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We live in a world where films are more than just escapism. Nowadays, most films aim to be a part of a huge storyline. One of the biggest contenders for this type of storytelling is Marvel Studios, combining countless films over the past decade, and still going on at this moment. There was the failed Dark Universe from Universal Pictures that had so much potential. The classic Universal Monster films were all connected and worked wonderfully. How Universal screwed up their universe with just one movie, I don’t know. Well, there was a weak script, unfocused direction, and so much forced setup. So, that’s that. Hell, even Godzilla has his own universe with the MonsterVerse, which although tight with its continuity, is slowing losing steam. One of the biggest attempts at a universe is, of course, the DCEU. It came into play back in 2013 with Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel. Although met with mixed reviews, it grossed enough at the box office. Warner Bros. knew they had captured lightning in a bottle and began green-lighting future projects set in this new world. What ensued was a mishmash of convoluted, dark (not the good kind), and dull films that had all of us wondering what this universe was leading up to. Thankfully, as of 2017, the DCEU got itself some serious ass-kicking films that, hopefully, stay this way. Before Birds of Prey hits theaters, let’s explore the oddity that is, the DC Extended Universe.
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It’s not an S. On my world, it means hope.” – Superman
2013. Man of Steel takes the approach The Dark Knight trilogy took. A semi-realistic look on the Boy Scout set in “our world.” Does it work? Yes and no. There’s a lot to appreciate and a lot to be desired. The action feels real; it’s bombastic, loud, and unapologetic. However, there’s a lot happening, and it becomes boring watching so much destruction. A common issue with many comic book movies. It also has an underdeveloped political view, which gets expanded to the extreme in the following film. Henry Cavill fits the role of Supes, but isn’t given much to work with. He’s a bit bland, as he doesn’t show a lot of emotions. Now, the real show-stealer is Michael Shannon as General Zod. Boy, does he eat up the scenery whenever onscreen. He’s just a complete nut. He’s always screaming, which is hilarious, and has clear motives. Everyone else also doesn’t add much to the story either. They’re all just cookie-cutter characters. There’s also an issue with the color grading, as everything looks so lifeless. Superman has this awesome suit, but it doesn’t shine because everything is too gray or white. Yes, it’s a realistic take, but c’mon, add some color. As time has gone by, the film has received more praise, with many citing it as underrated. It’s a fine film, with plenty of cool moments. His first fight in Smallville is sweet, and his first flight is easily one of the best sequences in comic book movie history. Not a perfect film, but it was enough to get audiences excited for the next entry.
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Tell me. Do you bleed? You will.” – Batman
2016. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice continues the realism of MoS with a spectacular opening. Seeing Bruce Wayne run around the city as the battle occurs was fantastic, but it all goes downhill after that. This film is messy. It has no idea what it wants to be. From a political stance, it’s boring. It tries to be this serious thriller, but the direction is all over the place. It has one too many characters who are all trying to get the most screen-time. Once again, Cavill has nothing to work with. As Clark, his character is wasted. He doesn’t do anything to move the story. As Superman, he’s slightly better. Slightly. He has moments where he’s trying to figure out his role on earth, as the majority of the population hate him, which is all solid stuff. It’s when he’s with Batman where his character his dumb-downed. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne gets a lot of hate, but he’s probably the best thing. You understand why he is the way he is, why he kills, and why he’s depressed. Although he’s not the ideal Batman, his motives are clear. Side-note: that warehouse fight might be the best onscreen Batman fight. Ever. The big V. fight is underwhelming, to say the least. Nothing feels real, and the finale is so bizarre. We all know about Martha. That scene alone is worth its own article. There’s plenty of forced set-up that is laughable. An email with the Justice League members is silly enough, but having Lex Luthor create their logos is stupid beyond belief. And of course, the color grading is somehow even worse than before. A lifeless film to experience, which had fans worried about the future of DC films. Rest assured, the next film blew everyone away. The wrong way.
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Don’t forget, we’re the bad guys.” – Deadshot
That same year, we got Suicide Squad, a literal mess of a movie. From its inconsistent tone to its obvious missing scenes; this is how not to make a movie. This is a perfect example where the studio takes much of the blame. They gave David Ayer six weeks to write a script, which is insane. He had to introduce a new team, all with enough screen-time. Now, that’s a challenge no one must go through. Rather than give us what was promised at Comic-Con, WB decided to change the film from its gritty nature to an action-comedy that tried to be Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s where they failed. These characters aren’t much a joke on the pages. Aside from Margot Robbie giving us a near-perfect Harley Quinn, everyone else wasn’t a character. They were actors pretending to be said characters. Not one member of the squad was memorable. Oh, and there’s Jared Leto as Joker. We’ve all mocked him enough where’s he jumped off the DC boat right onto the VenomVerse. Morbius, please be as enjoyably stupid as Venom. The Joker looks pathetic and desperate for attention. This movie tries to be hip and cool in all the wrong ways. It’s got a sweet soundtrack, but the songs don’t fit with the scenes. The action is forgettable; not a single set-piece sticks with you. Well, this whole movie doesn’t stick with you. There’s also Incubus, one of the worst villains of all time. No character, just horrific CGI. WB essentially made Hot Topic: The Movie. There was some color to be found, which was refreshing, but the film still looked atrocious. At this point, the DCEU was, to say kindly, a mess. However, the next entry gave us a little bit of hope.
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I’m willing to fight for those who can not fight for themselves.” – Wonder Woman
2017. Wonder Woman… is a fun movie. Case closed. Patty Jenkins delivers an engaging story with characters who have personalities and chemistry. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine make for a wonderful duo, as they help each other when one another becomes a fish out of water. She helps him learn about her world, while he does the same, playing off each other with solid banter. Diana has noble goals, as she believes Ares is the reason behind the war. She believes her killing him will rid the world of evil, making her even more likable. She enters our world with such naivety, which is adorable and sad. She embodies hope, while Steve embodies the harsh truth. When he tells her that men are evil just because, she breaks down, still believing she can save them. It’s a great moment because you agree with both characters. Yes, people are bad, but there can be a way to fix it all. The friendship these two share is the reason why this film works so much. If these two weren’t that developed, then this would be MoS all over again. There is another dull CGI finale, and the villain, again, is boring. If you’re given Remus Lupin as your villain, you make him memorable. The No Man’s Land, like Supes first flight, is a fantastic set-piece; wonderful setup and satisfying payoff. A solid flick all the way, but the characters are what makes WW all the more entertaining.
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I need friends.” – The Flash
Months after WW, Justice League premiered, and was not on the same level of competency as the film before it. Not even close. Another great example of a studio making drastic changes because… money. This is a great movie to make fun of. Similar to Suicide Squad, there are crystal clear moments where scenes are missing. A game to play is picking out the reshoots, which are so obvious. The studio decided to go for a more “family-friendly” approach, like with the Schumacher Batman movies, and golly, was it bad. Weird humor is thrown all over the place, with the teammates themselves looking uncomfortable. Joss Whedon came on board to finish the production, and the whole thing feels like an Avengers parody. All the new characters are introduced at absurd speeds, with hardly any time to get invested. This movie also features another horrendous villain in Steppenwolf, who is just as bad as Incubus. Just as bad. He does nothing throughout the entirety of the runtime. The stakes are pretty big, but they don’t feel real. Supes returns, and although Cavill finally shines, his god awful upper lip is distracting. That’s the best way to describe JL. A distraction. This whole thing just feels like an early PS3 demo. This was NOT the beacon of hope JL fans wanted.
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What could be greater than a king?” – Aquaman
2018. Aquaman is dumb. Dumb, mindless popcorn entertainment. It sets up several clichés, like characters having a conversation only to be interrupted by an explosion. It creates rules, only to be broken just because. It has questionable acting, especially from the young Arthur actors. It has so many goofy moments that raise several questions, but it’s so entertaining. Jason Momoa does the best he can with a script filled with problems, yet gives a compelling performance. He has excellent motives, wanting to save both his homeland and his oceanland. King Orm, another over the top villain, also has good reasons to attack the lands, but his mission to get there is so sloppy. He pulls off so many absurd obstacles. The man deserves a lot of respect for his half-baked ideas. Another villain they got right was Black Manta, who looks marvelous. How they managed to make his ridiculous costume work in reality, again, deserves a lot of respect. The action, although mostly CGI, works and is a treat to the eyes. Let’s be honest, this is the best anyone could’ve done with adapting Aquaman. This movie just throws logic out the window right from the get-go. It’s not too serious where it becomes boring, and it’s not total stupidity to the point of being unwatchable. It’s a fun, turn off your brains, type movie, and there’s nothing wrong with that. James Wan, make the sequel as outlandish as possible.
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That’s why you don’t mess with electricity.” – Shazam!
2019. Shazam! hit theaters right when Avengers: Endgame was making box office history, but who needs to make history when you’re making a great film? Shazam! is awesome. Truly the best DCEU movie so far, with its rich family storyline and blend of comedy and youth. Shazam! tackles the subject matter of family, letting go of the past, and embracing your powers. Billy Batson is a relatable lead, not because he shows affection, but because he hides it. He only cares about himself, and when given these powers, he uses them to make quick cash, rather than fighting crime. Be honest with yourself, if you had these powers at his age, you’d do the same. The Wizard picks Billy as his Champion, but not because he’s truly the one. The Wizard is out of options and gives Billy his powers as a final resort. Now, that’s very clever because it leaves the audience wondering if Billy deserves those powers or not. The same can be said for Sivana, who was given a chance to be a hero, but his dark side got the better of him. Being told he’ll never live up to anything is heavy stuff, and his reason for becoming a villain is understandable. He believes no one is worthy of such gifts, as he was never himself. Aside from the fascinating morals, this movie just wants to have fun. A wonderful montage of Captain Marvel, yes, doing “hero” stuff with Queen? Why not. The action set-pieces, although nothing special, manage to throw in humor, and it works. The reference to “Big” is gold, and the cliché bad guy speech where Sivana can’t be heard is very funny. This is just a stellar film. It’s very similar to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. Both tongue and cheek with a lot of heart. It’s without a doubt, one of the best comic book films of all time, proving the DCEU knows what they’re doing… for the most part.
The DCEU is such an interesting piece of film history. It’s clear WB wanted to speed things up to try to catch up with Marvel, and that’s where they failed. They should’ve taken their time developing these characters. There’s no need to rush if the final product is good. Their upcoming films like WW84, The Batman, and Shazam! 2, have all the ingredients for solid films. Matt Reeves’ Batman film has been announced eons ago, and although fans desperately want it, he’s taking his time developing a unique story. WW84 was scheduled for a 2019 release, but Jenkins insisted on going over the film, even if it meant releasing it a year later. The DCEU doesn’t need to rush it. What it needs are talented crews, strong visions, and time. Then hopefully, there will be beacons of hope.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is out in theaters February 7, 2020.