Arts and Entertainment

The DC Cinematic Universe Sucks (and What to Do About It)

The DCEU’s failings and how to fix them.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you were to tell someone 20 years ago that a movie pitting Batman against Superman would be outperformed in the box office by a film that pits two second-tier Marvel characters, Captain America and Iron Man, against each other, they wouldn’t believe you. But it’s true—and it shows just how much things have changed in the landscape of superhero movies.

Before “Iron Man” (2008) started a universe of interlocked stories and characters for Marvel, its movies were not so great, judging by quality and box office success. Yes, movies like the original Spider-Man trilogy weren’t bad, but movies like “Fantastic Four” (2005) and “Ghost Rider” (2007) weren’t critical or box office darlings. And as a result, they were forced to sell their most famous superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men to other companies, left only with B-Listers like Captain America.

On the other hand, DC’s The Dark Knight trilogy was a hit with moviegoers and critics alike. In fact, “The Dark Knight” (2008) made over $1 billion at the global box office and was nominated for eight Oscars. Clearly, DC had had a head start over Marvel.

As such, DC took advantage of their success in 2013 and started a project called the DC Extended Universe, or the DCEU, attempting to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which had already pumped out critical and box office smashes such as “The Avengers” (2012). The first DCEU movie to arrive, “Man of Steel” (2013), was met with indifferent critical reception. Aside from starring Henry Cavill as Superman, the film was simply mediocre and forgettable. Of course, this wasn’t enough to stop DC, who went right ahead and made their next movie.

This movie, “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), was truly terrible. It lacked a compelling story, a coherent plot, actually entertaining humor, and even sensical dialogue—the movie’s climax was solved after the two main characters realized their moms have the same name. And for a movie called “Batman vs. Superman,” there was surprisingly little Batman vs. Superman action. One thing they did have, though, was terrible special effects. A man can only handle so many “villain creates a sky-beam that will end the world” climaxes before he gets tired.

This is not to say Marvel did not have its misfires either. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) wasn’t exactly a good movie, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) was a little all over the place, but overall, its movies range from passable to very good.

The next DCEU movie that came out was “Suicide Squad” (2016), and it was really at this movie that I began to understand why the DC Universe was so terrible. The DC Universe was never subtle; it never tried to be. Exposition was shoved in at the strangest moments, and it was obvious they didn’t put a lot of time into thinking about how to make their stories link up. For example, in “Batman vs. Superman,” there was one huge, out-of-place plot point: an e-mail containing a video clip of each of the Justice League members using their powers. It didn’t make any sense in the context of the movie, and it was obviously just trying to rush an Avengers-style, big team-up movie, which would come one and a half years later.

After “Suicide Squad,” things picked up for the DCEU, but only very briefly. “Wonder Woman” (2017) was a box office and critical hit, but still got beaten out at the Global Box Office by “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017), a movie about a ragtag team of nobodies joining forces to save the galaxy. This might have come as a surprise to many people, as “Wonder Woman” was really the first (good) big budget female-led superhero movie. This just drives the point that with good character development like the Guardians had, you can make people care about things they’ve never even heard of. We cared about those characters, and it made us want to see them again. The general public knew Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, but the studio didn’t give her very much character development in Batman vs. Superman, so we didn’t care about her as much.

It might not come as a surprise that releasing “Justice League” (2017) as the studio’s next movie probably wasn’t a great idea. We had only met three of the characters so far (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) and only two (Wonder Woman and Superman) had gotten a solo movie. With “The Avengers” (2012), all of the main characters had solo films before the team-up. Eager to match the success of Marvel, DC rushed into it and gave us “Justice League.” Not only was this movie an unprecedented flop at the box office, but it also caused Henry Cavill (Superman) and Ben Affleck (Batman) to quit. This movie was the lowest grossing DCEU movie of them all, and it had characters like the Flash, Cyborg, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more; it wasn’t exactly given that this movie should make so little money.

So the DCEU seems somewhat hopeless as of now. The solution? Start over.

It’s pretty much too late for anyone to save the DCEU in its current state. Batman and Superman are gone, and it’s going to be hard to make a “Justice League 2” starring Cyborg and Green Arrow. If DC starts over, they can try again, starting with the basics: Superman and Batman. Give us new perspectives, instead of making every movie an origin story. Start with four or five barely connected stories, and then bring them together for the Justice League. Make us care about your characters. Make us feel what they feel. Don’t try to copy Marvel; start your own thing.

The DCEU needs a change to happen soon, or our favorite comic book characters might be headed down a dark path.