DCEU Retrospective

In preparation for the theatrical release of Wonder Woman, I recently hunkered down to endure an almost 8 hour long marathon of all of the movies in the shared DC cinematic universe. Luckily for me, and I’m sure anyone else attempting this feat, there are only three installments that predate Wonder Woman (Man of Steel,  Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad). I wouldn’t necessarily call this a review but spoilers abound!

MAN OF STEEL (2013) Dir: Zack Snyder; Writer: David S. Goyer

A grounded take on the Big Blue Boy Scout, Man of Steel explores the “what if”, the reality of what would happen if a being like Superman existed in our world. This is my favorite DCEU movie to date, granted I haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet. I’ve seen it entirely too many times. I can quote just about every line. No, I am not ashamed.

The Good:

The Kryptonians are a wonderful set of antagonists for this movie. They are a good physicalmatch for an equal fight and they allow for a good moral conflict. Superman must choose between saving his adopted planet or the last of his kind. Michael Shannon’s General Zod is a knock out. As a villain it ‘s easy to see where he’s coming from. He truly believes he is doing the right thing. And if you want quiet aggression Shannon will give it to you. If you want batshit crazy he’ll most certainly give you that on a silver platter.

I also loved the Kryptonian armor, particularly how Superman’s suit is essentially just a “chain-mail” equivalent that his people wear under their armor. The design of the world and the ships and tech is fantastic too (but what’s with all the phallic symbols?)

Hans Zimmer’s score. It’s soaring, it’s percussive. Simply put its epic. It perfectly captures the sci-fi element of the movie. I have so many playlists with songs from this soundtrack on them.

The Bad:

The dialogue for the most part was a bit one note. There is some great talent on display here but, sadly, they all feel slightly underutilized.

Not enough Superman. We get to see Superman explore his origins and come into his own for a short sequence before he’s jetting off to save the world from a full-blown invasion. I would have enjoyed a few more moments of him enjoying this new found freedom, getting to stretch his legs so to speak.

Lois’ miraculous appearance. If there is one thing in this movie that makes me want to scream every time it’s Lois suddenly appearing during Superman’s final tussle with Zod before breaking his neck. HOW? If someone can draw me a map with schematics and a plausible timeline for how she ran there I’ll let it go. Honestly, if she had appeared later in the scene, and it could have been edited to seem like a Superman had been hovering next to Zod’s body for a considerable amount of time it would have made a bit more sense.

3 Best Moments:

  1. First Flight. Superman getting to fly in the suit for the first time fills my heart with so much joy. Having that scene paired with Jor-El’s voice over and Hans Zimmer’s score? Pure perfection. The smile that breaks across Clark’s face as he rockets through the air is contagious. It is the scene that made me fall in love with Henry Cavill’s Superman.
  2. Smallville battle. I have to admit that this fight sequence stands just a bit taller the Metropolis battle that follows. It’s clumsy and messy. Superman is facing his first real adversaries for the first time At one point this house and his mom’s job are decimated. I’m not saying it’s completely his fault, but if I were Martha I’d have some words for him. Not only is he trying to fight Zod’s goons but he has to fight off and keep the U.S military out of the way. That’s some heavy lifting. As far as evil henchmen, Faora has my heart. Whenever she steps on screen, I switch sides and root for the Kryptonians. Many critics equate the fights in Man of Steel to the same violence and mindless wanton destruction that the Transformers movies are given to. People are highly critical of CGI heavy battles and big explosions. If you do it in a meaningful way, I don’t mind it.
  3. Terraforming scene always gives me chills. I remember seeing it the first time in the theatre, looking up at the screen and getting a little misty eyed and gasping. Seeing it again, I am still stricken by the similarities to other large scale attacks that have happened in real life (9/11 comes to mind). Having Perry White, Jenny and Lombard on the ground and feeling vulnerable during the attack was an excellent way to show a more emotional human perspective with the entire sequence could have been lots of explosions and glass and faceless people scattering like ants.  I don’t much care for the arguments about how the “real Superman” would have drawn the fight away from people and into a secluded area. This is a different take on Superman that fits into a universe with real world consequences. Zod’s mission was to kill as many people as possible. If he’s going to be an effective villain, if the stakes are going to be raised for the hero, allow the villain to be a villain. Let him do things.  Give Superman a greater incentive to defeat his enemies. Most of all, let him make mistakes. After all, he had only been Superman for a day.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016) Dir: Zack Snyder; Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

Set nearly two years after the events of  Man of Steel, Batman v Superman continues the exploration of Superman’s reception in our often cynical world, doubling down on the debates over his presence as a god-like figure. There’s quite a bit of politics over what he should be doing, where he should be going, how he will be policed.

Conceptually, this film is incredibly…ambitious. There is quite a bit going on–I mean the subplots have subplots. They’re attempting to tease Wonder Woman, set up the Justice League and quite possibly Injustice (an alternative timeline where Supes is evil).There’s a sufficient amount of fat that should have been trimmed and it got cut in all the wrong places. Which is why I prefer the Extended version of the film and refuse to ever watch the Theatrical Cut. With additional scenes, it rectifies so many of the problems that I had with the film when it was first released. The Nairomi scene makes so much more sense. There’s more of Clark doing his job as a reporter and Superman helping after the court bombing instead of blasting off. We also get to see just how extensive and corrosive Lex’s reach is, he’s pretty much got his hands in everything. The cut just makes for a richer viewing experience.

The Good:

ALL of the Batman stuff. He’s just so well realized and every moment with him and Alfred feels like time well spent. His recklessness and anger is terrifying. He isn’t afraid to knife a few guys and break a few arms. We’ve never seen a live action Batman like this. If he has a moral code, it’s gathering dust.

Hans Zimmer never fails to put me in my feelings but this time around he teamed up with Junkie XL (Mad Max: Fury Road). Lex and Wonder Woman have intense themes. There’s a lot of melancholy in Batman’s theme and consequently that seeps into Superman’s more hopeful theme. It’s still a beautiful OST nonetheless.

Perry White he has some of the best lines. The way he tears into Clark is confusing. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. He’s so mean…but I love it.

Superfriends! The Trinity! I absolutely loved seeing Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman cross paths and interact. Their first meeting at Lex’s benefit is so clever and well done. From Clark listening in on Bruce’s conversations with Alfred, to Diana playing Bruce like a fiddle it was thrilling to see their alter egos come face to face for the first time.

The Bad:

Moody Superman. He just can’t get a break, he’s getting set up left and right. He’s at a real low point in his superhero career and it’s only just begun. He’s good and righteous, he saves lives–he even saves Lex before Doomsday puts a meaty fist through his head. But all of that is overshadowed by the scowling and general kicked-doggedness.

Amidst the hurricane of criticism that came the films way, one nitpick that many people had was the amount of lines that Cavill got (and I’m sure someone with too much time on their hands counted all of them). While this is a truth when marathoning I noticed even in Man of Steel Superman didn’t talk much. That’s just him doing him. The guy was alienated for most of his life, he lived his early adult years assuming false identities and jumping from place to place. If he doesn’t appear to have a clearly defined personality, well there’s your answer. He’s at his best when he’s being sassy (those moments come in go in flashes) but he can certainly be intimidating when he’s stoic or sulking…or brooding. He’s only got so many settings.

I would like to think when he’s in the suit (his public face) the more he keeps his mouth shut, the less he gives away about himself (his private face). To be fair, he’s still learn how to be Superman, what traits he should exhibit. However, in Justice League,  now that the existential crisis character arc is finished following his sacrifice (THRICE!), I would like to see him be more open and, well, boy scout-ish.

Killing Clark Kent. Nothing irks me more than how his death is handled. I knew they were going to kill Superman, I was expecting it–I wanted it. But to see them so cavalierly throw away his secret identity with an obituary in the Daily Planet bothered me to no end. They could have said he went over seas to report and got lost in the middle east. Or just not have found his body in the Doomsday attack. Just…why? Why do the writers hate him so much?

Tunnel vision. One issue that I have with both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman is this one aspect of Zack Snyder’s direction. For one, he never let’s a scene breathe or exist  in the moment and the camera never ZOOMS OUT.  A long shot every once in a while wouldn’t hurt. Can an interior be in focus for once? When a character is in a room most of the time there’s no sense of space, I feel like I’m being suffocated by close-ups.

3 Best Moments:

  1. White Portuguese. The warehouse is a great fight scene that showcases this Batman’s ruthless melee skills, sure. There’s no arguing that. But for me, the most thrilling Bat scene is the action sequence in which he chases down the thugs transporting Lex’s cargo from the White Portuguese.  He’s mowing through buildings and cars, using the Batmobile as  weapon. And then Supes shows up and flips it like a Lego.
  2. The entire court scene. Sure I would have liked to see Superman speak at the one committee meeting he bothered to show up to but I digress. Holly Hunter owns that scene with a tension filled, engaging monologue that goes out with a bang.
  3. Superman vs Lex Luthor rooftop scene.The staging, the way their faces are lit, the thunder and lighting in the background that play for dramatic effect. It’s so ridiculous it’s good. Lex’s little riddles and double speak, his scheming has pushed  Superman to his breaking point. It makes me squirm inside.

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) Dir: David Ayer; Writer: David Ayer

Suicide Squad is a direct follow up to Batman v Superman. In the wake of Superman’s death, the government is scrambling for answers. If there is another massive malevolent threat how will it be handled, if another being like Superman comes along and decides to go rogue who will stop them?

Amanda Waller, the head of a secret government agency, steps in with all the answers to those questions. Where Lex Luthor has an aversion to depending upon “the kindness of monsters”, she breaks bread with them. By recruiting super-villains into a defensive task-force, she’s got a weapon to keep in her back pocket in case the next Superman gets out of line.

The first time I saw Suicide Squad I was full of hype. I laughed. I cried. That might have been due in part to the energy of the audience in the theatre as they laughed out loud, too. But the more times I watch it the less sense it makes. I’m not particularly good at math, but somethings just don’t add up.

The Good:

Marketing. If I can say anything for this mess of a film it is that it had an outstanding promotional campaign.  One of the best I’ve seen in recent years.

The costumes and make-up on display in Suicide Squad are also nothing to balk at. In fact, the team won an Oscar this year for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. They’re pretty daring considering the source material. To take glorified mob villains in tights (think most of Batman’s rogues gallery)  and make them look and act like tatted up gang bangers, thugs and convicts is pretty bold. More than a few faithful fans turned their nose up at Ayer’s vision. I couldn’t stomach Sabotage but I did like Fury and loved  End of Watch so I was willing to give him a pass.

Harley Quinn. Deadshot. El Diablo. They all strike me as some of the most realized characters in the movie…which, I feel, kind of isn’t saying much. Actually, scratch that. Reasonably, Deadshot’s motivations, his actions at every single turn are probably the only sensible and consistent thing in Suicide Squad. In second place, Harley’s characterization is electric but her set up is a bit poor.

The writers and just about everyone working on this production spent so much time focusing on the construction of these characters and making everything look cool that they neglected the plot. Perhaps at one point someone did notice but they were like no one will say anything about the weak narrative because  they’ll be too busy talking about the characters. Don’t try to play me. You played yourselves.

The Bad:

Joker. I’m a fan of Jared Leto and his character’s design is my favorite thing to have come out of this movie. There’s something weirdly attractive about his oversexualized, hair-brained, predatory portrayal of The Joker. HOWEVER he’s an incredibly fragmented character being pulled in multiple creative directions. He plays as Harley Quinn’s tormented ex-boyfriend who wants to win her back despite their toxic history. He’s a scummy knight in armor and a huge thorn in the plot’s side. Hopefully, with better direction down the line he can be molded into a clown prince of crime deserving of a spot next to Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson.

THE ENTIRE PLOT. How many blockbusters have come out in the last decade that employ that mysterious but powerful bright beam of light that shoots up into the sky and is the center of some nefarious goings on. I don’t know where it started but it needs to stop. And the trope of a god-like villain awaking to find mankind no longer worshipping them–so let’s just destroy the whole world (basically the plot of X-Men: Apocalypse). Ugh.

Using Enchantress as a villain was a mistake. First off, June Moone’s relationship with Rick Flag is severely underdeveloped as are Enchantress’ motivations. I could careless about her or June. I just don’t feel the stakes.  Speaking of stakes, bringing on a task force of “super-villians” to defeat an apocalypse makes little sense when only two of the principle six members are meta-humans (one being a crocodile). The stakes are too damn high and the means to defeat the threat are lacking. So, in order to make up for it they have to depower the villain. For the life of me I will never understand why they didn’t just adapt the animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014).

3 Best Moments:

  1. Splash page introductions. The character intros that play while Amanda is reading off the files are colorful sequences ripped right out of the comics. The interactions and character set ups are shining moments in this muddy movie (except for Slipknot’s throw away line. That was just sad.)
  2. Deadshot’s squad “audition”. Basically anything with Deadshot because it’s 75% just Will Smith playing himself and I’m okay with that.
  3. Amanda Waller’s “surprise bitch” moment. There are actually a couple of these but I’m referring to the one where she emerges from her underground tech hideout (after having promptly dispatched of her team) and the squad discovers that she’s the mission. Viola Davis is giving me ruthless HBIC Annalise Keating vibes.
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