The DCEU has consistently received criticism for its convoluted film plots and gritty overall atmosphere. That may not always be completely fair criticism but it’s undeniable that something is wrong and it could be the antagonists. As they say, a film or story is only as good as its villain. It’s an interesting thought. If you strip away the talent of on-screen actors, the beautifully crafted costumes and the occasionally impressive CGI and special effects, you’re left with the writing, which is the core of the character. We’re going to take a look at just how well or how poorly these DCEU villains were written.
A well-written villain can save a poorly made film while a horribly written antagonist can be a film’s downfall. If we sort out the great villains from the bad, we’ll be able to see whether or not their respective films were actually deserving of the criticism they received and we can do so with much more clarity we would after a simple viewing of a DCEU film. Just to be clear, we will not be discussing the quality of acting that went into these characters and we won’t be talking about their aesthetic appeal either. We’re focusing solely on whether or not these villains had a substantial impact on their respective foes or whether or not they actually mattered in their stories.
15. NAILED: EL DIABLO
The fiery El Diablo was one of the most memorable characters in the Suicide Squad film. It wasn’t just thanks to his awesome tattoos, but rather because he was actually one of the few characters audiences could actually sympathize with on some level. El Diablo was a street thug who made a name for himself by using his pyrokinetic powers to acquire power and status among his fellow gang members. He tried to change and forget that life, but it caught up to him, which resulted in the deaths of his wife and daughter.
His arc comes to a fantastic close when he embraces his powers and his nature to save his newfound friends. Of course, there are plot holes and unnecessary bits and pieces throughout the film, but generally, El Diablo was by far one of the best written characters in that film.
14. FAILED: STEPPENWOLF
Everyone secretly hoped that Darkseid would make an appearance in the Justice League film, but alas, we were stuck with Steppenwolf, a lesser villain. That would have been fine if he was even the slightest bit compelling, but he wasn’t. In fact, he was the most inhuman, generic villain a story could have. We’re given no real explanation as to why he wants to conquer Earth other than the vague allusions that he’s somehow doing it for Darkseid, whom he mentions just once.
As a narrative device, he almost makes sense. He’s clearly supposed to be the great evil that compels the heroes of Earth to join forces. If only it was done with more creativity. His scenes are filled with tiresome lines that may sound familiar to anyone who has ever watched anything with some sort of villain in it, making him arguably the least interesting villain in the entire DCEU.
13. NAILED: ARES
It would have been far too easy to depict the god of war as an evil, fiery deity that Diana would have to defeat in a climactic battle at the end of the film. Thankfully, Ares was written in such a way that only the second half of that came into fruition. The subtlety of warfare was perfectly woven into his character and story, turning him into something genuinely interesting.
The way he was written also allowed for the events of the film to challenge Diana’s faith in humanity, which is a major aspect of Wonder Woman as a character. As we see by the end, his scheme required minimal effort. Humanity is by nature a chaotic and violent race, which sounds cynical — and it is — but that’s why Wonder Woman’s victory was so impactful. Ares as a villain allowed Wonder Woman to show everyone what she stood for, which is what villain should do in any great story.
12. FAILED: DOOMSDAY
Doomsday should have been the big bad monster that united the titular heroes of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was mainly about Superman and Batman fighting each other out of a misguided effort to ensure peace. Lex Luthor and the media pit the two superheroes against each other and Martha and Lois Lane ended the conflict between the two, which almost completely removed the need for Doomsday.
The only real purpose Doomsday had left in the grand scheme of things was to help facilitate the seemingly necessary climactic fight sequence typical of action films. Some might argue that Doomsday’s presence also sparked the birth of the Justice League. However, seeing as how Bruce and Diana had met and were looking at other metahumans, it seemed the Justice League would have been born anyway. Doomsday was pure fan service… and poorly written fan service at that.
11. NAILED: LEX LUTHOR
You may, justifiably, have a problem with how Lex Luthor was portrayed on screen, but don’t let that blind you to how well the character was actually written. He’s just a man. No superpowers, no expensive gadgets or unique skills. He has nothing but his wit and his will and he proved that it was more than enough to take on the god-like man of steel.
His motives for bending Superman to his will seem reasonably believable as well, given his background and public perception of the kryptonian in Dawn of Justice. The unfolding of events in the film perfectly exhibited Luthor’s ability to manipulate people with the right amount of aggression, which is a difficult thing to accomplish without giving an antagonist some form of supernatural ability. Luthor used nothing but knowledge… and a lot of hired guns… but mostly knowledge. He was also integral to the plot because Luthor as a villain facilitated the creation of the Justice League.
10. FAILED: THE JOKER
This may not have been the fault of the writers, per say, since a lot of the Joker’s scenes had been cut from the final film. As it stands, the Joker, as presented to us in Suicide Squad, seems poorly written for multiple reasons. The first being that he has no real impact on the plot. He seems to have been written in so fans will have something to talk about. Aside from providing a bit of backstory for Harley Quinn, his presence is entirely unnecessary.
Then there’s the mischaracterization of his relationship with Harley. The Joker, as comic fans will know, would never attempt a rescue of Harley unless he absolutely needed her. The film seems more or less faithful to the character we know from the comics up until that point; again, though, keep in mind that we’re only talking about how the character was written.
9. NAILED: DOCTOR POISON
There’s a wide variety of evil in the Wonder Woman film and Isabel Maru, also known as Doctor Poison, falls on the darker end of that spectrum. She enjoys causing pain, which is why she gladly worked with General Ludendorff to create a new and deadlier chemical weapon for use in the war. She is the complete opposite of Diana and that is why her final scene is so powerful, not necessarily for Maru, but for Diana, who looks down at Doctor Poison and decides not to end the evil scientist’s life.
The role was clearly not a large one but that doesn’t make it any less important to the story as a whole. Her role as a minor antagonist is just as big as it needed to be because let’s face it, it wouldn’t have made much sense to make her the primary antagonist, and it wouldn’t have allowed for nearly as much subtle exploration of morality and faith in humanity. As a minor villain, Doctor Poison’s appearance is made so much more meaningful.
8. FAILED: GENERAL ZOD
Zod is one of Superman’s most well known adversaries, but Man of Steel showed us none of the reasons why that is. The film touched upon Zod’s motives but never really expanded on his character. We can understand that he’s a megalomaniac whose very identity is deeply entwined with his desire to reshape and recreate the perfect Krypton, but beyond a few lines where he pretty much says that, we get nothing.
That’s why, for the most part, Zod seemed like little more than another villain bent on conquering or destroying the planet. It cannot be said that Zod had no impact on Clark Kent’s character development; in fact, the destruction caused by Zod’s attack sparked the events in Dawn of Justice. However, it certainly could have been written with much more finesse, avoiding unnecessary points like the villain’s violent death, which ultimately served no real purpose other than to perhaps shock audiences and fans of the man of steel.
7. NAILED: DEADSHOT
With a film as jam packed with as many characters as Suicide Squad, there was the very real risk of underutilizing and simplifying characters to the point where they seem to just be there to help build up fight sequences. Luckily, only a few characters ended up feeling that thinly written and Deadshot was not one of them. With him, there was depth, there was conflict and by the end of that story, the audience could really feel just a little happy for him.
His introductory scene showed us enough that we understood the basis of his complexity. He does terrible things, often to terrible people, because that’s what he’s good at and he earns a lot doing it. At heart, you could argue that he does it for a good reason: to take care of his daughter and ensure she can grow up happy. It’s more than other villains tend to fight for, which makes Deadshot more relatable to the audience, something that is quite unique to Deadshot in Suicide Squad.
6. FAILED: ENCHANTRESS
You’d think an archaeologist possessed by an ancient and malevolent goddess would be a little more interesting. Suicide Squad wasted its character completely. June Moone was given no time and clearly no effort in the way she was written. Her role is confined to being the object of Rick Flag’s undying love and a generic villain.
We get that the Enchantress is so powerful, she would completely dominate June Moone, but before or after the archaeologist’s possession, we get nothing about her character or why we should feel that Rick Flag has actually lost someone great. Enchantress seems thinly written as well. She’s either completely silent or giving evil orders to destroy the world around her. There is nothing more about her history or what her ideal world would even look like, let alone anything to help us explore her character.
5. NAILED: AMANDA WALLER
The most well-written character in Suicide Squad, and arguably the entire DCEU, is Amanda Waller, who is at her very core, fighting for a greater good. If you want complexity and character depth in the midst of all the gritty violence, you’ll definitely enjoy Amanda Waller as a character. The film never goes into her backstory, but it doesn’t need to. She is wholly and completely dedicated to what she does.
She’s cold, relentless and expertly manipulative, which allows her to confidently and subtly control everyone around her, from lowlife thugs to ancient deities. She’s someone you don’t want to mess with and the film does a fantastic job at showing us that. All her notable qualities are expressed organically throughout the film so that when it’s all over, even though she didn’t have many action scenes or even any particularly memorable lines, you look forward to seeing her turn up in future DCEU films.
4. FAILED: KILLER CROC
Interestingly enough, Amanda Waller touches upon the tragedy of Killer Croc in the beginning of the film. She tells her associates, “he looked like a monster, so they treated him like a monster…and he became a monster.” The film doesn’t bother exploring the character any further than that. It seemed content with depicting him as a complete monster that’s difficult to relate to on any level.
If he was just there for the action, then there was no reason to even hint at a tragic backstory, but the film was intent on trying to convey the fact that none of these villains were truly evil at their core. Unfortunately, it stops short of drawing any actual sympathy from the audience, for the simple reason that Croc isn’t given a real place in the film for any exploration. We’re just supposed to assume that it was the world around him that turned him into that creature.
3. NAILED: GENERAL LUDENDORFF
Someone needed to look and sound like Ares and General Ludendorff was the perfect decoy. Wonder Woman was so certain that this violent, war-worshipping leader of the German army was acually Ares in disguise that audiences were compelled to believe her. Ludendorff fit the bill and it seemed that he would be the perfect fit. It made the twist at the end that much more shocking and it helped to open our eyes to how complex evil and warfare actually are.
He was so outrageously evil but he was just a man in the end, the very worst of humanity. That’s the point of the character, to help illustrate Ares’ point about what evil beings we are as people. It helps Wonder Woman as a character remind us that we’re also good by nature. Ludendorff may not have had the greatest lines, but he played a very important role, one that was well realized and helped us understand who Diana is as a superhero and an icon.
2. FAILED: CAPTAIN BOOMERANG
Luckily for the film, it didn’t need to try and take Captain Boomerang seriously. He’s got a wicked sense of humor and is actually one of the only characters featured in the film that seems to be a true villain. There are a few scenes in which he’s given a moment to express some sort of empathy or compassion, but they are few and far between. For the most part, despite the film’s occasional half-hearted attempts at showing us otherwise, he’s a bad guy through and through.
He’s very clearly meant to embody the spirit of the gang and the film, which is why he’s mainly there as the comic relief of Suicide Squad. Unfortunately, because the film doesn’t explore the character any further than everything that’s on the surface, he seems incredibly inconsistent. He’s evil and laughs when someone dies, but he also has moments of deep sympathy.
1. FAILED: BATMAN
Yes, the dark knight from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was possibly one of the worst written villains in the DCEU. Make no mistake, he was a villain in that film. The fault did not lie with Affleck, but in the way the character was written. He’s referred to as the detective and is clearly intelligent and manipulative when he needs to be, he just conveniently fails to exhibit any of those qualities when it comes to Superman, whom he readily fights despite supposedly being cautious and thoughtful about his targets.
The film was so eager to have Superman and Batman fight that it sacrificed the admirable qualities of Batman’s character and proceeded to pretend as though those qualities were still there somehow. It’s one of the reasons why people hated the characters in Dawn of Justice. We can’t blame them.
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