A lot of things can be said about the movies we’ve seen in the DC Cinematic Universe and good isn’t usually one of them. How did Warner Brothers mess things up so badly? How did they take a comic universe that is the epitome of modern mythology and suck the magic and soul out of it, until nothing was left but an empty representation of the wonderful characters that populate the comics?
There are certainly many answers to these questions. One is, of course, the studio itself rushing to put together a universe instead of piecing it together over several movies, in order to attempt to catch up to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The result is a world that doesn’t feel lived in and feels incredibly artificial. These characters do not feel connected to each other in any way, and any tenuous connection seems forced. Hype is another. Warner Brothers put together a marketing storm that, to be fair, is one of the greatest marketing campaigns I’ve seen. Toys, costumes, clothing, you name it and they’ve applied the logos and characters from the movies on it. Trailers that promised far more than the movies themselves could ever deliver. We were all excited. We wanted to see the god-like Batman, SuperMan, and Wonder Woman occupy the cinema screen together for the first time ever. We waited in anticipation when Suicide Squad was announced. Finally, Harley Quinn and Deadshot would be represented in a major motion picture for the first time. Then came the disappointment.
Granted, the franchise does not have the best foundation. Man of Steel was a noisy mess with an artificial heart. That brings us to the epicenter of the problem.
Zack Snyder. David S. Goyer. Christopher Nolan. Those three names encompass every problem with this travesty of a film universe. I know, Christopher Nolan is one of the most praised filmmakers in modern times, but, unfortunately, he does hold some of the blame. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy works well. The films are well received among critics and fans alike. The problem is that DC took the tone of his movies and tried to apply them to movies that are far more fantastical. That may not be his fault really, I mean, the man made three (two if you want my honest opinion) excellent police dramas, that just happened to star a guy that wore a costume. Nothing fantastical, but a grounded sci-fi epic.
The problem came when it was decided that Zack Snyder would direct Man of Steel and David S. Goyer would write it. Nolan would be on board as a producer, essentially handing the reigns of what would become the first movie is a connected universe, to Snyder. Now, Zack Snyder can definitely direct action scenes, it just so happens that he can’t put together a cohesive story. This is especially evident when he is directing from a script written by David S. Goyer. Goyer’s dialog is horrendous, and his complete failure to understand the base character shines through every scene. It’s obvious that he was trying to recapture the feel of Batman Begins in his screenplay. But, that just doesn’t work for Superman. That tone doesn’t work in a universe of super-powered beings.
Superman, from what I know of the character, is full of hope. He is a representation of the very best of humanity. He has his dark moments, but at the end of the day, his hope and love pull him through. In Man of Steel, we get a mopey sad sack of a character, that acts more like he wants to fly into the sun as opposed to using it to protect Earth. He’s bleak and overly violent, without any consideration for the collateral damage. Ultimately, Man of Steel is just a poorly told story, where Christopher Nolan’s tone that was established in the Dark Knight movies, gets hijacked by a far less capable director. A director that cares more about what looks cool, than he does about the journey of the character. A director that wants to “ground” the character in reality, but forgot what reality is.
Not only did Snyder and Goyer ruin Superman, for their next film, they decided to ruin a plethora of DC characters. With Batman V Superman, we get to see them double down on the dark tone and the fundamental lack of understanding of the source material. Instead of the juxtaposition of light and dark that Batman and Superman represent, we got dark and dark, to the point that Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill were almost playing the same character. We get a stereotypical representation of the “crazy” guy wit Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, who felt more like the Joker than Jared Leto’s woefully misguided turn in Suicide Squad.
With BVS we were subjected to one of the most disjointed movies ever made. Where in this grounded universe, no one does what a real human would do or acts like a real human acts. We get a murderous Batman and a hypocrite Superman who is fresh off of killing another being but standing firmly against the Batman’s killing. And the more they try to ground it, in reality, the more false and plastic the world feels. This has created the problem of where they go from here. Enter the heinous treatment of Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad suffered greatly because of the poor reception of BVS, so much that Warner Brothers hired a trailer editing company to cut the entire film. Making it a tonal nightmare. The film doesn’t know if it’s serious or jokey. WB’s big mistake was over correcting the ship and ramming it into the rocks. All these failures, simply because they wanted to rush a connected universe. They see the money Disney is raking in and they feel left out. But instead of cultivating and crafting a world that makes sense, they’re trying to cram it in all at once. They’ve also lost the point of superhero stories. Heroes are supposed to inspire us, not leave us depressed. We are supposed to have fun with these characters, not feel like showering after the horrible things they’ve done on their missions.
The trailers look promising for Wonder Woman and even Justice League. However, that was the case for BVS and Suicide Squad. And the news about losing director after director for the Flash makes me doubt that WB and DC have learned their lessons at all. I hope they do. I hope they inject some fun and hope into their upcoming films. I love these characters, I really do. I want to see these movies succeed and be what we’ve always wanted out of them.
Like Superman, I am hopeful. But like Batman, I’m very skeptical.