Today’s post was provided by guest writer Michael Cross, who explains, as a non-comic book reader, why he enjoyed the DCEU films far more than the average hardcore fan it was intended for.
The cavalcade of films that present the well-known stories from the DC universe, from 2005 on, have been met with mixed reactions. The Nolan Batman films — Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises are received warmly, while all others after, with the exception of 2017’s Wonder Woman, are almost unanimously despised.
2005’s Batman Begins was a good start. It explored Bruce Wayne’s character more than any of the previous Batman films or television shows. Following, in 2006, the release of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, starring Kevin Spacey is released. This film, on paper at least, sounded promising. Acting as a sequel to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the character, Returns ended up dull. It was respectful to the original films, but wasn’t a satisfying experience. The Dark Knight in 2008 was the watershed moment for Warner Brother’s DC films. THIS was a satisfying experience. Played relatively straight — dare I say almost realistically — it was low on goofs. Not low on goofs was the 2012 sequel, The Dark Knight Rises. Not quite campy, but with an outrageously silly story and hokey set pieces: the finale to Nolan’s trilogy jumped the shark for me.
[For the sake of the audience, we will not discuss, that which was, the Green Lantern movie]
In June of 2013, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel kicked off a new DC Cinematic Universe. The film’s poor critical reception tempered my expectations as I entered the theater, although I left extremely satisfied with this new introduction to the character. Every Jonathan Kent scene made me tear up as well as the choice to highlight his alien origin in ways that had never been done before.
Three years later in 2016, they ran with it: Batman V. Superman. Another film poorly received by fans, was great fun to me, partly because of Batman’s character arc, which saw him get more brutal with criminals and more relaxed with his no kill policy. I didn’t mind Batman (collateral damage) killing thugs or even Superman snapping Zod’s neck. They’re famous characters, so putting them in new situations as a way of deconstructing them and learning more about them was interesting. Show the flaws!
Speaking of flawed characters, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, DCEU’s antihero team movie, released just three months later. Great trailers but, once again, it was received terribly. Though I actually liked the gangster take on Joker and thought Harley Quinn was a fun character, I can’t quite disagree with the consensus.
The DCEU’s first recent success came in 2017 with Wonder Woman. The romance with Steve Trevor was the highlight and I found myself wishing there was more. She returned five months later in Justice League, which was objectively terrible, with some redemptive qualities: The Flash was charming, Cyborg was kind of interesting, and Aquaman’s biker attitude was cool, though he didn’t have much to do. The highlight was Superman’s resurrection.
My complaint with all of these films, and superhero films as a whole, is there’s not enough quiet character scenes. In this modern climate of superhero blockbusters, where anything you can imagine can be made through CGI, all action packed climaxes seem the same. The only thing that truly makes the films stand out, what makes them different, is the heroes and villains in them. The scene in Suicide Squad where the gang sits in a bar and complains about their mission is 100 times more interesting than them fighting faceless hordes of creatures and stopping a blue portal that comes from the sky.
To sum it up, I don’t rewatch these movies.
About Michael Cross:
Man of a certain age, Michael grew up in Upstate New York in the 1960’s & 70’s, now lives in Kissimmee Florida, away from the unforgiving snow of North East Winters. His interests include Auteur Directors, pre-1980’s exploitation & horror movies, Film Noir, Godzilla, & James Bond.
You can find him on twitter at mocross63.