In just five days, Avengers: Infinity War made more money globally than DC’s Justice League did in its entire run. The Marvel movie also made more money domestically than the Warner one did in the entirety of its release. Moreover, Justice League made less money than Black Panther.
With these numbers, the DC Extended Universe could be declared officially dead. Or almost dead.
It’s a disappointment, to put it mildly. There’s no way around it. Even though I define myself as more of a Marvel fan, I looked forward to this shared universe. Batman is my favorite superhero, and The Dark Knight is my favorite movie of all time.
I always wanted this to work. We live in a time where the Animated DC Universe is way better than its live-action counterpart.
Most of you have the following question in mind: how that even happened?
This article tries to answer that question indeed. Of course, none of the reasons I will discuss are definitive, but they could offer some interesting point of view to most. Or, at least, I think so.
Alright, let’s get to it.
Snyder’s love for the source
Some time ago, I wrote an article about how to adapt anime/manga into movies. I seriously think that such post might help out in this concept.
One of the keys to adapt anything to the big screen is understanding the core of the source material. That is essential as you need to realize that a 1:1 adaptation will never be possible. It’s true for books, let alone for comic-books.
After 300, we thought Snyder was indeed aware of such concept. Then, Watchmen came along, and he revealed to be in love only with the comic panels and the plot points rather than the core content – aka, a fanboy.
We couldn’t catch that with 300 because, in the end, even the original graphic novel from Frank Miller was nothing but a fantasy-pulp-war story without anything to say really. Watchmen, as everyone knows, it’s so much more, but Snyder transposition only translates the panels to screen and nothing else, making the film a good thriller whereas it should have been a milestone in film history. Sure, he made some changes regarding the plot, but they felt like changes to maintain the visual beauty and not vice-versa. Also, one of the changes goes directly against the core concept of Alan Moore’s work.
The obsession for the panels translated on Batman v Superman. You can see that by looking at the mismanagement of Ben Affleck’s Batman: they were so obsessed with capturing the look of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns they overlooked the narrative behind the character. We ended up having beautiful frames that replicated the appearance of Miller’s novel, but not the atmosphere.
This attitude revealed to be very problematic, as the look of everything took priority over substance throughout the franchise.
Confusing serious topics with substance
I’m pretty sure the last line of the previous paragraph might have shaken some heads among you.
Fair enough, but let me argue that feeling.
Batman v Superman had indeed an ambitious narrative, which fell short due to the balls-to-the-wall third act.
However, the ambitious narrative heavily relied upon serious topics such as terrorism and migration, both of which very contemporary then and very contemporary now.
One of the arguments people have when it comes to arguing the movie is the seriousness and the ‘adultness’ the film has when compared to the Marvel Studios counterparts.
“Batman v Superman is way more serious than anything of those kids Marvel movies will ever be” is one of the things I heard the most in my life.
But let’s look at those kiddos Marvel movies, particularly at Age of Ultron: Tony Stark creates Ultron because to him they need an ultimate defensive weapon to protect Earth from outer space (after watching Infinity War, can we all say he had a point?). Tony knew Ultron’s power includes the ability to know everything about our planet and its population literally, yet he proceeds anyway.
A few people drew a parallelism between Ultron and the Patriot Act, as both were ultimate solutions to fight back deadly threats.
While that might be reading too much into it, it’s a perfect example of how you don’t need to take serious issues explicitly to be taken seriously. A good metaphor is generally more welcomed than explicitly talking about it.
(FYI: this is one of the reasons why Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy works so well).
Warner being reactionary
Why has Marvel Studios succeeded? Because they stuck to the plan (for the most part, right Inhumans?).
One DCEU’s issue is Warner Bros. changing things during production for most movies.
Take the case of Suicide Squad: the executives greenlit a Rated-R script, although they always wanted a PG-13 product. After Batman v Superman was released, they also decided to change the atmosphere of the movie. The result is one of the worst films ever made.
Despite what you might think, Wonder Woman was a victim too.
Diana Prince in Batman v Superman is nothing but an art collector and preserver. She hides her true nature as much as possible. In this film, the reason why the alter-ego was left behind seemed to have something to do with what happened in World War I, thanks to that famous photo.
The famous photo serves as incipit to Wonder Woman, as she starts telling the story once she receives it. However, by the end of the movie, we have no reason whatsoever why she exiled WW. Instead, we get a good-hearted message that has no continuity whatsoever with what we’ve seen of her up to that point the franchise.
Wonder Woman remains one of the two good DC films, but it still is a victim of the reactionary Warner way of doing things.
To top it all of, Justice League came along. They shot the movie than it wasn’t right, so they hired Joss Whedon to reshoot half of it (Snyder had to quit because of a personal tragedy). Which is the reason for the infamous moustachegate?
Justice League was supposed to be DC’s The Avengers. Unfortunately, the only thing the film is memorable for is indeed Cavill’s CGI upper-lip.
Wrong (and confusing) choices
This is honestly a somewhat minor issue, but it might turn out to be crucial for captivating the audience.
Since Man of Steel, the DC movies have been criticized for some choices taken by the characters.
For instance, one of the most common points made against the Superman movie is regarding the climax battle. In that sequence, Superman and Zod fight Metropolis, destroying it. A lot of viewers criticized this as they thought it wasn’t a Superman thing to do so.
Other fans didn’t have a problem with it, as they brought up The Avengers‘ battle of New York. Both are indeed very similar: by the end of the fight, both cities are destroyed/heavily damaged.
However, there’s a crucial difference. In The Avengers, there’s not one moment in which the heroes prioritize the protection of loved ones. Instead, the whole time we have the feeling they are protecting people and the city equally.
Man of Steel in this regard is entirely different: at a crucial point of the battle, Superman prioritizes the protection of Lois Lane and her colleagues.
This is a terrible mistake to make, as at that point the character of Clark Kent came off as selfish and immature.
If Pepper Pots were in New York during The Avengers‘ final battle, would have Tony Stark prioritize her safety? Most likely yes, but the writers were smart enough to not have any person of interest on the battleground to avoid such thing.
Instead, the Man of Steel writing team, by not doing so, put itself into a dead end. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the fact Clark Kent was flawed and not perfect (it allowed to have space to grow in following films), but that specifically was a bad move as it alienated the audience.
What’re the other wrong choices? Well, I need a whole new ‘chapter’ for that:
Batman v Superman
Oh boy. Where to start now?
Batman v Superman is what officially kicked-off the DC Extended Universe.
Since its grandiose announcement at 2013’s San Diego Comic-Con, the film instantly became one of the most anticipated movies ever. Even the decision of Ben Affleck (who at the time wasn’t exactly popular) as Batman didn’t break the excitement.
Then the movie came out.
I’m going to be honest with you: I had a lot of fun watching it. However, it is a mess of a movie.
We already talked about the ambitious premises falling short, so I’m not going to talk about those again.
Batman v Superman is full of wrong and confusing choices.
For starters: the opening scene is merely wrong, because of its positioning rather than its artistic value.
In the film, Batman kills. There’s no way around it. People count around 15 dead bodies caused by the caped crusader. This goes straightly against the great Batman moral code. However, it would be fine as long as the movie told me why he changed.
By opening with the 7th (or so) retelling of the Waynes’ murder, you confused the audience once again, because they might have thought that was the reason why he murders people. Sure, it is said this is an older Batman (even though it’s weird Clark never heard about him, and even the Daily Planet itself seems to have limited knowledge about the matter), but the various versions of the character that the parents’ murder is ‘only’ the trigger of him becoming Batman. Nolan made it clear, Burton too.
And this is something the audience knows. Snyder does indeed tell us why Bruce kills, but only through an easter egg that just a comic book fan would catch.
In a few words: the film never tells us why he kills. This, alongside the infamous Martha twist, prevented anyone to connect with this new Batman, compromising the character right from the kick-off, despite the excellent performance by Ben Affleck.
Of course, there are many more things wrong with this one: the plot not really about Batman fighting Superman; the action kicking off over an hour into the film; the useless Lois Lane subplot just to give her something to do; Lex Luthor not really being Lex Luthor (both narratively and practically); the vast majority of the content catered mainly to comic-book fans and not a casual audience… I could go on for hours.
Batman v Superman is what kicked off the shared universe, and it failed from the get-go due to a weak narrative. Despite what you might think, the Ultimate Edition barely improves the film, but it doesn’t turn it into a good movie whatsoever.
When you kick off such a project on such a low note, we shouldn’t be surprised by the rest.
As I said, this post is not absolute truth (with the exception, if I may, with the opening of BvS). I know quite a bunch of people that like all of them.
However, I firmly believe that this might be, overall, the reasons why the DC Extended Universe failed.
If stuck around for the whole article, thank you very much! Let me know what you think in the comments!