Anghus Houvouras with five things he likes about the DC Extended Universe…
I’ll tell you what I don’t like: having to type the words ‘DC Extended Universe’. It just sounds stupid. That really has nothing to do with the following column, but I always wonder who the hell coined that awkward franchise phrase every time I write about this subject.
The Justice League trailer arrived last month, and if you’re anything like me you really enjoyed it. Also, if you’re anything like me you might be genetically predisposed to schizophrenia, so go see a mental health professional as soon as you finish reading this column.
I loved the trailer. It featured so many thing I liked about adaptations of DC’s most popular characters. Even though the movies have been divisive amongst fans and frequent punching bags with critics, there are still things about this universe to like. The films may not be perfect, but there are still elements to these super hero stories that are different enough to make their existence justified. The Justice League trailer was full of great, iconic visuals and some wonderful interactions between the characters. I particularly loved the interaction between Batman & Aquaman. Given their almost non-existent relationship in the comics, seeing a new kind of team paradigm at play in the trailer made me hopeful for the finished film.
After the way too serious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the ridiculously silly Suicide Squad, I’m hoping that Justice League ends up being the porridge that’s just right. Perhaps after a few creative missteps director Zack Snyder can find that perilous balance between visual iconography, character, and entertainment. I thought this might be a good opportunity to take a look at what has worked with the DC Extended Universe and the elements that could be carried over from previous installments as they attempt to deliver a blockbuster that will help.
1. This ain’t your Daddy’s DC Universe
Remember when Superman a smiling do-gooder who rarely threw a punch and was lecturing the citizens of Metropolis on not using bad language? Zack Snyder’s Superman snapped that guy’s neck in favor of Christ allegories and collateral damage. Are you an avid Batman fan who always liked the idea that the Dark Knight would never use a gun. Zack Snyder’s Batman shot that guy in the face before using his Batmobile to drag the hearse his body was in around the city before using it to murder two jaywalkers. Remember kind, pleasant Aquaman? He’s been replaced by the lead singer of a death metal band and looks forward to impaling as many people with his trident as possible. Remember smart, cunning, corny Lex Luthor? Now he’s a sociopath who looks and acts like he spends a lot of time on 4Chan.
Joking aside, the DC Extended Universe is delivering all kinds of inspired twists on their iconic heroes. That means when I walk into the theater I can’t be entirely sure what to expect. That’s a huge win for someone like me whose chief complaint with Marvel is knowing exactly what I’m going to get and tiring of the same formula. This version of the DC Universe is very different from the comics as well as previous cinematic adaptations. That, my friends, is one for the ‘win’ column.
2. They’re taking their characters (somewhat) seriously
While Marvel has taken the four quadrant approach to their character, Warner Bros. has gone a darker, more serious route with their cinematic universe. Levity is something they’ve struggled with. Sure, it’d be nice to see a Superman that doesn’t mope while saving the world, I still enjoy the attempt at placing these characters in a more dire setting. The fact that Batman starts out in these adaptations as a grizzled middle-aged bastard with almost no connection to another living soul is kind of interesting. Some might say that the DC Extended Universe is taking things too seriously, but if you’re interested in stake-free superhero movies you can always buy a ticket to whatever Marvel movie comes out next.
3. They’re not cracking jokes every eight and a half seconds
It was right around the forty minute mark of Avengers: Age of Ultron where I attempted to stuff stale popcorn in my ears preventing me from suffering through the painful, quippy, snarky dialogue. Joss Whedon gave every character the same voice. Every character Joss Whedon touches turns into Chandler Bing from Friends. Every dire situation is diffused with humor, whether appropriate for the character or not. You could argue that the only difference between Batman & Robin and Age of Ultron was the quality of actors delivering clunky comedic one-liners.
While some levity is certainly needed from time to time, I have to admire Warner Bros. for trying to present something different with their adaptations. Even going back to Nolan’s run with Batman, there’s a creative intent to deliver something that doesn’t resort to corny-as-hell comedy. The goal is a fully realized world where every character isn’t sharing their inner monologue with audiences and peppering every scene with their rapier wit. That, my friends, is greatly appreciated.
4. Great casting (Even though it’s sometimes wasted)
The casting in the DC Extended Universe has been top-notch. The litany of talented actors they’ve put together from Man of Steel through Justice League is impressive. There’s been so much gravitas brought to their movies from seasoned actors in supporting roles. Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, and Michael Shannon helped give Man of Steel a real sense of drama.
Ben Affleck is an amazing Batman. Jason Momoa has so much potential to give us a new version of Aquaman. I’m interested in seeing what Gal Gadot can do in Wonder Woman. Ezra Miller feels like a natural, likable Barry Allen. There’s a lot of talent n front of the camera in these productions that can hopefully not be wasted.
5. Their movies look cinematic
I remember last year when I saw the first previews for Captain America: Civil War. That one moment where you see the heroes running at each other like two charging trains. The kind of shot that feels so appropriate in a comic book but looks kind of silly in a movie. Then they pull back into this silly wide shot of all the characters as if we’re supposed to be looking at something iconic instead of a flat, boring shot that feels like something you’d see on an episode of Arrow.
In spite of the flaws within the films, the DC superhero world feels epic. They look gorgeous. The world they’ve built for these character looks iconic. A sprawling playground for Gods, Monsters, and Superheroes.
There we are: Five things that have me optimistic for the next wave of DC Movies.