The DCEU: 2016 and New Horizons

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July 2013. San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H went delirious when Zack Snyder unveiled the logo for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (BvS: DoJ). Suicide Squad had one of the best marketing campaigns for a superhero film, ever. And yet, come 2017, there are question marks over the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and the directions it needs to take. Where did it go wrong?

For starters, Man of Steel, BvS and Suicide Squad (SS) polarized opinion. It isn’t all doom and gloom if a film polarizes critics and fans alike (see Iron Man 3) but it certainly helps if a film succeeds in capturing the imagination of either, if not both, of them. BvS and SS stand at 27% and 26% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes. On IMDb, they’re at 6.8/10 and 6.4/10, respectively. A lot was expected of these two, given that the wider success of the whole DCEU hinged on them. Did they fail? Not quite. But they weren’t the roaring successes that would have given comfort to the DC fans and the Warner Bros. executives.

A large portion of the scorn heaped on the DCEU films is directed towards their gritty nature. And that’s where the MCU is drawn into the argument. That scorn is both deserved and undeserved.

Why Make Them Gritty?

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Zack Snyder and co.’s approach, as opposed to the MCU, was to make films that were inherently more serious and used a darker colour palette. The colour palette works more on a subconscious level, setting the tone and the mood. This approach doesn’t exactly attract people. While people flocked in droves in the first week of BvS, the poor reviews (mostly) and the dark, grim content likely kept family and general audiences away. Take Batman killing people in cold blood. Is that even possible? Of course. Batman has killed various times in the comics but it wasn’t necessary to show that onscreen. Batman as a character has always been shown as a person who doesn’t want to waste human lives. To various fans, hardcore among them, what he did in BvS was a volte-face. He probably would have been better served shooting people with tasers or rubber bullets.

Another thing that could have been avoided was the R-rated director’s cut that the film received on its home media release. Now I am all for realism in cinema. But we must not forget that the core fans of the books, and by extension, the movies, are children, teens and families. We do not, absolutely do not, need an R-rated version of a film that has the three most-famous superheroes in the world.

The counter-argument here is the wild success of Deadpool. Without it becoming a smash hit, we might never have heard of anyone from DC pitching the R-rated version. But Deadpool was its own beast — tiny budget, viral marketing, incredibly funny and a storyline with a personal grounding. The last one of these was what Suicide Squad lacked too. Let’s-save-the-world is more clichéd now than outlaw-and-corrupt-lawman ever was at the height of the Western.

Gritty Is Good:

The thing with success in Hollywood is that, once people think they’ve hit upon a formula, every single studio wants to replicate that. Granted that the plans for a DC Universe/Multiverse were afoot as far back as the mid-90s, it was only after the MCU took off that WB/DC really thought it necessary to push DCEU off the ground too. However, the one thing they decided was to make their films more gritty. The controls, so to say, were given to the filmmakers. DC directors have gone on record multiple times saying that they are given the creative license to make their films the way they see fit. Theoretically, that should be wonderful. And had these films failed despite being similar to the tone of the Marvel films, they’d have been lambasted for “copying” Marvel. Talk about adding insult to injury! Gritty can be exciting. As BvS’ theatrical cut showed, Wonder Woman was a hit with the audiences. As for Batman, well let’s just say he’s box-office royalty.

The films, though, would have benefited from less-clunky storylines. World-building in BvS took up precious time that would have been better utilized in exploring the characters and ideological differences of the two heroes. With Suicide Squad, the problem was again the same. Too many characters crammed in too small a space. Add to it the aforementioned let’s-save-the-world narrative and you have a trouble brewing. So while Deadshot and Harley Quinn stole the limelight, people like Katana and Killer Croc were left to be little more than sideshows.

What Next?

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Ben Affleck writing, directing and acting in the 2018 Batman film is terrific news. The focus though, has to be on Gotham. A detour to the “World’s Greatest Detective” side of the character would be welcome. Wonder Woman, helmed by Patty Jenkins, is set against the backdrop of World War I. Hopefully, her and Steve Trevor’s journey would have enough to keep the audiences lining up for their tickets. Geoff Johns as the head of the newly-created DC Films is a welcome move as well. With his knowledge and expertise, things should be smoother going forward. DC: Rebirth showed that the man hasn’t lost any of his mojo.
The tricky thing would be the two-part Justice League. Zack Snyder’s style hasn’t infused enough confidence, honestly. Plus, Superman would be absent for much of the first film. A lot would again rest on the broad shoulders of Bruce Wayne although, as the Comic-Con trailer showed, Barry Allen and Arthur Curry could be great fun too. And there is no reason why films based on relatively-niche characters like Aquaman, Shazam and Cyborg can’t succeed.

A stronger, successful DCEU would mean a stronger superhero genre and better films overall. Isn’t that what we, the fans, want? The present might not be bright, but there’s no reason why the future can’t be rosier with a mixture of luck and pluck.

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Share your thoughts on the DCEU and the post in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

14 thoughts on “The DCEU: 2016 and New Horizons

  1. Personally, I loved Man of steel…i believe it’s a masterpiece.
    https://motionpictureaficionado.wordpress.com/2017/04/15/man-of-steel-2013-the-superhero-movie-we-need-but-not-the-one-we-deserve/
    But they rushed BvS…they should have gone for a proper sequel for superman and a batman movie and then we could have had a BvS or justice league…
    But I guess a lot has changed since you wrote this post…seems like they have a whole new direction . ..I can only say that I’m excited to see where they go from here

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it seems like another lifetime. I’m excited for both Wonder Woman and Justice League. Let’s see whether the bosses at DC have done the necessary course correction or not.
      Thanks a lot for the comment. 😊

      Like

      • I am not so sure that we’ll be able to see the effects so soon. I think we’ll have to wait till after justice league for the changes to become prominent…because they’d already shot wonder woman and we’re about to film justice league when bVS released.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ladylavinia1932

    It’s ironic that I ended up enjoying the two DCEU films a lot more than any of the Marvel films from 2016.

    What is even more ironic is that many are proclaiming how the two DCEU movies were “failures”, yet they among the highest grossing films of the year.

    If DCEU has to learn from its mistakes, so does the MCU. Although “Captain America: Civil War” was an uber box office hit, it was a personal disappointment to me. And I am a big fan of the previous two Captain America flicks. From an artistic point of view, I suspect that the MCU had reached its high point back in 2014 with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Hopefully, I might enjoy their 2017 films a lot more.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the wonderful, detailed comment.
      I wouldn’t quite say that I liked the DCEU films more than the Marvel films last year. I liked Civil War the most among the ones I watched (and I am yet to watch Doctor Strange). However, yes, I did feel they had rich worlds of their own and didn’t blindly copy the Marvel “formula.”

      The problem with the DC films, despite their grosses, was the amount of anticipation attached with them. TDK had grossed more than a billion dollars way back in ’08. The major Marvel movies did that too (both the Avengers films did. Heck, even Iron Man 3 did!). The DCEU’s unlucky in that it’ll always be compared to what Marvel has achieved. That is going to be a fact. Plus, you see the ROI. BvS had a budget of 400 mn or so and had a huge amount spent on its promotion as well. By some estimates, it needed 800-900 million just to break even. Now it did achieve that mark but only just. Contrasted with the way Civil War sizzled at the Box Office, the difference becomes rather stark (pun definitely intended!). Similar with Suicide Squad. It was expected not to be clunky and overstuffed like BvS was. So while we did have some notable improvements there, the narrative was basically the same, old wine in a new bottle. They need to get more personal.

      A hugely popular spoof of Civil War did point out the similarities between it and BvS and also commented on the difference in their reception despite the same. I do accept that Marvel needs to find a way to make its villains stronger (and maybe not kill them off at the end of each film) and introduce some real stakes in the movies, as much as they can in a comic book-based flick. For me, Winter Soldier was the best Marvel film, apart from Iron Man. But I think they can break new grounds with Spider Man. Time will tell!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As a 35 year old with an older boyfriend and friends (50-60) and no kids, I love the fact that the new superhero films are pretty dark. My fave films are Deadpool (which was always deliciously sick and adult to start with) and Tim Burtons Batman. Although that was dark I still found it enjoyable as a young teenager. I think that film showed that it is possible to make a film which is gritty, credible, entertaining and accessible .

    Liked by 1 person

    • That 1989 Batman was actually pretty cool. A partially-bald and curly-haired Bruce Wayne did look odd but I liked the way the film tried blending realism and superhero cinema.
      The challenge for the DCEU is to have that gritty realism and still be enjoyed and loved by fans across the age groups. So far, it is struggling to do so but hopefully it’d get better with time.
      Apologies for the delayed response. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that the Batman movie should focus more on the detective side – that’s really a side of Batman we haven’t seen portrayed before, and would fit with the grittier filming.
    I enjoyed Suicide Squad – definitely much more than I thought I was going to! It had a fun energy that the previous DCEU movies didn’t have.
    I think with the DCEU movies I don’t get a sense that the actors are having fun with their roles. In the Marvel universe, I can really tell that the actors are enjoying the portrayal and enjoying the process. (Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man definitely comes to mind!) The DCEU cast always looks so glum and uninspiring. With the exception of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That Batman movie is the one I am looking forward to the most. All signs indicate that it should be a critical and commercial hit. But well, we thought the same about BvS too. 😝

      That lightning beam in the sky thing in Suicide Squad really put me off. I enjoyed the joking amongst the cast. It was very good at times.

      The gritty tone has led to that perception about the cast of the DCEU films not enjoying the shoots. I wouldn’t think they won’t be enjoying their work. It’s just the way things seem onscreen. And Paul Rudd, oh God! That’s what Marvel have done so well.
      Maybe Barry Allen can infuse some youthful enthusiasm and lightheartedness in the films.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I go back and forth with liking Ben Affleck, but I did like his Bruce Wayne portrayal better than his Batman portrayal. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to his movie – hoping it shows a different side than what we’ve seen already.
        Yeah, “youthful enthusiasm and lightheartedness” is desperately needed in these movies!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the biggest problem with the DCEU is Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (even though it’s not even a part of the DCEU). It set some expectations that are very difficult to live up to. I wrote a post about this almost a year and a half ago.

    Batman works great with the darker tone that tries to explore the consequences of superheroes, but that’s because Batman doesn’t have the power to level an entire city during one of his fights. Superman, the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, etc. All of them have super powers. They’re beyond human, so a greater suspension of disbelief is required to immerse yourself in their stories. If that disbelief is stretched too far, however, it breaks the viewer out of the world. Trying to cram these unbelievable characters into a realistic world with realistic consequences is really hard to do in a two-hour movie. That’s where Man of Steel and BvS struggled. Suicide Squad was a little better since they basically ignored everyone’s powers except for Diablo and Enchantress (though that movie had other issues).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is quite an intriguing way to look at it, honestly. People generally don’t think of The Dark Knight Trilogy when they talk about the DCEU. And yes, TDK was such a great film that following it up was always going to be a tough act. However, I think there was no reason why WB couldn’t have made good films after that. They started with a clean slate as far as their view was concerned.
      There’s some merit to the Batman’s powers theory too. Even in Marvel, the powerful ones like Thor have had end-of-the-world narratives in their films. But again, the superhero genre by default has people whose powers are more than enough to level cities.
      I think that the way Marvel struggled with the Iron Man sequels, DCEU are also having a hard time coming to grips with the kind of films they want to make in the aftermath of TDK trilogy (similar to what you said). And as Suicide Squad partly showed, they are willing to learn from their mistakes. Of course there’s a long way to go still for them. Let’s hope they understand fast.

      Like

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