I talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe a lot on Xandrama, so I suppose the DC Extended Universe deserves to be talked about as well.
In 2013, the character of Superman received a film reboot, Man of Steel, which promised to be a modern take of Superman in a style similar to the Dark Knight Trilogy. It was an interesting concept that while not as successful as the Dark Knight Trilogy, still proved to be a decent flick.
After the success, a new idea arose: to use Man of Steel as the jumping off point for what would be known as the DC Extended Universe. That’s where things started going downhill with the likes of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Usually, superhero film franchises have a history of doing well (X-Men, MCU) but these two films proved to be some of the worst superhero films of all time.
The concept for this franchise is practically gift wrapped for a film maker, so it begs the question: why isn’t this working as well as it should be? I’ve got a few theories.
It Takes Itself Too Seriously
Films like The Dark Knight work because the dark and grittiness is grounded in a sense of realism. A man dressing like a bat to fight crime is not a very realistic concept. However, the way that it is set up Batman Begins makes it almost plausible. Bruce Wayne was trained in utilizing intimidation and fear tactics in combat, thus he uses his own fears as a symbol of mastery over fear itself.
Superman on the other hand is a more surreal character. He’s an alien from another planet, limitless power, and can perform feats that men could only dream possible. This leads to the paradox: placing surreal characters in a world grounded by realism.
So why does this not work when films like Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger utilize the same concept? Simple. Those films don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re fun flicks that like to crack jokes from time to time. We enjoy these films because while the world may appear to be real, we know it’s not.
Here…these movies take themselves far too seriously. They try to thrust these surreal characters into a gritty realistic environment that causes the two to respectively feel out of place. Superman is a character that feels like he should be in the MCU while the DCEU world feels like it wasn’t meant for super-powered beings.
Jesse Eisenberg is a great actor and I enjoy a lot of his films. However, he and the writer’s interpretation of Lex Luthor was odd. They took a very level-headed, calm and collected character and created a version that was impulsive, sporadic, and a tad crazy. Now different interpretations are fine! It’s a filmmaker’s right to add their own unique spin to a story when adapting. But you have to either stay true to the core of the source material or add upon source material that’s lacking in ideas. This version of Lex Luthor has no reason to want to kill Superman other than the fact that he just wants to. They spent so much time working on this new interpretation yet they didn’t bother focusing on what makes him tick. If they wanted to utilize a crazy villain, then use a crazy villain like the Joker. Which brings us to the major issue: awkward interpretations.
In an effort to be different and unique, the filmmakers try to make more radical changes to well-known characters. Changes are fine, but these particular changes tend to be over the top and so awkward, they don’t make sense. Characters like Lex, the Joker, and Harley Quinn all suffer from not remaining true to their core, making them come across as half-baked characters.
Man of Steel is exactly what it needed to be: a Superman origin movie.
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice was Man of Steel 2, a Batman origin movie, a Justice League prequel, and Batman vs. Superman. It has to accomplish four films in just over two hours. Which leads to the biggest issue: this franchise is trying to go from zero to sixty in a matter of two films. Without other films to give it room to breathe, Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad will be subject to things like exposition info-dumping and existing to solely set up for future films. Both aspects are suffocating these films, not giving them enough time to breathe and focus on the individual stories. A film shouldn’t be a two-hour trailer for the next film.
Imagine if we had a Batman film sometime between Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman that featured villains like Deadshot and the Joker. Not only would this set up the character of Batman, but it would also set up the characters from Suicide Squad. Less room for explaining events off screen and more time being allowed for the story.
But due to how far the MCU is, the DCEU is impatiently trying to catch up. It’s a shame because we could have seen some really good stand-alone films like something I described above.
The Future of the DCEU
Speaking of stand-alone films, we got a REALLY good DCEU film this year, Wonder Woman. It was not only an enjoyable, fun and entertaining film, but it represents the future of the DCEU. DC Entertainment president Geoff Johns said it best when describing how to make a superhero movie:
“Get to the essence of the character and make the movies fun. Just make sure that the characters are the characters with heart, humor, hope, heroics, and optimism at the base…”
While off to a rocky start, the DCEU seems capable of understanding its faults and is trying to change accordingly. The past films may not have done so great, but with these ideas in mind and a willingness to change its formula that give me hope for the DCEU. I’ve always dreaded the inevitable Justice League movie, but after the success of Wonder Woman…maybe it will change the franchise for the better without having to rush.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just some guy on the Internet.
So, what do you all think? Do you enjoy the DCEU? Looking forward to the Justice League movie coming out? Leave a comment below, and let’s get this conversation rolling. Until next time, this is Xander, signing off.