Since its inception with 2013’s Man of Steel the DC Extended Universe (also known as the Justice League Universe) has courted controversy. The films have a fiercely loyal fan base who defend the films to the hilt and vociferously deny their shortcomings while, conversely a great many detractors look past the undeniable cinematic artistry on show in the films. Stalwart defenders insist that the current crop of DC films have more than the creation of entertaining popcorn fare on their agenda, while those who’ve never quite warmed to their particular flavor have decried them as being purposely ponderous, oblique and pessimistic.
One thing’s for sure, the cinematic output from Warner Bros. and DC is markedly different from its Marvel Studios equivalent, and rightly so. Nobody would buy Pepsi if it tasted exactly the same as Coke. Whether or not the DC formula works for you is simply a matter of preference, but the DCEU (like any cinematic franchise) most certainly has its peaks and valleys. For every moment of genuine artistic triumph there is something that frustrates in concept or execution. Thus, as we ready ourselves for the release of next month’s Justice League, let’s take a tour through the moments that have elated and exasperated audiences.
16. DIDN’T CARE: TELL THAT TO ZOD’S SNAPPED NECK
Man of Steel was, better or for worse, a very different brand of Superman movie to what most people were expecting. While the film opened with some spectacular Kryptonian set pieces and a lot of genuinely great character development, the third act was an mess of destruction that fans still hotly debate the necessity of to this day, and Superman’s desperate killing of Zod in the film’s climax was, for many the final straw.
The scene was famously decried by comic book veteran Mark Waid whose 2003 reboot Superman: Birthright was a clear source of inspiration for the film. While many fans defend this narrative choice (what prison could have held him?), the fact that Superman’s career began with such an extreme act, embittered many fans towards this interpretation of their beloved hero.
15. DID CARE: WONDER WOMAN REVEALED
The Thomas Crown Affair was often cited leading up to Batman V Superman‘s release as a key influence on the cat and mouse relationship between Bruce Wayne and the enigmatic Diana Prince leading up to the film’s third act. In these early scenes, Gal Gadot gives us an acting masterclass combining a seemingly infinite intelligence with a wry amusement and confidence that can only come with having lived for centuries.
The film teases us with hints to Diana’s true nature right up until she is revealed in all her Amazonian glory in the climactic battle with Doomsday. This is the first time that the most important woman in comics has been seen on the big screen and the film doesn’t disappoint. Ms Gadot’s seemingly effortless aptitude for action combined with Hans Zimmer’s now iconic score make for a sequence that not even the film’s detractors can deny.
14. DIDN’T CARE: THE KNIGHTMARE SEQUENCE
Here’s the thing. The Knightmare sequence in and of itself is actually very good. It’s well shot, the action is compelling, the visual effects are good, it makes some really interesting aesthetic choices and gives us our first ever look at cinematic Parademons. The trouble is that it just does not fit in with the rest of the film. At all.
It kind of reaffirms Batman’s paranoia regarding Superman which would be fine if it were intended as a dream sequence, but this is clearly supposed to be a prognostication of things to come. Top it off with the cryptic cameo by Ezra Miller’s Flash and you’re left with a beautiful but pointless head-scratcher which would have been better off left on the cutting room floor.
13. DID CARE: SUPERMAN VS THE WORLD ENGINE
If there’s one thing that Superman fans love it’s seeing the Man of Steel face a seemingly insurmountable challenge and prevail using his greatest superpower, his indomitable spirit… also punching things really hard! This well crafted action sequence provides a legitimate reason for Superman to be vulnerable (without a single mention of the K-word), thereby creating a genuine sense of peril and as he battles the liquid-geo tentacles of the world engine we see Superman’s existential battle of nature versus nurture, Kryptonian versus human writ large.
Combine that with the close up which may or may not have superimposed a frame of Christopher Reeve onto Henry Cavill’s face, a soaring orchestral score and the sequence of Superman forcing his way through the world engine’s gravity beam (a subtle homage to the first Fleischer Studios Superman cartoon) and you have a truly quintessential Superman moment.
12. DIDN’T CARE: EVERYTHING INVOLVING DOOMSDAY
Sorry ’90s nostalgia fans but Doomsday just isn’t a good character. He was created with a singular purpose and while different comic book writers have tried to mold him into something more complex since his inception,he still just reverts back to a monosyllabic brute who smashes things. So the decision to take a character who isn’t as good as you remember from a comic book arc that isn’t as good as you remember and force him into an already chaotic third act is a less than masterful stroke.
On paper, the ensuing battle may be a good proving ground for Superman and Wonder Woman’s combined powers, but the reality is a headache inducing cacophony of explosions. Fortunately, the scene is rescued by the much more intimate and dramatic moment of Superman’s sacrifice.
11. DID CARE: THE BIRTH OF HARLEY QUINN
Suicide Squad is far from perfect. In fact, it’s often far from coherent but the film’s irreverent punk sensibility, superb casting and generally excellent performances found the film an appreciative audience. The relationship between Harley Quinn and The Joker is an interesting deviation from the source material, presenting a somewhat more sanitized (and certainly much more reciprocal) romance than many fans were used to.
Whether you approve of the changes or not, nobody in their right mind can deny that the chemistry between Jared Leto’s Joker and Margot Robbie’s Harley pops. The scene in which Ace Chemicals in which Harleen Quinzel is reborn as Harley Quinn is beautifully shot and acted convincingly conveying Joker’s reluctant but sincere commitment to Harley. The extended version of the film actually does a better job of selling the switch with Joker clearly wrestling with his nascent feelings.
10. DIDN’T CARE: JUSTICE LEAGUE ATTACHMENTS
Few would deny that the Justice League are icons of pop culture, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the characters are best enjoyed as desktop icons and then later *gasp* as short Quicktime videos at the end of an already busy second act. In all fairness, the videos that Bruce Wayne shares with Diana Prince as the third act of Batman V Superman begins, are pretty cool in isolation but woven into the narrative they’re severely damaging to the film’s flow.
They stall the sense of anticipation for the final confrontation between Batman and Superman and contribute little of value to the thrust of the story and serve only to set up the coming of the Justice League movie. These short videos would be of far more value in the special features section of the Blu-ray than clogging up the third act.
9. DID CARE: AMAZONS VS THE HUN
Wonder Woman boasts many great accomplishments but one of its finest is in its world building. We have such a great time getting to know Hippolyta, Antiope and the gang we forget that these women are not just beautiful, wise compassionate women. They’re also warriors without equal. When the German forces chasing Steve Trevor alight on the island paradise of Themyscira they quickly demonstrate that they have no interest in the niceties of democracy, storming the beach with rifles blazing.
The Amazons respond in kind, bringing their martial arts skills to bear for the first time in centuries and striking a blow for flag waving feminists all over the world. Their skilled and acrobatic combat provides a stark contrast with the warfare of the early 20th century showing us (through Diana’s eyes) what a terrifying prospect firearms must be to someone who’s never seen one before.
8. DIDN’T CARE: ENCHANTRESS’ MAGICAL MYSTERY MACHINE
Cara Delevingne is a perfectly good actress who mostly does a perfectly serviceable job with the role of The Enchantress…but Suicide Squad was probably not the best vehicle for the character. As an antagonist she’s all over the place with a poorly defined motivation and a bizarre modus operandi. Upon releasing her brother Incubus she complains that humans no longer worship their kind, and instead they worship machines.
As such she resolves to build a machine that will…ummm…we don’t know and we’re not sure the film does either. She doesn’t build the machine, she just conjures it up out of thin air and its primary function appears to be making blue light and making trash hover in the sky. Oh, and it sucks thoughts out of Amanda Waller’s mind…possibly? The only thing we know for sure is that it appears to be powered by silly dancing.
7. DID CARE: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS… AGAIN
You’d be hard pressed to find a Batman comic with greater pop-culture currency than Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. As well as spawning an excellent animated adaptation, it has been heavily influential in Batman’s cinematic exploits. The notion of a dark and hard boiled Batman was instrumental to getting Tim Burton’s seminal 1989 Batman made, and the book’s influence is apparent in several moments of Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Zack Snyder wears the book’s influence far more on his sleeve in Batman V Superman with Batman’s costumes lifted bodily from the graphic novel. The film’s introduction to Ben Affleck’s Batman through the eyes of two cops (one veteran, one rookie) who track some criminals to a dilapidated apartment building is a masterful riff on a similar scene from the book, with The Gotham Bat shot and scored very much as a horror character.
6. DIDN’T CARE: BATMOBILE KILLING SPREE
While for most of his comic book career The Dark Knight has harbored an aversion to firearms and killing, he’s been known to be somewhat laissez faire towards both on film. Michael Keaton’s Batman racked up a body count becoming of an ’80s action hero in his two films and even Christian Bale’s Batman shot and killed one of Talia Al Ghul’s henchman from the comfort of The Bat (in his defense he was trying to stop a bomb from vaporizing the city at the time).
Never before, though, has Batman been quite so enthusiastic in his use of firearms as when chasing Lex Luthor’s goons through the streets of Gotham, leaving a fleet of charred and mangled cars (and equally charred and mangled human bodies) in his wake. Sure, one could argue that this is all part of his overall character arc but it’s still jarring to behold.
5. DID CARE: NO MAN’S LAND
There’s something particularly gratifying about seeing our heroes emerge fully formed on screen in all their glory having navigated the trials and tribulations of their origin. Here we see Diana endure the horrors and inequities of World War I until she can endure no more. Shrugging off her civilian clothes and shaking loose her hair, she emerges from the trenches in all her glory as Wonder Woman. As she ascends to wooden ladder into No Man’s Land despite the desperate protestations of her male counterparts.
Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score soars as Diana walks purposefully forward, deflecting bullet after bullet as she traverses the barren wastes. This is the moment that Wonder Woman fans have waited the better part of a century to see and the scene does not disappoint, with every frame a gleaming celebration of the character, her power and her beauty.
4. DIDN’T CARE: LET THEM DIE? MAYBE!
It’s probably the second most contentious line of the entire DCEU and has sparked intense debate among fans even before Man of Steel‘s release (it was included in the trailer) resulting in a slew of ‘Pa Kent is a jerk’ memes. When 13-year old Clark Kent rescues a bus load of his peers from a watery death, a dismayed Jonathan Kent ponders what this mean’s for his son’s secret. The distraught Clark asks if he should just have let his friends die to which Pa Kent replies “maybe”.
Okay, we get that Pa Kent is at the end of his rope here and the line is an admission of desperation rather than a genuine desire to see kids drowned but the exact same effect could have been achieved by replacing “maybe” with “I don’t know”. As is, the line sticks in our craw and disrupts an otherwise tender moment.
3. DID CARE: SUPERMAN’S FIRST FLIGHT
A common misconception among DCEU’s critics is that the films’ treatment of Superman is drab, ponderous and joyless. This scene is the very antithesis of all that, as we see Superman emerge from the Kryptonian scout ship suited, booted and ready to change the world. Not only are the visual effects spectacular, not only does the arctic setting provide a gorgeous backdrop against which to showcase the awesome suit, not only is Hans Zimmer’s score at its absolute best, but Henry Cavill sells every second of that scene.
The initial bounces and falls are a fun reference to the early years of Superman comics in which he leaped rather than flying while the shot of Superman leaving Earth’s atmosphere is a clear homage to Superman: The Movie. Moreover, Cavill’s look of sheer joy upon liberating himself from Earth’s gravity makes us believe, more than ever, that a man can fly.
2. DIDN’T CARE: THAT MARTHA MOMENT
Here it is. The single most derided moment in the entire DCEU. As with Jonathan Kent’s infamous “maybe” it’s not that we don’t get the intention of the moment. We understand that both Clark and Bruce’s mother sharing the same forename isn’t the point. We understand that this is the moment when Batman perceives that the ‘alien menace’ he has demonized is a just a man not so different from himself and therefore realizes the folly of his crusade.
If Batman V Superman were a novel it’d make total sense, but in the language of cinema, even as well acted as it is (and it really, really is) it’s so open to misinterpretation that it simply doesn’t work. At best it’s a trifle jarring, and at worst it’s a shuddering anti-climax that comes across a little too presto change-o to have the dramatic weight that it needs.
1. DID CARE: BATMAN’S FLAWLESS FREE FLOW COMBO
Sure, we’ve seen Batman navigate some impressive fight scenes in the past. We all look back with fondness at seeing Michael Keaton’s (well, stunt performer Dave Lea’s) Batman send sparks flying as he blocked that swordsman’s blows with his gauntlets, all our hearts were in our throats when Christian Bale’s Batman got his rematch against Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.
However, this moment, known to all who worked on it as ‘the Martha rescue’, shows us a Batman that moves and fights in a comic book accurate way that we’ve only ever seen on screen before when playing Rocksteady’s fantastic Arkham games; strategically taking on multiple foes with an incredible mix of grace and ferocity. The stunt work by Richard Cetrone and Affleck himself is absolutely spectacular and we hope to see many similar fights from this iteration of the Dark Knight in future DCEU films.
Which of these moments did you love and which did you hate? Let us know in the comments!
- Ad Free Browsing
- Over 10,000 Videos!
- All in 1 Access
- Join For Free!