The internet can be a difficult place for a fan of DC films to be around. There are so many articles out there only too happy to capitalize on the click currency of prognosticating doom and gloom for the DC Extended Universe. There is, however, a great deal within these five films worthy of celebration. Even aside from Wonder Woman‘s many technical and cultural accomplishments, the DCEU has achieved some great things. Those enjoying the success of Black Panther (as well they should) should not forget that Suicide Squad also blazed an important trail in terms of representation in superhero cinema.
Fans who love to chew their food will find a lot of celebrate in Batman V Superman‘s complex and multilayered narrative. Man of Steel was a wonderful (and frankly underrated) origin story whose accomplishments get lost in the criticism of its third act. Even Justice League (uneven and compromised as the theatrical cut may feel) brought us some wonderful moments that were a real vindication for DC fans. The DCEU has brought us some of the most striking and memorable visual tableaux in superhero cinema. Across the five films we’ve seen some spectacular shots and scenes that had fans reaching for the pause button to enjoy the sumptuous visuals…
15. SUPERMAN REVEALED (MAN OF STEEL)
Man of Steel may have its detractors, but it gave us some great Superman moments. Not since 1978’s Superman: The Movie have Big Blue’s fans felt such a sense of celebration when their hero emerged in full costume for the first time. Like Batman Begins before it, the film took its time establishing Clark Kent as a three dimensional character so that when we finally do see that red cape, it feels both earned and an organic part of his character progression.
Clark emerges from the scout ship, looking regal and heroic in his full Kryptonian regalia, with Hans Zimmer’s triumphant score and Russell Crowe’s earnest voice over in the background… it all combines to make for one of the most distilled Superman moments in the DCEU to date.
14. STEPPENWOLF EXPLAINED (JUSTICE LEAGUE)
Steppenwolf is unlikely to go down in history as one of the most memorable villains in comic book history, despite the best efforts of actor Ciaran Hinds and several incredibly busy VFX houses. Nonetheless, his origin sequence, narrated by Diana, stands out as one of the film’s coolest and most visually extraordinary sequences, with many pause-worthy moments.
There are so many character cameos in this sequence that it’s hard to keep track and even Robin Wright shot footage for this sequence.
Though, tragically, none of Antiope’s shots made the final cut. We do, however, get appearances from Zeus, Artemis, Ares and not one but two Green Lanterns. In the months leading up to the film, lots of fans speculated that at least one Green Lantern would make an appearance of some sort and we sincerely hope that this is not the last we’ve seen of the Corps in the DCEU.
13. ALEX ROSS HOMAGE (SUICIDE SQUAD)
After all the criticism of Warner Bros. in the wake of Justice League it’s easy to forget the extent to which the studio has prided itself on its emphasis on directorial vision. Looking at films like End of Watch and more recently Bright, you can see the extent to which David Ayer’s unabashedly LA sensibilities have formed the very idiosyncratic production design of Suicide Squad.
The looks of The Joker and Harley Quinn in this movie came under scrutiny from some fans who were expecting something more traditional, but even they were silenced by this short but sweet homage. In the shots (which whistle by within Harley Quinn’s origin flashback) there’s a clear Alex Ross influence in there; demonstrating that while David Ayer will never apologize for doing his own thing, he has a healthy respect for the visual language of the comics.
12. REACHING FOR A SAVIOR (BATMAN V SUPERMAN)
Even those who don’t care for Zack Snyder’s films would have a hard time denying that the dude can put a shot together. This likely owes as much to his background in art history as his film school training. Throughout his contributions to the DCEU there have been numerous shots that hearken back to Renaissance era paintings.
Whether you care to take the religious symbolism of paintings of that era at face value or not, they make for effective references when depicting DC’s gods among us on film.
This shot, which sees a woman in a flooded village reaching out to Superman is both beautiful and poignant. There’s a healthy dose of renaissance influence in there with a little of Jim Lee’s work on Superman: For Tomorrow in there too.
11. DIANA VS WORLD WAR I (WONDER WOMAN)
If you’re going to show the most iconic woman in comics suited up and ready for action for the first time (in canon if not in cinema history), you’d better do so in a scene worthy of her. While it’s generally regarded as one of the most triumphant and celebratory scenes in Wonder Woman, some may not realize that Patty Jenkins had to fight some serious studio interference to keep it in the film.
Seeing Diana rise into the theater of combat, however, is a beautiful and visually sumptuous moment that likely still adorns many a desktop background. As she rises from the trenches, her armor is resplendent and creates a wonderful contrast with her bleak and war torn surroundings. In this sequence we see Wonder Woman emerge as a symbol of hope for man’s world.
10. LOOK EVERYONE, SUPERMAN SMILED! (MAN OF STEEL)
Superman can be a tricky onion to peel. Make an effort to depict him as the iconic and important character that he is, and you risk elevating him too much and audiences struggle to relate to him. On the other hand, make him fallible and flawed in an effort to make him easier to relate to, and some fans will claim you’re not treating the character with respect.
Prior to the release of Justice League the DCEU’s Superman was largely accused of being too dour, grim and joyless.
Thus, fans of the DCEU had to refer time and again to this triumphant moment in Man of Steel in which Clark learns to fly for the first time. It’s a genuinely joyful Superman moment that flies (pun intended) in the face of DCEU detractors.
9. BATMAN ATOP A GARGOYLE (JUSTICE LEAGUE)
Close your eyes and picture Batman in your head. He might be wearing gray or black. His cape and cowl may be blue, black or gray. His logo may be contained within a yellow oval or sprawling across his chest. His ears may be long or short, his belt may have capsules or pouches…but however the variables your version of Batman may differ, you likely picture him atop a gargoyle.
This shot in Justice League is rightly lauded as one of the coolest and most Batman images of the entire DCEU. Granted the shot used in the final film differs slightly to what we saw in the trailer, but it’s still one of the best shots in Batman’s entire cinematic canon. Even if Ben Affleck never dons the cowl again (which would be a shame), at least he got to be the subject of this incredible shot.
8. EL DIABLO’S REGRET (SUICIDE SQUAD)
David Ayer famously wrote the screenplay for Suicide Squad in two weeks and has been very open about his regret in how the story fell short of his expectations. Even so, while the film will be remembered for its punk sensibility, ensemble cast and quirky visuals, the bar scene at the end of the second act has some great character moments.
The sequence in which El Diablo recounts his back story is both rich in character and visually inventive.
In El Diablo’s hand, an effigy of his late wife is rendered in flames. She dances seductively, symbolizing his love and attraction before collapsing and dying in a cloud of smoke as he suffocates the flame with a glass. Rarely do visual effects and performance come together as well as in this tragically beautiful sequence.
7. THE MUTILATION OF MARU (WONDER WOMAN)
While she doesn’t enjoy a whole lot of screen time Elena Anaya’s Dr. Isabel Maru, aka Doctor Poison, is a compelling and visually striking take on a classic Wonder Woman villain. Throughout the film, we’re left wondering what could be hiding beneath the porcelain prosthesis covering her otherwise beautiful face.
When the hideous scarring beneath the mask is revealed (implicitly a result of Maru’s twisted experiments gone wrong), not only is it compellingly hideous, but the revelation offers us an insight into Wonder Woman’s character. Diana does not react with shock and revulsion, but pity and compassion; sparing her life even as Ares baits her to murder the humbled and defeated scientist. This grotesque and tragic images paints what could otherwise have been a two dimensional villain in a whole new light.
6. DEADSHOT SPARES HARLEY (SUICIDE SQUAD)
While Suicide Squad found its audience, earning a respectable $746.8 million worldwide, even its director has admitted that it’s not the most substantial of the DC films. Nonetheless, it has many great moments, largely thanks to the superlative cast. Take this sequence, for instance in which Amanda Waller offers Deadshot his freedom in exchange for the murder of Harley Quinn. Unbeknownst to Waller, Deadshot deliberately misses his target as she floats suspended from a helicopter.
Harley seems to be in on the act too, theatrically feigning her death for a few seconds before coming back to life and striking a pose that’s pure Harley Quinn.
5. AT LAST… A SHIRT RIP (JUSTICE LEAGUE)
There are certain parts of a character’s iconography that we expect to see in superhero cinema. We expect to see Captain America throw his shield, we expect to see Wonder Woman cross her bracelets, we expect to see Batman standing on a rooftop. The image of Clark Kent tearing open his shirt to reveal the Superman logo is a small, but important part of the mythology and one that had been absent from the DCEU…until Justice League.
It’s more than just a superficial part of the character’s visual canon. It’s a reminder that there’s more to any of us than what we present on the outside. It’s an offer to scratch the surface of even the meekest and mild mannered of us and get to know the hero within.
4. DIANA SAVES THE DAY (BATMAN V SUPERMAN)
This may come as a shock to many readers but… Batman V Superman is a pretty divisive film. For each of the film’s staunch and vocal supporters there seem to be just as many equally staunch and vocal detractors and even two years after the film’s release, they still continue the debate. While there’s little common ground to be held between these warring factions, everybody seems to like the way Wonder Woman was introduced.
After a few scenes of coy verbal sparring with Bruce Wayne, Diana emerges in full Amazonian regalia to save the day and unite the trinity against Doomsday.
And the first image we get to see is Gal Gadot in that iconic pose with her bracelets crossed embodying the character in all her beauty and power. Go ahead and look at the image above and tell us that terrific Hans Zimmer track doesn’t leap into your mind!
3. THE ARCHERY OF ANTIOPE (WONDER WOMAN)
Robin Wright has brought many compelling characters to the screen from the earnest Princess Buttercup to the Machiavellian Claire Underwood but it wasn’t until last year’s Wonder Woman that audiences the world over got to see her demonstrate her aptitude for action scenes. Wright’s character, Antiope gets a few cool action moments in the film but none is more visually astonishing than this shot.
When invaders from man’s world land on Themyscira looking for trouble, you can’t help but pity them just a little when they find it. Antiope demonstrates that even though the invading soldiers have rifles they’re still no match for the Amazons. With the help of her sisters she is propelled into the air, sailing over two soldiers before skewering them with arrows as she lands.
2. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS HOMAGE (BATMAN V SUPERMAN)
Say what you will about Zack Snyder, he’s a consummate visualist who wears his background in art history on his sleeve. Throughout his works you’ll find numerous visual references to classic works of art and iconic comic book visuals treated with equal reverence.
Batman V Superman‘s climax sees the trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman face Doomsday and hile it’s a visually busy sequence, it contains some visual gems worthy of pausing.
Snyder and Larry Fong have always brought out the best in each other and there’s some great collaboration between the two in this sequence. Included therein is a blink and you’ll miss it moment, but one that did not escape the attention of viewers whose comic book fandom was informed by Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns. It’s a great homage to one of the most broadly recognized comic covers of the last half century.
1. IS THAT CHRISTOPHER REEVE? (MAN OF STEEL)
While Man of Steel‘s third act has its detractors there was one sequence that had fans itching with anticipation for the home video release of the film so that they could parse it frame by frame. As the newly christened Superman fights the Kryptonian world engine over the Indian Ocean he finds himself driven into the ground under the crushing weight of its gravity beam.
Mustering his strength and willpower, Henry Cavill’s Superman braces himself to launch up into the machine, reducing it to scrap. As Cavill’s facial features are contorted by the gravity beam, for a frame or two they look suspiciously like those of the late, great Christopher Reeve leading fans to speculate that director Zack Snyder had digitally superimposed Reeve’s visage onto Cavill’s. Though Snyder has denied it, the rumor persist to this day, and revisiting the film it’s not hard to see why.
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