Summary: Warner Brothers saw that Disney made all of the box office money and decided to try to replicate their success.
Discussing the DCEU movies is very much like getting your teeth pulled. Fans of these movies berate critics by saying “You don’t get it,” “It’s actually really deep,” “You’re just a Marvel fanboy,” or my personal favorite: “You’re not a real DC fan.” I grew up with the DC comics and animations as both entertainment and as personal philosophy. I was engrossed in their stories as a kid and was wowed by how these characters, originally meant for children, can be used to explore morality, justice, and even complex social issues. So when I tell you that I straight up despise the state of the DCEU, it’s coming from someone who truly cares about how these characters are portrayed. Man of Steel left me confused and slightly disappointed, Suicide Squad was a bizarre fever dream, but Dawn of Justice was the one that broke me: the god-awful color palette, inept storytelling, and insulting portrayals of these cultural icons. It wasn’t until Wonder Woman that I began to consider these movies might get better if given to the right hands.
I do not enjoy hating these movies. I wish Snyder and company pulled it off and made a DC universe that was stylish and dealt with deep themes in an intelligent way. I especially wish Suicide Squad wasn’t just a total eyesore. Unfortunately, a majority of this latest outing is still in the hands of one of the most style-over-substance directors working today. Along with some last minute reshoots and rewrites by my problematic fave Joss Whedon, and lest we forget, some notes from Warner Brothers. This all will definitely lead to a cohesive and satisfying film!
Let’s just start with the cast. In all honesty, with a better script and a better story, I think these guys would be a pretty good ensemble. Ezra Miller brings charming youth to the team as a more anxious and comedic Barry Allen, even though it feels like a bit of an MCU Spider-man cover. He even gets some pretty touching scenes with his father. Momoa doesn’t get a whole lot to do besides chug whiskey and look manly but he makes do with the role. The movie ties Atlantis into the narrative but it’s just a quick set up for his solo film. As said in the Wonder Woman review, Gadot is a bit weak with dialogue but she’s still quite enjoyable to watch. Ben Affleck is pretty decent, but I’m just a bit over his version of the character. The only odd one out is Ray Fisher as Cyborg. His character doesn’t get any proper setup besides some exposition and a few clips in the background but is mostly there to mope. It doesn’t help that this film uses his New 52 origin which I can do without. They all gel pretty well together and I’m open to seeing them again. Especially the Momoa Aquaman solo film… because reasons.
Apart from the main ensemble, the few side characters range from functioning to being straight up butchered. Jeremy Irons interpretation of Alfred is incredibly entertaining and full of that dry British wit. It’s especially funny to see him react to the absurdity of the situation. Diane Lane returns as Martha (WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!) Kent and is lovely as always. To be honest, she was one of my favorite parts of Man of Steel, so she’s ok in my book! Amy Adams’ talent is completely wasted as Lois Lane. Her character is only there to fulfill one purpose in the story and to be sad her hunky alien BF died. The movie even has her writing fluff pieces for the Daily Planet. FLUFF PIECES?! A PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST WRITING FLUFF PIECES?! Lois Lane seems to me the person who would bury herself in her work if she was grieving. Lois Lane is not alone in this Snydering. Remember our old friends the Amazons? The most bad ass and awesomely designed group of ladies in recent memory??? Two words: Bikini Armor. To add insult to injury, they are dolled up with significantly more makeup and are shot much more gratuitously (this includes Gadot as well) than in Wonder Woman. I get that this is an aesthetic issue, but your “expanded universe has to have some damn consistency! You had great and practical designs in Wonder Woman, but I guess the Amazons are impervious to being stabbed in the gut. Zack Snyder films have always got issues handling women, but here’s hoping they get their act together next time.
As for the action and technical aspects, I can’t really complain too much. The film is obviously mostly shot on green screen stages, but I don’t really get bothered by obvious CG in comic book flicks. The film definitely tries to add more color this time around, but by the climax, we revert back to Snyder’s staple monotone. At the very least, it actually serves a purpose. The action is pretty fun, but a bit average at some points. We’ve seen a group of heroes fight a tall CG bad guy in a destroyed city before. My biggest complaint is that the heroes individual powers could have been more on display. Aquaman is really just Superman-lite, and his aquatic powers never really come into play at all. Poor Cyborg only ever has his arm cannon and jetpack. There are some scenes and shot compositions that are just gorgeous. If there is one thing that Snyder excels at, it is that he can convey the composition and feel of a living comic book panel. If I had to pick a favorite scene, it would be Superman’s resurrection (Shut up, we all knew he was coming back). It’s both comical and tense in its execution. The action is ultimately satisfying, but in a world where we get over four superhero flicks a year, you’re going to have to step up your game.
Ultimately, my biggest issue with the film is that it feels incredibly rushed and you can see scissor marks all over it. By scissor marks, I mean it’s apparent that certain plot points were either completely dropped or were cut out in editing. I can appreciate they took the criticism with Dawn of Justice that it was way too long, but it seems like they just jumped to the other extreme. It doesn’t help that themes and future plot points teased in BvS are completely absent from the film. From what has been reported, this was supposed to be two films and was changed mid-production in response to the reception of Dawn of Justice. That would explain the amount of back-peddling on display. This isn’t helped by how quickly the film dashed through scenes. Characters just jump on board with the whole Super Friends idea with no time for any of them to actually form a connection with their teammates. It doesn’t help that the actual villain and the stakes don’t feel very engaging. I mean sure the world might end, but that’s been done to death. It’s honestly kind of funny that saving the planet feels so impersonal. I know some would say that DC should have taken the steps to give individual characters their own movies but I disagree. Films with believable ensembles exist and don’t have this issue. Just look at Guardians of the Galaxy: it wasn’t perfect, but it set up all the characters and their motivations efficiently without feeling rushed. The film could have done more to make me feel for these characters by not rushing. It honestly feels like the story and characters was an afterthought to the action scenes.
In writing this, I almost forgot to get into the actual plot. It’s the Avengers. There’s a bad guy from space, mystical Mcguffins he has to get, heroes join forces, and the heroes have to fight an army of generic CG whatevers. Honestly, that’s pretty much it. I mean, I can literally pull a Justice League comic off the shelf or play a random episode from the cartoon and get a more interesting and engaging story. I’d be madder but its mediocrity is pretty much the standard for these movies.
To put all cards on the table, this movie is pretty underwhelming. Here I was mentally preparing for another uncontrollable garbage fire, but instead, I got a pack of cheap firecrackers that were mostly duds. I can’t say I necessarily enjoyed it but I didn’t hate it either. I was mildly entertained by it. The question on everybody’s mind is: is this a start in the right direction? The answer is sure, I guess. More than likely this will all be undone by a reboot or Flashpoint so, in the scheme of things, this movie is just sort of inconsequential. For me, this film feels like the generic brand of cereal you find at the supermarket. Sure it gets the job done but it’s just not as good as name brand. It’s inoffensive, flashy, and just kind of exists with no real merit.
Honestly, I have come to peace that I won’t get my ideal version of the DC universe on film anytime soon. There’s always the comics, games, and animated work that truly exemplifies what makes these characters great. As for this film, I wouldn’t be against sitting through it again, but I’d rather just flip through the comics.
BTW, Superman’s fake CG upper lip looks hilarious.