I’ve always been a huge fan of DC Comics. I grew up watching Batman the Animated Series, Justice League, the old Batman movies, Teen Titans, and many more. I loved the characters like Batman, the Flash, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and seeing them save the world while facing their own personal issues. I was infatuated with the lore and whimsy. I even began reading the comics as I got older, furthering my enthusiasm for this world. When DC Comics and Warner Bros. announced they were going to create a movie universe around their superheroes like Marvel Comics did with theirs, I was as ecstatic as every other DC fan.
They had a decent start in 2013 with Man of Steel. Seeing a darker and more emotional take on Superman, along with some epic Kryptonian action on the big screen was both exciting and interesting. I personally enjoyed a newer take on the character since there have already been five theatrically released movies about him and he’s existed in stories for about 75 years. Something new, yet familiar isn’t exactly the end of the world. Plus, it was much more enjoyable than their first attempt at a movie universe with 2011’s Green Lantern. However, the movie’s darker tone divided audiences. Although I enjoyed it, the divide lead to a somewhat soft start for the overall cinematic universe known as the DCEU (DC Extended Universe).
Still, they persisted. Even those who didn’t enjoy Man of Steel very much could agree that future movies and sequels could make up for where they think the film fell flat. There was hope. However, that hope quickly dwindled with their next installment, Batman vs. Superman: the Dawn of Justice. This is precisely where their major issues started. BvS was the first big screen live-action appearance of both Batman and Superman at the same time. For someone who is so passionate about DC Comics like I am, that was one of the most exciting things to look forward to. Then the movie was released.
The plot of BvS takes place after the events of Man of Steel (in which the fight between Superman and General Zod from the final act of MoS is blended seamlessly and cleverly into the opening of BvS). Bruce Wayne and the rest of humanity question whether or not they could trust Superman and blame him for the destruction, regardless of Superman continuing to save people around the world. Because of this, Batman/Bruce Wayne makes it his goal to stop this new, powerful threat to Earth… and so does Lex Luthor. Batman is also suspicious of Lex Luthor because of a nefarious plot he is planning. Already this battle has more than enough sides to it, but they add even more.
Not only does society question how trustworthy Superman is, but there are newspaper headlines about the brutality of the Batman and how everyone should watch out for him as well. Overall, there are a lot of plots going on in this one movie. It’s meant to be a sequel to Man of Steel, but it’s not just a Superman movie. It’s a Superman movie that introduces Batman, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, and Doomsday. In fact, Superman is in the movie less than Batman is… in this sequel to a Superman movie.
The reason why there is so much going on in one movie is that the studio wanted to rush the DCEU with hopes of catching up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. BvS was one big advertisement from DC Comics and Warner Bros. saying “hey, we’ve got a movie universe, too!” What they neglected to realize was that Marvel built up to where they are over the course of several movies. They didn’t shove the plots of several movies into one. BvS could have been separated into several movies: A proper sequel to Man of Steel that explores the responsibilities that Superman should actually have, a Batman movie to introduce the character into this series, a Wonder Woman origin movie, and a movie where Batman and Superman meet and fight with that actually being the focus. What’s unfortunate is that there are plenty of great scenes that just don’t work together in one movie, like Batman’s warehouse fight, the questioning of what Superman should be able to do with his god-like powers, and the Wonder Woman action.
This issue of having too much at once then bled into their other movies. Their mistake with Batman vs. Superman created the larger issue of them now being rushed into a story that didn’t get the time to develop. There was no turning back now. The next DCEU movie, Suicide Squad, had a similar issue. Suicide Squad is about a group of villains forced together by a shady branch of the government to do their bidding. That premise works really well in the comic books and cartoons, but here, it was only okay. It was a team-up of nine characters, all of which were introduced in this movie, along with several other characters like Batman, the Flash, and the Joker all thrown into the mix. It was actually a pretty fun movie for the most part, but trying to explore backstories of so many characters, the plot felt a bit muddied.
2017’s Wonder Woman is easily the best part of the DCEU so far. It focuses on the origin of Wonder Woman for the first time on the silver screen, and it was an immediate hit. Part of the reason for the movie’s success was that the focus was on the one character. The audience got to know her, understand her, and see her develop. They gave the character space to breathe. The film never felt too crowded, or that characters or plot points were forcibly thrown in. Director Patty Jenkins made a fantastic accomplishment with this movie, and the studio should have followed her lead from there. They did not.
Justice League was released the same year as Wonder Woman. This movie, like in the Justice League comics and cartoons, shows a group of superheroes (Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg) teaming up. Marvel captured this almost perfectly with The Avengers in 2012. They released movies of individual characters to introduce them and develop them before they met. That way, it was more exciting for the audience to see these characters who they already invested in meet, fight against each other, and team up. Justice League decided to shove all the introduction, character growth, characters meeting, fighting, and teaming up all in a single film. Prior to Justice League, only Superman and Wonder Woman received their own standalone movies, and Batman was featured prominently in Batman vs. Superman. Despite Justice League actually being one of the better movies in this franchise, it was a lot of introducing for one movie. This lead to less time dedicated to the actual team-up aspect of the plot and the League fighting against the alien threat.
The core issue with the DCEU is that they keep attempting to take on too much at once rather than letting their characters breathe and allowing the audience to grow attached to them, and this started with Batman vs. Superman: the Dawn of Justice. If only they released standalone character movies first, maybe they wouldn’t have repeated critical failures or awkward stories. Their next two releases are Aquaman and Shazam, both standalone movies. Hopefully this can put them back on the right track. If not, I’d unfortunately suggest a hard reboot of the franchise.