In Defense of the DCEU
When is a nearly 100 million-dollar opening Box Office take considered a failure? When you’re Warner Brothers and your film is part of the DC Extended Universe.
Ever since the much (if not partially unfair) maligned Man of Steel came out in 2013 and established the DCEU in which all other films in the property will revolve around, fans and critics alike have taken issue with it. It is very easy to compare this universe to the highly profitable and well-constructed Marvel Universe. Or, compare it to the very successful DCTV universe with such shows as Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. Let’s be honest, Warner Brothers came late to the party. They only have themselves to blame. One of the great strengths for Marvel is that despite Disney’s ownership, they are their own studio and run by fanboys who get it. I wish DC would spin-off Warner and create a studio of their own. When you have too many chefs in the kitchen, the end product suffers. Are the characters in Marvel that much better or more appealing than DC? Of course not. But between wonderful casting choices, writers and directors who know and understand the wealth of historic information at their fingertips to tap into, all this creates a winning formula. And they’ve been winning since 2008.
All is not lost for DC and their band of superheroes however. DC has a longer and more celebrated history with all due respect to Marvel’s heroes. So where did it go wrong? Where did it go right? And where do they go from here?
Much like Marvel, the casting for DC has been solid. I like Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. I take issue with the material he was handed. He has the look and the charm that makes Superman special. Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman might be my favorite big screen version of the Dark Knight. The bat suit alone is probably the best since Michael Keaton’s Batman. Affleck is believable in both roles but much like Cavill, suffers from the material. Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. Admittedly, I was a skeptic when I first saw that she was given to coveted role. My skepticism comes from not knowing much about her other than her role in the Fast and Furious franchise. It also came from my love of the character and my desire to see her presented in the best way possible. Gal Gadot is the best way possible. Lynda Carter will always be celebrated and rightfully so but Gadot will now always be Wonder Woman.
After the trinity, the casting of Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher as Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg respectfully seem to be, at least through one film, solid choices. Unlike Momoa and Fisher, Miller was a questionable pick because of fan favorite TV Flash, Grant Gustin. After seeing Justice League, Miller is more than capable and for the most part stole every scene he appeared in. No matter how good the writing or the execution of the story is, without proper casting, it’s doomed to fail. Where it went wrong for the most part was in the execution of the films with the exception of Wonder Woman earlier this year.
Let’s break it down:
Man of Steel (2013): This origin film failed for so many because it made Superman an indecisive and uninspiring hero. Everything Superman is not. They also minimized the importance of Jonathan Kent as the moral compass for Clark that would shape Superman into the hero he should be. That missing compass in part made the climax with Zod that much more disappointing to diehard fans of the character. I’m okay with the darker tone per se. However, I would have tailored the tone to fit each character. Because darkness works with Batman doesn’t mean it would work for Superman. Man of Steel didn’t have to be so dreary. But there was definitely more good than bad. Speaking of which…
Batman v Superman (2016): I like putting Bruce Wayne in the middle of the events of the first film. It gave Bruce a legit reason to “hate” Superman. The problem though was that director Zack Snyder tried to do too much and by the time Batman and Superman faced each other, he lost the audience to boredom and confusion. I do recommend the extended cut because it makes choppy scenes more cohesive. The addition of Lex Luthor played by Jesse Eisenberg is fine and made perfect sense. The casting of Eisenberg as Luthor is one that I question. He may yet grow on me, we’ll just have to wait and see going forward. Throwing in the Doomsday storyline was only to serve another purpose that I don’t think was executed to its full potential. Again, trying to do too much. Sometimes less is more. Don’t get me started on the whole Martha thing either. BvS did however give us Wonder Woman and while her screen time was a mere five minutes or so, seeing the trinity together was exciting and gave me a nerdgasm.
Suicide Squad (2016): Sadly, this was a major miss in my book. The Joker cannot be a secondary character. And this version with the tattoos and such kills it for the purists. I had no issue with Jared Leto although like Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor, I’m sure there were better choices. No, the problem I had and this seems to be a reoccurring theme, is the way these characters were portrayed and how the story was written. When the trailer becomes the best part of the film, you know you have issues. I would have hinted at the Joker character through Harley Quinn but save his appearance for a post credit scene. That would have set the tone for not only a sequel but also his introduction into the DCEU.
Wonder Woman (2017): The first hit for DC and it took a woman to do it. And that woman was Patty Jenkins. As I said earlier, casting alone can’t make a film successful. It needs someone with the vision, care and understanding of the character that Jenkins brings to the table that made not only Wonder Woman the best of the DCEU thus far but one of the best comic book films ever including those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The tone was bright where it needed be and dark when it was necessary. Jenkins understood how to balance it out and the results speak for itself. Her origin story was loyal to the source material and do not underestimate what a good score could do to enhance our heroes screen presence. When Wonder Woman’s theme by Hans Zimmer comes on, you are in for a thrill ride. It’s no different from what John Williams did for Superman in 1978 or Danny Elfman for Batman in 1989.
Justice League (2017): Unlike The Avengers, our introductions to the key members of League were given a quick cliff note version. We get vague hints at who and why Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg exist in the first place. But make no mistake, when all of them are fighting alongside each other, they rival the prowess of the Avengers in every way. I would tone down the CGI just a bit and focus instead on making these iconic characters shine. As for the post credit scene, it generated so much positive buzz inside the theater that I think the future of the DCEU is brighter than originally thought.
If Warner Brothers wants to stake their own claim in the box office pie, they should not concern themselves with how Marvel does things with the only exception that I would hand over the reigns to the creative people who have a passion for these characters, an understanding of filmmaking and not see them solely as a cash cow. A talented writer like Geoff Johns knows the concept of pacing when putting together a comic book series. Unfortunately it does not translate as well on the big screen when you’re trying to cram in as much material within a two or two and a half hour timeframe. With that said, they (Warner/DC) may be heading in the right direction with a Aquaman solo film due in 2018, Wonder Woman 2 with Jenkins at the helm slated for 2019 as well as Shazam starring Zachary Levi coming out that same year. With likable casting and a rich history to reference and build a universe upon, there is no reason to fail and to coin a phrase from the film Field of Dreams, ‘if you build it, they will come’.
May the Dork be with you,
The Dork Knight