Grading the DC Extended Universe
Ever since the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Brothers has been trying to play catch up with their own DC Extended Universe. This is despite the fact that WB has owned the film rights to all the DC Comics characters and could have easily had a head start on Marvel. This means they have had to compensate causing wildly varying degrees in quality. So let us grade the movies of the DC Extended Universe.
Man of Steel: Ever since Superman Returns failed to deliver on the level the studio had hoped, ideas had been bandied about as to how to bring Superman back to the big screen. Director of the Dark Knight trilogy Christopher Nolan and his collaborator David Goyer had conceived of a new spin of the hero’s origin which was quickly green-lit. Nolan and Goyer’s idea was handed off to action director Zack Snyder who would helm Man of Steel through production. The film goes through the familiar Superman origins we all know as he lands on earth and wanders around searching for meaning. But he is not the only Kryptonian as General Zod also lands on earth seeking to turn it into a new Krypton. Fans of Superman will find little to recognize here as the character is portrayed as moody and aimless instead of selfless and charming. This could be more forgivable if he grew into the hero he was meant to be but that never happened. The whole affair feels rather lifeless and little of note happens aside from massive amounts of mindless destruction.
Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice: This should have been the superhero movie which changed the game, but instead was a bleak bore. It seemed to go over the heads of the filmmakers that the reason these two iconic heroes have been so tied to each other for close to 80 years is because of how different they are. Rather than take advantage of this like so many other creative talents have over the years, Zack Snyder and crew made both heroes moody and brooding. After seeing the destruction of Metropolis from Man of Steel firsthand, Bruce Wayne justifiably sees Superman as a threat. This leads the Dark Knight on a mission to stop Superman before things get out of hand. Behind it all Lex Luthor is scheming and Wonder Woman enters the fray, and at one point we are even treated to vignettes of other superheroes in the pipeline. BvS often comes off as a collection of bleak scenes with little connecting narratives. When we received the director’s cut of the flick, viewers finally got a cohesive storyline even if the tonality problems still lingered.
GRADE: C+ (director’s cut) D (theatrical cut)
Suicide Squad: With acclaimed director David Ayer at the helm and a solid cast, on paper Suicide Squad looked so promising. How wrong we all were. As should be abundantly clear to anyone who sees this, the final cut of the film was given to a studio which specializes in cutting trailers turning any semblance of a coherent plot into a flashy music video. Government official Amanda Waller looks to implement the program Task Force X whereby villains are sent on dangerous secret missions on her behalf. One of her first recruits the Enchantress goes rogue (thus proving her idea does not work) and tries to destroy a city with a generic sky laser of some kind. The only way to stop an incredibly powerful witch is to apparently recruit; Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, and a few others. For a good amount of the film’s run time they wander around the city proclaiming themselves to be “bad guys” before abruptly proclaiming themselves “family” and fighting generic henchmen. Jared Leto also shows up as the worst cinematic Joker ever and he……well contributes nothing to the movie.
Wonder Woman: For far too long the excuse was given by Hollywood that superhero movies with female protagonists do not work. As shoddy evidence they pointed to the few poorly made female-fronted superhero flicks which had been made over the years. But after Wonder Woman stole the show in Batman vs Superman they could no longer ignore the demand for these films. With seventy years of complex character history and the expectations of millions of fans, director Patty Jenkins could have easily caved to the pressure, but instead she rose to the challenge and made one of the most beloved superhero flick of the past several years. Gal Gadot is endlessly endearing as Wonder Woman who ventures into man’s world during the First World War in attempt to stop the combat by killing Ares, the god of war. While the climactic battle leans too far into cliché territory, everything else in Wonder Woman is masterfully executed as it brought new life to the DCEU.
Justice League: What should have been the magnum opus of the DCEU turned into a mess thanks to behind-the-scenes mayhem. Conflicting with what we have seen in the previous films Superman is now regarded as a symbol of hope all of a sudden. With the Man of Steel “dead” it falls on Batman and Wonder Woman to unite a team of heroes to stand up to the looming threat of Darkseid’s poorly animated uncle. Zack Snyder had completed much of the filming before a family tragedy pulled him away from the project. To finish things off, WB brought in Joss Whedon who has a completely different style than Snyder. The end result is a strange mash-up of Snyder’s bleakly-colored action with Whedon’s quippy character focus. That being said Justice League is not boring, with a little over 90 minutes of runtime it moves at a brisk pace to cover as much as it can with the time given. While far from a perfect well-crafted movie it is actually a fun flick definitely worth checking out even if all you do is laugh at Superman’s CGI mouth.
Aquaman: For years Arthur Curry has been the punchline of jokes, but in 2018 the King of Atlantis proved his badassedness. Played by the incredibly charismatic and likable Jason Momoa and directed by horror maestro James Wan Aquaman surprised plenty of members of the moviegoing public. After years of trying to evade is inevitable destiny, Arthur Curry is taken to his homeland of Atlantis to discover it in the hands of his madman brother Ocean Master. In order to dethrone his brother and take his rightful place as King of the Seas, Aquaman must track down a fabled trident. Unfortunately his old enemy Black Manta has been brought in to ensure that never happens. Aquaman proved to be an incredible visual spectacle which gives this oft-disrespected hero the epic he truly deserved.
Shazam!: A hero I have personally felt for years would translate perfectly to the big screen finally gets his chance to shine. Young Billy Batson was just trying to get used to his foster family when he meets the ancient wizard Shazam. Seeking a new hero to carry on the cause of good he empowers Batson, that whenever he speaks the wizards name he becomes a super-powered adult. As Batson adapts to a new life as a superhero, the evil Dr. Sivana emerges intent on claiming the power of Shazam for himself. This forces the young hero to have to grow up quick in order to save his new family and the world. The movie takes full advantage of a perfectly cast Zachary Levi who brings a youthful excitement to the lead role. Shazam! proved to be an absolutely charming and entertaining flick which perfectly encapsulates the wish fulfillment aspect of superheroes.