboard with a new script and vision for Batman’s universe hasn’t helped things. Affleck and the studio have maintained he’s staying on but with stories and Elseworlds rumored outside main continuity, fans are often confused as to which will be the definitive Dark Knight.
Sticking with Batfleck, however, is a wise move by the studio because he has shown his passion for the character and his mythos in the past, even before he was tagged as director. Also, Affleck brings the right duality to the hero, the darkness and in the wake of Superman’s death, the light, as seen with his jauntier attitude in the Justice League trailer.
8. WRONG: COLOR BLIND
The MCU has its formula and it’s working well enough, but the DCEU is doing its own thing. While Zack Snyder’s aesthetic gave this universe a specific signature look, Wonder Woman showed why his wasn’t the best approach. Snyder’s films, while visually stunning in terms of action, lacked color, felt undercooked in its palette and came off as dour and lifeless — which reflected the grim world he was sculpting.
Patty Jenkins’ movie had a similar bleak setting but it still celebrated a unique use of color, into Diana’s costume and Themyscira on the whole, which added a fresh and heroic atmosphere to the DCEU. She rectified Snyder’s cold world and in retrospect, he could have balanced things a little better. Justice League has more color and life to it, even upping the ante of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. This recalibration, also boasting tones of humor, already has a more inspirational vibe.
7. RIGHT: HARLEY QUINN
Harley Quinn has always been a controversial DC Comics figure, from comics to the cartoons. Over the years, she’s been over-sexualized and objectified, but David Ayer got the balance right in Suicide Squad and it was due to how well Margot Robbie embodied the character. She embraced all Harley’s idiosyncrasies, before and after Jared Leto’s Joker transformed her from being a psychiatrist into a psychopath.
Robbie had great chemistry with the Clown but also stood out with Deadshot and the team, as well as on her own, really showing she was more than just a prop for another character. Robbie’s performance was truly engaging, and one of the few redeeming points of the film, so much so that it led to the DCEU wanting her in more spinoffs, including Gotham City Sirens or a Joker team-up.
6. WRONG: NOT DOING SOLO MOVIES FIRST
If it’s one thing that the DCEU could have borrowed from the MCU, it’s how they set their foundation up for ensemble movies. The DCEU started throwing its comic trinity at fans from Batman v. Superman, but it was a lot to take in too quickly. Fans didn’t have time to build emotional connections in such a short space of time, which made it tough for them to appreciate the characters’ drive and chemistry.
The DCEU should have laid down solo films before the League assembled so that when they came together, we would know and understand everyone’s motivations and aspirations. Everything currently seems to be operating in reverse with the team-up first (apart from Superman and Wonder Woman), followed by a peek into the League’s solo outings. This means fans will have to be constantly switching gears regarding when and where we are in the heroes’ lives.
5. RIGHT: POWERHOUSE VILLAINS
The MCU has mostly been about cerebral villains such as Loki and Zemo, but in terms of unabashed physicality and raw power, the DCEU holds the advantage. It opened with Zod and his rabid crew of Kryptonians attempting genocide, which led to Superman having to kill to stop him. Things escalated even more with Zod being modified into Doomsday (who ended up killing Superman) and the magical Enchantress.
These villains pulled no punches and apart from Lex Luthor, they weren’t about mind games. Ares was a mixture of both, however, but at the end of Wonder Woman, he had no choice but to change into a divine warrior to try to destroy the hero. The MCU saw shades of this with the likes of Abomination and a mind-controlled Hulk, but the DCEU is more consistent with such villains, which looks set to continue with Steppenwolf and Apokolips’ parademons.
4. WRONG: QUANTITY OVER QUALITY
The DCEU has a lot planned but it appears to have focused on quantity over quality, struggling to nail the core characters down. Honestly, the ship only felt like it was in smooth waters with Wonder Woman. Fans are still divided on the adaptations of Superman and Batman, after all, and now the slate is wider with Batgirl, Nightwing, Gotham City Sirens, Harley Quinn spinoffs, a Suicide Squad sequel, Justice League Dark and the Elseworlds stories.
The powers-that-be need to crawl before they walk and walk before they run. The MCU took time to develop its core with Iron Man, Captain America and Thor and then branched off. The DCEU seems reactive, throwing darts and hoping something lands, but it’s still struggling to land directors and solid scripts. The foundation should really have been set first for the entire cinematic universe!
3. RIGHT: THE SUICIDE SQUAD’S CHEMISTRY
While Suicide Squad may not have garnered critical praise, it met its box office goals financially, which is why the DCEU wants a sequel. There’s no plan yet to replace David Ayer as director (as he’s set to work on other DC films), but what he helped cultivate in the first movie was a true sense of teamwork. It felt like the Suicide Squad we read in the books and saw in the animated feature, Assault on Arkham. Ayer’s cast represented chaos but they still had great chemistry amid all the dramatics.
Will Smith (Deadshot), Margot Robbie (Harley), Jay Hernandez (El Diablo) and Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang) offered great depictions in a film that suffered from a shaky plot and underwhelming villains. But their banter and camaraderie just about redeemed it and would certainly have satisfied fans who were teased with a Justice League rivalry in the post-credits, like the recent DC crossover.
2. WRONG: LEX LUTHOR
In most interpretations, Lex Luthor is a cold, calculating bastard. His end-game in Batman vs. Superman showed he was this kind of person but getting to that point was a problem. We admire the final destination but watching Jesse Eisenberg’s journey unfold as this kooky, start-up Lex was unsettling. The DCEU was bold in separating him from Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey’s real estate schemes but they really went off the rails.
Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex in Smallville should have been a reference point for Zack Snyder. Instead, Snyder’s direction for Lex was creepy, lacked consistency in its intimidation, and suddenly jumped to him being a super-scientist. The villain felt schizophrenic as opposed to confident, self-assured and menacing. Basically, the character was all over the place and ended up being tough to read on screen.
1. RIGHT: GIRL POWER
The DCEU was intent on strong roles for women from the onset, shifting Lois Lane from a damsel in distress to a journalist in the trenches. Fans also got strong yet evil women like Faora in Zod’s army, as well as the assertive duo of Harley Quinn and Amanda Waller. The power of Wonder Woman stands out most, though, because of the chance taken on Gal Gadot to deliver justice in Batman vs. Superman and her solo film.
Patty Jenkins also became the first female director of these new-era comic book movies via Diana Prince’s origins. In fact, her entire depiction of the Amazons stood out as a fist in the air for feminism. Don’t forget that the DCEU beat the MCU to a female-driven Hollywood hit! Fans are now eager to see more of Diana in the Justice League, reaffirming that the DCEU women are more than just support!
Let us know in the comments which DCEU decisions you loved and the ones you hated!
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