Let’s talk about the DC Extended Universe (and its upcoming movies)
The DC Extended Universe has been the butt of many jokes through the course of time because of how their movies are perceived by both the fans, critics, and mainstream audience—bad and cannot compete with any of the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But… are they as bad as we paint them to be?
What is the difference between the DC movies, and other comic book films?
I was actually very looking forward to this film since forever (and all the DC movies in that matter). They have been receiving unwarranted hate from people all over the internet for wanting to recreate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The MCU has been backed up by everyone since the debut of its first film, Ironman (2009). Now, they already have twenty-three movies in their repertoire. Not to mention their tv series released in Disney Plus, such as the just-concluded WandaVision and the newly-released Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
So, what sets aside the DCEU from the MCU?
As a fan of films in general, the differences that I have observed is that, since the MCU is a whole entity and seen as a well-crafted franchise, lead by Kevin Feige’s creative mind, I can say that the DC Extended Universe is letting its directors really bring in their vision for their movies, making room for more interpretation of the source material.
One of the best examples for this is Wonder Woman (2017), which lets Patty Jenkin have her vision of the Amazon goddess. Here, she stayed true to one of Diana’s messages in the comics. It is to be the symbol of love or compassion, honesty, and peace despite her being so powerful. This is beautiful, considering her male counterparts in the DC Trinity—Batman, are a symbol of, mainly, justice, and Superman, a symbol of, mainly, hope.
Jenkins succeeded in showing the world of film that action movies (and superhero films for that matter) are not only for guys and can also be lead by a woman. She became the second woman to direct a movie with more than $100m. Warner Brothers really trusted her with her idea, which obviously turned out in their favor, being known as one of the, if not the best, DC Extended Universe movies there is. The only problem would be their heavy reliance on a final CGI battle for the third act. But other than that, it is strongly and beautifully made.
Another film that we can look at would be Aquaman (2018), directed by James Wan, who remains no stranger to directing a cinematic universe. However, he is mostly known for Horror and its sub-genres. He directed the Saw and Insidious franchises and the Conjuring Universe which is the second highest-grossing horror franchise at $1.9b.
Seeing how he’s known for these movies, Warner Bros. still entrusted him in directing a superhero film. They trusted his vision to interpret the world of the famous fish guy. Just like Wonder Woman, its critics and audience alike received it well.
The box office performance of these two films is no joke as well, with Wonder Woman garnering a total of $822.3m, and Aquaman receiving a whopping $1.1b. They are actually what fans and critics consider as the best DC Extended Universe movies, which wouldn’t be surprising, considering the fact that people consider they are mediocre or straight-up bad.
The bad movies they are talking about are David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016)—which I completely agree with—and Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice—which I think is just ok. It depends on what you are looking for. But I think it’s fine, or even good, especially its extended version.
Films which I personally enjoyed are Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013), which is fairly-received, and David Sanberg’s Shazam (2019), which is received well, by both the audience and critics.
The films of the DC Extended Universe that I have a lot of problem with
Let’s start with the movie that gained so much popularity and performed well in the box office despite being an unpopular group of characters played by not-so-popular actors, and had a lot of problems—Suicide Squad (2016). This was not a great movie. It remained under the direction of its writer David Ayer who, unfortunately, didn’t do a great job in both.
The characters had no character development. Its concept revolves around a group of villains who have formed together to battle a greater evil. It has an intriguing and good premise, like the comic books. However, they couldn’t execute it well enough. With a premise like that, characters should’ve been fleshed-out in order to create better character arcs. They need to be relatable. You need your audience to care for them, in order for it to work. The introduction to each character should have done that, but they did it in a sloppy way.
The only good thing that came out with it would be Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn—everyone’s favorite psychopath. She embodied the character so well that everyone couldn’t imagine any actress playing the role. She had the wit, the charisma, and the attitude. Everyone loved the character to the point that you could see her all over the place on Halloween that year. Even to this day, you will still see the cosplays of her. She became an instant hit. She carried the movie. Without her, that movie will be nothing.
It’s sad how they overly-sexualized her in it though—another problem I had with David Ayer.
Speaking of Harley Quinn, let’s talk about one of the latest DC Extended Universe movies that she presided in—Birds of Prey (2020). Wow, this became a missed opportunity. When they announced that they will be making this movie, fans felt both excited and scared. They felt excited to see the Oracle, Huntress, and Black Canary’s badass team-up but scared that it will not be executed very well. Oh boy, they were right.
Not only did they completely removed Oracle from the lineup, one of the founders of the group itself alongside the Huntress, but they made Harley Quinn its de facto leader. For me, as a movie, it didn’t turn out that bad. It turned out quite good and very enjoyable. The only problem I had with it came from its source material. I couldn’t fathom the fact that they took such an iconic group and completely altered it.
It basically became a Harley Quinn movie, which became obvious because of the title—The Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn. They should’ve made this her solo movie. It would’ve been received better reception and would’ve not angered a lot of comic book fans. It almost felt like a sequel to Ayer’s Suicide Squad.
According to the producers, they didn’t include Barbara Gordon in here because she became a part of something in the works. It felt almost exciting to expect an upcoming Batgirl movie, but it didn’t change the fact that they made a Birds of Prey movie without her—a core member. If they only did a solo Harley Quinn movie and did a separate Birds of Prey, or even if they just continued their first idea—the Gotham City Sirens movie. Harley became a better fit in there because she would actually be part of that team.
What the fuck happened?
Zack Snyder as a director of most of the DC films
Obviously, Zack Snyder played the biggest part in the DCEU among the mentioned directors, for he has directed three of them—Man of Steel (2013), Batman v. Superman (2016), and the newly-released Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021).
To the film community, he is known for his amazing visuals, conveyed through his work. They might even say that, sometimes, he prioritizes it over the storyline. But they always say that his visuals are on-point and breathtaking. That’s what he’s known for. He directed movies, such as Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009), and Sucker Punch (2011), to name a few.
Particularly the last one, Sucker Punch, I remember vividly how I both hated and loved it at the same time. It also remained an action movie. It is beautiful, obviously. It’s Snyder.
It looks like a work of art, from the sound-track to the musical score, down to the set-design and animation. Everything about it is beautiful… well… except the plot. I hated it because it had so much potential to be a classic. The premise is good, the idea behind it is good, but the execution, not so much. You will somehow be distracted by the visuals and the feel of it, but you will soon notice how messy they tied it all together.
Being that said, we can say that that’s also how he fell short in his DC films. Two of them that he has directed, namely Man of Steel and BvS are fairly-received by both the fans and the critics. Comic fans of the latter-mentioned film are even divided into two. Some who liked and didn’t like it. One of the critiques they mentioned is how pointless and confusing the conflict between them is, and also how it ended. It was when Batman knew that their mothers have the same first name—Martha.
In my opinion, it’s a funny way of saying it, but it is much more than that. It just shows how, even though Superman has the power of a god, but in his heart is a human-being, while Batman is the other way around.
It showcased the humanity of Clark Kent and the god-like abilities of Batman, even though he has no superpowers. The movie also almost clearly showed how Lex Luthor orchestrated the conflict between them. Not to mention the epic introduction to Wonder Woman. It remained a fair movie in my opinion. I can actually say that I enjoyed it.
It would be absurd to not talk about Justice League, both the Whedon version and the Snyder cut. Obviously, the former is not that well-received by the comic book fans and mainstream audience. It seemed very rushed and shallow. It’s a shame how they didn’t wait for Snyder to deal with his grief and just let Whedon take over. It’s obvious that he’ll do a better job.
The 2017 movie remained an obvious cash-grab. It didn’t take the feelings of the fans into consideration. It became a sloppy release of what’s supposed to be the best superhero team to ever exist. An honest statement is, the Justice League is way more popular and powerful than the Avengers. It’s a hard pill to swallow because of how glorified and how attached the fans are to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What’s true is, the Avengers are nothing compared to the Justice League when they are still in the comics. The superhero team of Marvel that is popular, comic book-wise, is the X-Men, but clearly, they didn’t have the rights to it yet, way back in 2009. That’s why Feige decided to take a risk with the less popular team—the Avengers. They started with Ironman and the rest is history. It is a cultural phenomenon.
The reality is, the real reason why The Avengers (2012) worked is because of how they built it up. They had it in the making since 2009. Their plan from the beginning is to create that team. They had the perfect build-up—from Ironman (2009), Captain America (2011) to Thor (2011) until they got to where they are now.
The comic book fans and the mainstream audience felt attached to the characters in the Avengers because they knew them and they love them. Solo movies gave them an introduction. It became an organic success.
Based on that, the Justice League (2017) didn’t work, not just because of the sloppy production, promotion, and writing, but also how they made it to counter the Avengers, without having the calculated build-up that the MCU did. All they had would be Man of Steel (2013), Wonder Woman (2017), and Batman v. Superman (2016). They didn’t even try to hide the fact that the latter movie would be a straight-up trailer of the upcoming Justice League.
The newly-released Snyder cut, although well-received by critics, comic book fans, and mainstream audience alike, still didn’t have the heart the MCU does. It still didn’t have the attachment people had with the likes of Ironman and Captain America, but it is getting there. Letting Zack Snyder release his version of the film is a first step towards what we want to happen. They just need to have the cohesion the MCU has.
I am actually still very hopeful of the DC Extended Universe. I think it will succeed in providing us a cohesive universe once it found its footing. And I think it has already started with the Snyder cut. It became a beautiful iteration of the 2017 movie—the one that they should’ve released in the first place. Comic book fans, critics, and mainstream audiences also felt satisfied with it. I think I consider that as a glimmer of hope.
DC movies that I am most definitely looking forward to
I am very much excited about The Suicide Squad that will be released not later than August this year. Note that it will not be “Suicide Squad 2” because they didn’t refer to it as a sequel. Aside from that, they said that it would be pretty much its own thing.
It will be under James Gunn’s direction—the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. DC took the chance to hire him while he stopped working with Marvel. The media conglomerate fired him for his distasteful and very problematic tweets. Disney continues to be very cautious when it comes to branding. So, it would be expected for them to do that.
Though reports suggest Marvel Studios re-hired Gunn for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, we still have an opportunity to know his take on the Suicide Squad. In an interview, he stated that it would be the most epic film he has directed so far. And, based on the leaked set photos and the trailer released just this late last month, it looks so awesome and badass. It would be a Gunn movie after all. The Guardians of the Galaxy movies became very enjoyable.
The cinematography of the movie, based on just the trailer, looked much better than the 2017 movie. And also, even though it was said that Gunn had a history of portraying women poorly in his movies, it is undeniable that he can also execute and bring the best female characters, as seen on GTG with Gamora and Nebula. That’s why it is very exciting to see his take on Harley Quinn and other female characters, such as Rat Catcher—an addition to the team.
Based on the set photos and the trailer, it seems like it. He even put Harley in I think one of her best and comic book-accurate outfits so far. He didn’t sexualize her as Ayer did. It also seems like Gunn really liked working with Margot Robbie. We might see her in his future movies.
Another movie I am excited about is Matt Reeve’s The Batman (2022). It is actually the movie I am most excited about. It will be rebooting Batman with Robert Pattinson as its lead. Fans actually felt very upset about this, which I don’t get. He has proved himself to be a great actor these past years with his recent movies, especially The Lighthouse (2019).
It’s exciting to see him as the Caped Crusader, the Gotham Vigilante. It will most definitely be a fresh take on the character with him in it. Matt Reeves also has a very beautiful vision with it. He is well-known for the Planet of the Apes movies, Cloverfield (2008), and Let Me In (2010).
One of his actors in the movie, Peter Sarsgaard, has said in an interview with Cinema Blend,
He is the most detailed oriented director I’ve ever encountered. I mean, he is like, the level of focus, I mean, you would have to have to direct the kind of movies that he has directed, but it’s unbelievable. That’s like a very specific type of mind and it’s really fun working with him. He’s very collaborative, but he also, he totally knows what he wants. You know, I would say like, what about something like this? And he would think about it. Well, no, because of the thing and you know, he’s like really, he’s got it in his mind in such a detailed way that it’s almost like savant sort of situation.
With this, we can expect a good movie. One of the comic books that the movie will be based on is said to be The Long Halloween, which Jeph Loeb wrote. Its story revolves around Batman and many of his villains, so we will also expect a ton of them in the movie. Confirmed characters are The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman, but sources say that there are more. Reeves is said to be also faithful to the source material—the Batman comic books—and with that, it sounds great.
The movie looks promising, especially with the released trailers and leaked set photos. With the dark tones of the DC Extended Universe, the creative mind of Matt Reeves, the fresh take of Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne, and Zoe Kravitz as Selena Kyle, we surely are in for a treat. It has also been said by fans that Kravitz is one of the best Catwoman that we will have according to the trailers and leaked set photos and we couldn’t be more excited about it.
There are a ton of other upcoming DC movies in the works and also planned, such as Black Adam, The Flash, Aquaman 2, Shazam: The Fury of the Gods, Wonder Woman 3, The Other Batman, The Trench, Green Lantern Corps, Supergirl, Cyborg, Black Hawk, Batgirl, Nightwing, Man of Steel Sequel, Lobo, New Gods, Static Shock, Blue Beetle, New Superman Movie, and Hourman.
This is the list so far, and they are incredibly exciting. Let’s just wish that the problems that we had in the other movies, such as the execution of the source materials are good. They look good on paper, yes, but they need to deliver—both to the comic book fans and the mainstream audience alike.
Let’s hope for a brighter DC Extended Universe. We don’t have to just choose one between it and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We can have both good comic book universes. In this world full of horrendous crimes and crises, we deserve a cinematic world where the heroes are the best. We can hope that they can save us from these voids we have inside.
Raphael is a person born between the generations of Millenial and Gen Z. He was produced by Cavite State University (Main Campus) with a bachelor's degree in Political Science. The lad has a fresh take on things, but can still stay true to his roots. He writes anything in Pop Culture as long as it suits his taste (if it doesn't, it's for work). He loves to wander around the cosmos and comes back with a story to publish.