For many fans of DC properties, the films of the DCEU/DC Films Universe/Justice League Universe are more than just movies. They're a calling card to the world at large. They're a standard that's waved at mainstream audiences in the hope that they'll gather to share in the rich mythology of the comics giant. "Look at us!" they say, "We're cool. Check us out!" Perhaps it's this fact that has made the films released in the wake of Man of Steel so frustrating among fans. Many fans dearly love the films of the DCEU but bemoan the fact that they don't share the mass appeal of their Marvel counterparts.
Why it is that there will likely be a sizable disparity between Justice League's final box office and that of 2012's The Avengers is the subject of ferocious debate but one thing's for sure...it can't be because mainstream audiences aren't invested in the characters. Shows like Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl have demonstrated that DC characters have great cultural currency in the mainstream's eyes but the Injustice games have been an equally potent cultural leviathan. Let's have a look at some aspects the games did better than the films, and some areas in which they've fallen short.
15 BETTER: BATMAN
One of the shrewdest moves that WB Interactive and NetherRealm studios made was recruiting voice talents straight from DC's successful animated universe. Kevin Conroy has been the quintessential Batman for fans who cut their bat-teeth on the likes of Batman The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited and his voice carries a sense of history and a command of the character that's evident in his every syllable.
The characterization of Batman as a libertarian antihero leading a Resistance against an oppressive and dictatorial Superman is a sensible and compelling direction for the character and everything from his dialogue to his vocabulary of moves conveys love and understanding of the character. Ben Affleck's extreme and revisionist take in the DC films, however well acted, has proven far more divisive among fans and mainstream audiences alike.
14 WORSE: ACTING
The standard of both voice acting and performance capture in video games has become so sophisticated that for developers are crafting video games with superb performances comparable to anything that's happening in the realms of film and TV, so we feel that a comparison is fair here. Dramatic performances may be one of the more overlooked aspects in video games but they've certainly come a long way since the high camp FMV sequences in '90s cheese-fests like Burn:Cycle and Critical Path.
That said not even the best character moments in the games can compare to the heartwarming interplay between Diana and Steve in Wonder Woman, Ray Fisher's subtly tortured performance in Justice League or the coy flirtation between Lois and a nascent Superman in the interview scene in Man of Steel.
13 BETTER: COMBAT
The Injustice games are a treat for fans of fighting games, but they're an even bigger treat for fans of DC characters. One of the games' most satisfying aspects is the way in which each character's fighting style so lovingly and accurately reflects their nature and skill set. Each character's special moves, combos, supermoves and even the way in which they walk, duck and jump conveys an understanding and reverence for the DC lore among the game's designers and animators.
While we've seen some incredible fight scenes among the DCEU films from the elegantly brutal Martha rescue in Batman V Superman to the heart stopping No Man's Land scene in Wonder Woman, not even they can match the level of attention to detail and depth of character present when the Injustice characters throw down!
12 WORSE: VERISIMILITUDE
One of the most arduous challenges when it comes to adapting superhero stories from the comic book medium is trying to make something as inherently unreal as a flying man with heat vision or an Earth bound Goddess with a magic lasso feel grounded and real to audiences. It's what makes us care about the characters and the interpersonal drama behind the adventure and spectacle. Richard Donner knew this when he was making the 1978 Superman movie and every comic book movie since has wrestled with this.
The films of the DCEU have, by and large, managed to walk the line between the real and the fantastical with aplomb. The inherently heightened world of the video games, on the other hand, lends them a sense of bombast that drowns out the subtler moments in the game's' story modes.
11 BETTER: EMBRACING DC MYTHOLOGY
Prior to the release of Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. have been notoriously gun shy when it comes to making films about DC characters other than Batman and Superman. Remember all that talk of a Flash movie that evaporated instantly when Green Lantern bombed in 2011? Even now WB seem reluctant to stray outside of Gotham City on film with Batgirl, Nightwing and all manner of Harley Quinn related movies reportedly in early stages of development.
The Injustice games, however, embrace every aspect of the DC mythology from the depths of Atlantis to the treetops of Gorilla City. From the street level to the mystical the games leave no stone of the DC Universe unturned. The fact that we've still yet to see iconic DC characters like Brainiac, Cheetah, Reverse Flash, Orion, Mr Miracle, Big Barda and (of course) Darkseid on film speaks volumes.
10 WORSE: GOOD SUPERMAN
While the USP of the Injustice games' plot centers around a Superman who's become an evil dictator, the first game did feature a "good" Superman from a parallel Earth. While there was certainly nothing wrong with either the characterization or the performance by George Newbern from the Justice League animated series, the character got way less prominence than his evil doppelganger. The DCEU films, however, have done an admiral job giving Superman a story arc that encompasses his life, death and rebirth.
Henry Cavill's performance has been consistently charming yet nuanced and three-dimensional and the actor has been a superb ambassador for Superman's legacy off set. Although audience responses to the loose trilogy of Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and Justice League have been divided, few disagree that it would be a tragedy if Cavill were never again to don the red and blue.
9 BETTER: EASTER EGGS
From throwaway references in the dialogue, to alternate costumes, the Injustice games are rich in Easter Eggs. The games are chock full of allusions not only to the comic books but to various multimedia interpretations of the DC Universe. Heck, the first Injustice even has an obscure reference to a little known episode of Justice League Unlimited in a snippet of clash dialogue between Hawkgirl and Solomon Grundy. And whoever would have thought that we'd one day hear the Red Lantern oath uttered in a video game?
Sure, the DCEU may have the a lot of cool Easter Eggs thrown in there for eagle eyed, and bat eared, fans they're often a little too throwaway (like Steppenwolf's achingly brief nod to Darkseid and the New Gods in Justice League).
8 WORSE: SUPPORTING CHARACTERS
It's all too easy to forget that the Gods are best viewed from the ground. Supporting characters are integral to any superhero mythology as they provide an entry point for audiences and our ability to identify with them allows us to marvel along with them at the feats of super heroics. They also ground our heroes, giving them a reality check when they need one and helping to draw out their humanity, putting the human part back in the superhuman.
There are some great supporting characters in the DCEU from Lois Lane to Alfred to Silas Stone and each serves as a unique foil for the superheroes of the Justice League. While many of the DC Universe's most iconic supporting characters make appearances in the companion comic books there are woefully few in the games.
7 BETTER: CONSISTENCY
Both of the Injustice games were well received by players and critics, building on everything NetherRealm learned from decades of making Mortal Kombat games and applying them to the DC Universe in a way that felt more natural and fulfilling than the occasionally bewildering Marvel VS Capcom games. Likewise, all of the films of the DCEU have something to commend them, even if they have fallen afoul of critics.
Man of Steel is a commendable attempt to re-introduce Superman to a jaded post-Nolan audience that features fine performances and impressive visuals. Batman V Superman, for all its controversies, is a bold and beautifully shot re-envisioning of the Batman/Superman dynamic. Suicide Squad has a handful of truly great character moments amidst the fireworks, Wonder Woman is... just awesome and Justice League is a ton of fun... but the Injustice games trump the films in terms of consistency.
6 WORSE: COSTUMES
If there's one area in which the Injustice games let themselves down its in the costume designs for most of the characters. They're either unnecessarily busy, pointlessly ostentatious or ill suited to the characters. There's something fundamentally weird about the image of Superman in armor but the bulky and overly elaborate armor he wears in the games (especially the second) is not only ill fitting...it's kind of ugly.
Thankfully, the costumes of the DCEU do a much better job of honoring the comic book iconography of the characters and re-imagining their aesthetic in a way that breathes new life into them while making sense on screen. Wonder Woman and Aquaman's costumes gleam with antiquity, Superman's suit looks alien yet regal, and Batman's suit is the most comic book accurate yet to be committed to the screen.
5 BETTER: THE JOKER & HARLEY RELATIONSHIP
When production began momentum on Suicide Squad fans all over the world were giddy with anticipation for the prospect of seeing the relationship between The Joker and Harley Quinn on the big screen. It's one of the most complex, fascinating and woefully dysfunctional relationships in popular culture. It's a parable of abuse that shows the potency of codependency.
We feel Harley's pain as she manacles herself to the psychopathic Joker and root for her when she's able to get herself out from under his shadow (however briefly). It's part of what makes Harley such a potent icon of female empowerment. While the performances from Margot Robbie and Jared Leto were undeniably on-point many found that the more reciprocal and slightly sanitized version of their relationship presented on screen simply missed the point.
4 WORSE: WONDER WOMAN
If there's one character who should absolutely never be on the wrong side of history, it's Wonder Woman. Her very creation is an act of challenging the social injustice of gender inequality and she has endured for over half a century not just as a pop culture icon but as a bastion of moral fortitude. If every hero in the DC Universe, even Superman, lost their moral compass it would be Diana's job to steer them back on the path of right.
Gal Gadot's performance as Wonder Woman is so strong that she embodies everything that's great about the character and thankfully the films she's appeared in have allowed this to shine through. The games, on the other hand, reduced her to evil Superman's answer to Lady Macbeth.
3 BETTER: WORLD BUILDING
The Injustice Games waste no time in tautologically explaining Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or any of the other DC comics mainstays. The first game throws us right in at the deep end, not even showing us the event that precipitated the entire mythology, the killing of Lois Lane, and trust in us to have the intelligence to keep up.
The games create their own pocket universe that incorporates virtually every facet of the DC mythology, re-appropriating familiar characters, locations and story beats to suit their own overarching metanarrative that spills into an excellent series of companion comic books. In just two games they created a sprawling and intricately detailed self-contained universe that eclipses what the DCEU has been able to accomplish in five films to date.
2 WORSE: HOPE
While they've entered some of the darkest territory in superhero cinema, the thesis of the DCEU leading up to Justice League has been a story of hope and its absence. While they may have hammered the notion of Superman as a symbol of hope home a little too emphatically at times, his return has brought with it a palpable sense of hope in the cinematic universe...even if it's only hope that Warner Bros. doesn't abandon the entire universe outright after Aquaman next year.
As great as the Injustice games are, both as beat-em-ups and interpretation of the DC Universe, there's little hope to be found in them. The story mode in both games ends on a decidedly bittersweet note and as long as DC's biggest symbol of hope remains the primary antagonist, it doesn't look likely to return any time soon.
1 BETTER: EVIL SUPERMAN
The "Knightmare" sequence is one of the most bemoaned sequences in Batman V Superman. It's completely discordant with the plot, it comes out of absolutely nowhere, it isn't paid off anywhere else in the film nor is it paid off in the theatrical cut of Justice League. Perhaps time will tell if a home video release or the much-demanded "Snyder Cut" reveal a direct callback to this well shot but confusing sequence. Nonetheless the sequence presents us with an oppressive and violent Superman whose motivations are frustratingly unclear.
The Injustice Superman, on the other hand does not become a tyrant overnight. This is a Superman who's overcompensating for his inability to save his wife and child and is grasping for whatever measure of control he can assert over his own personal nightmare. His descent into dictatorship is well explained and rationalized and is surprisingly consistent with the character's mythology.