The DC Extended Universe So Far

Man of Steel

Didn’t hate this nearly as much this time around! There were some pretty serious missteps, to be sure. Kal-El’s birth scene felt weirdly stiff and emotionless. It’s not the kind of moment a Zack Snyder-directed/Chris Nolan-produced flick is ever gonna nail. And having that be what sets the tone really informs a lot of the other problems this movie has, especially early on.

Honestly? All the problems that used to make me way more critical of this movie are still there. What’s really changed is me. I just don’t have time to be angry about that stuff anymore. Was this entertaining? You betcha. Did it hold my interest? Sure did.

It had some of your usual USA propaganda that all of these things had, but it wasn’t nearly as thick as say, Nolan’s Batman trilogy or the Marvel movies. It’s annoying, but you kinda know what you’re getting into here.

It’s fine. It’s not amazing. But it’s fine. I can live with it. I don’t feel like bitching about freaking Man of Steel anymore, okay? It’s fine. Just let it be.

(C-Rank)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Thomas, as he’s dying in the opening credits: “Martha.”
Me: [deadpan] “Why did he say that name?”

The more times I see this the more I like it, actually. So that’s something.

Especially structurally. This movie is very uncompromisingly itself, and it really kinda does feel like it has the rhythm of a long graphic novel. It also helps that a lot of the indivual shots (especially in fight scenes) are composed like comic panels, which has been a strength of Snyder’s comic adaptations since Watchmen.

Also the more I think about it the more the whole “Doomsday being tacked on at the end is too much” complaint just doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. Doomsday is a non-character that it’s hard to tell a story about other than “he punch Superman a lot.” If you ask me, this was actually the perfect way to handle Doomsday in a live action film franchise.

Mostly I think I just am increasingly appreciating that this movie is something, rather than the carefully crafted bland nothing of the MCU. That matters to me more than whether my tastes entirely line up with Snyder’s. Just actually bring something to the table, that’s all I ask.

(B-Rank)

Suicide Squad (2016)

Okay what the HELL.

I actually liked it. I actually LIKED it this time!!!

Seriously WHAT???

Was I just such a fucking Marvel fanboy before that my view of all the DC movies was warped? Or is it just because I’ve calmed the hell down about all of this and just see them as movies that are kinda fun?

I find myself wondering sometimes about how I would feel about the Marvel movies if I tried watching them again and I find myself just not wanting to expend the effort to do so? But I’m actually really enjoying these DC movies that I bitched and moaned about so much before.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(B-Rank)

Wonder Woman (2017)

“I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”

It’s extremely hard to see Gal Gadot in the lead role and not think of her outspoken praise of the IDF, especially at this particular moment in time. And in case you’re wondering, yes, she has publicly spoken out recently to reaffirm her uncritical support of Israel, and implicitly of their ethnic cleansing of the displaced and terrorized people of Palestine. Because of course she has. So for whatever it’s worth: victory to Palestine. It just feels wrong not to lead with that right now.

The Themyscira stuff was pretty great, and the no man’s land scene was extremely obvious but also extremely good. It’s really the only reason setting this during wartime was any good. Steve is centered way too much, but I will admit that his death made me sob like a baby because of course it did.

I still find myself wanting a Wonder Woman movie where she’s just going around doing superhero stuff, but oh well. Maybe that’s 1984? I guess I’ll see when we get to that one.

On the whole this is a few really good moments with a lot of “this is kinda dragging” strung in between. And it’s a superficial “anti-war” movie that doesn’t engage with the root problem of imperialism at all, and in fact oftentimes makes arguments that reinforce cognitive distortions that imperialism relies on to make itself invisible.

(C-Rank)

Justice League (2017)

This isn’t the worst thing ever or anything but wow Joss Whedon’s changes are often glaringly obvious and I haven’t even seen the Snyder Cut yet.

The whole subplot with Batman trying to goad Wonder Woman into being a leader is clearly like 900% Whedon and I hate it. That’s the biggest one that jumped out at me but there were just plenty of times that all I could do was say “Whedon” out loud at the screen.

Flash is ADORABLE, strong desire to protecc the speedy cinnamon roll. Aquaman… y’know what, I wanted to say I prefer a more boisterous Aquaman to broody Aquaman, and I suppose that’s true in a vacuum, but Jasom Momoa is just so hot, you guys. Like. SO hot. I can’t help it.

On the whole, just… this could’ve been worse. Much worse. But it’s still very clearly a Frankenstein of a movie and this is where I stop and remember that I used to love Joss Whedon superhero movies and hate Zach Snyder superhero movies (except Watchmen) and just… hit pause and think about that for a minute.

The thing about Joss Whedon’s Avengers movies is they are extremely good at being bland, inoffensive crowd pleasers and I honestly wouldn’t have the biggest problem with that if they weren’t funded by the Defense Department, but if I thought about it harder it never would’ve been my jam. It’s merchandizable “nerd” stuff. It’s the “I ❤ nerds” shirt of superhero movies. It’s just… nothing.

I didn’t hate Man of Steel the recent time I rewatched it nearly as much as the first few times I saw it, and even the stuff I didn’t like it’s really hard to know whether to attribute to Snyder or extremely hands-on producer Chris Nolan, and… honestly there’s a lot of Nolan in there. And it’s not difficult to imagine that the studio would be mandating it be as Nolany as possible given the (at the time) fairly recent financial success of his Dark Knight trilogy.

Then there’s Batman V Superman. Like. I have some issues with it still, obviously. Not the least of which is how Frank Millery the A plot is. (Honestly, how many of Snyder’s issues boil down to liking Frank Miller too much?) But structurally… I kinda love it? It’s a much dorkier movie, and it is cramming a lot of stuff into it… and even though I have profoundly mixed feelings about it, I kind of love that it’s swinging for the fences like that? And at the very least I prefer it to the Bland Nothing With Defense Department Funding that is most of the MCU.

All of this is basically a long walk to say I’m extremely ready to see the Snyder Cut. I might not like it, but if I don’t like it it won’t be because it’s bland and inoffensive. Which this is, aside from how fucking offensive it is for Joss Whedon to ever get work.

(C-Rank)

Aquaman (2018)

“My father was a lighthouse keeper. My mother was a queen. They were never meant to meet. But their love saved the world.”

Oh my GOSH???? This is SO GOOD??? I was not prepared for this??? If it weren’t for Birds of Prey this would EASILY be the best DCEU movie???

A big part of this is that it isn’t afraid to be a silly superhero movie, but it’s more than that. The action scenes are incredible. Atlanna and Thomas’s epic love story is such a wonderful emotional core to build around, and bookending the movie with it is so sweet. And I cried so much when Arthur got his mommy back.

I was told this movie is “fun,” and it is. But I wasn’t told that it’s resoundingly good! Y’all are sleeping on this one.

(A-Rank)

Wonder Woman (1984)

There were things that could’ve been better, and the parts that were always gonna be racist sure were racist. Though there is something especially perturbing about a movie staring Ms. Israeli Defense Force being racist against Egyptians, naturally.

Other than that this was… fine, I guess? I liked the setup a hell of a lot better than the payoff. It made it look like Diane and Barbara were gonna be HELLA gay together, and I was extremely there for it, but oh well. And bringing Steve back felt totally unnecessary but at least he got to be the bewildered fish out of water this time around.

I would’ve liked Cheetah to be sexier, but that’s a minor gripe. I found the other villain insufferable and really wish Cheetah hadn’t taken a backseat to him, but alas.

(C-Rank)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Yeah this is a HELL of a lot better than the Frankenmovie the studio and Whedon assembled. I actually really enjoyed this.

Also, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman can do whatever he wants to me. WHATEVER HE WANTS. Seriously. DAMN he’s hot.

(Strong boy pretty. Miles dumb now.)

(B-Rank)

The Suicide Squad (2021)

“We’ve got a freaking kaiju up in this shit!”

So, I liked the first Suicide Squad movie a lot better than most people seemed to, but it was still extremely obvious that they had decided pretty late in production to make it a sort of embarrassing Guardians of the Galaxy retread despite not really having the material to support that? So then they get the director of Guardians of the Galaxy to do the sequel and it doesn’t really follow that path at all and totally has its own identity? So that’s awesome.

And then you add in the fact that this movie is unbelievably dorky, like omg. I did not think we were getting anything nearly as weird as Starro in these movies anytime soon??? And King Shark is in this??? And he’s just the goodest boy???

Speaking of good boys, Ratcatcher has a rat named Sebastian and he’s so good and I’m sorry but this was very important to specifically call out thank you.

It was a little distracting how obviously Idris Elba’s Bloodsport was just a replacement for Will Smith’s Deadshot, but I still liked his performance and how he was written. And John Cena’s heel turn and everything surrounding it was brilliant… mostly. We’ll come back to it in the politics section.

Another highlight for me is when Harley applies the lessons she learned in Birds of Prey and just straight up murders General Luna instead of ending up in another toxic relationship, and then she escapes from prison and is just a huge badass, and then her team shows up to rescue her and she’s like astonished that they wanted to rescue her and everyone hugs it out. And I love the team dynamic in general and all the little relationships, especially the ones Ratcatcher formed with Bloodsport and King Shark. And the whole subplot about Bloodsport getting over his phobia and becoming friends with Sebastian is so good!!!

There’s also a fun little masculine posturing rivalry between John Cena’s Peacemaker and Bloodsport where they’re constantly one-upping each other, and later when Flag gets added into the mix you’re kind of like “wait you have three boys here who basically do the same thing how’s this supposed to work?” but weirdly it totally does? And it also lets them do awesome things like let themselves be captured to draw attention away from more vulnerable members of the team and just immediately bust out of captivity with their Strong Boy Powers.

So, yeah, you knew I was gonna get to the politics eventually and here we go. Actually pretty damn good for a superhero movie!! And yeah that’s a very generous curve, but it’s still really refreshing not to tag one of these “imperialist” for once. And it’s pretty difficult to imagine that the Department of Defense supported this movie like it does the majority of MCU movies.

The bulk of the movie takes place on the fictional island of Corto Maltese, which was actually featured in The Dark Knight Returns and mentioned in the 1989 Batman movie! So that was a pretty cool reference. The island has recently had a military coup against their U.S.-backed dictator, but the new military regime is just as repressive, the only real difference is that they’re belligerent to the United States. But there is also an armed rebellion going on that wants free elections.

So, while she’s briefing the team, Amanda Waller is actually pretty upfront about the fact that the only reason the U.S. cares about the change in regimes is because the new regime is hostile to U.S. interests. This is reiterated much later in the movie when Starro is rampaging through the capital city and she tells her team to pull out and that if anything the White House won’t mind the wholesale destruction of Corto Maltese since they’re no longer a U.S. ally.

But that’s not even the limit of this film’s imperfect but still surprising and welcome anti-imperialism. So, in this version of the story, Starro is being held captive in a building called Jötunheim that was built to house the unethical experiments of fugitive Nazi scientists, and later the Thinker who isn’t a Nazi but sure has similar experimental methods. So obviously the creature is subjected to a series of cruel experiments. Not only that, but whatever dictator has been in power at any particular time has been sending their “enemies” (political rivals, dissidents, journalists, and even family members of the same) to get mind controlled by Starro. And then some of those unlucky prisoners are dissected alive or experimented on in plenty of other horrifying ways.

So, that’s lovely. But towards the end of the movie the team finds out that their real mission, unbeknownst to everyone but Peacemaker, has been to eliminate evidence that the U.S. actually has been running these experiments all along. Waller doesn’t even care when Starro escapes and terrorizes the people of Corto Maltese, and is even ready to blow the Suicide Squad’s heads off until one of her subordinates literally knocks her out with a blunt object and her subordinates then proceed to help the Squad take down Starro and save the people of Corto Maltese.

Basically everything good that happens in this movie is explicitly an act of insubordination by the Suicide Squad and Waller’s other underlings, and is explicitly against U.S. interests. Which gels nicely with the fact that the heroes of this movie are literally prisoners doing forced labor. (There could have been more done to explicitly call out this aspect of the U.S. “justice” system being a widespread, real-life problem, but you know. It’s not not there!)

So, remember that armed rebellion I mentioned earlier? They actually end up rescuing Rick Flag from the dictator’s forces. And when Flag is getting ready to take his team into the city, he points out that they’ll be drawing so much attention to Jötunheim that the generals will be relatively unguarded. Which they end up taking advantage of. And Flag himself ends up sacrificing his life in a fight to the death with Peacemaker over the harddrive that has proof of the U.S.’s role in the experiments on Starro and the people of Corto Maltese. So this movie basically positions him as an Edward Snowden-type whistleblower and supporter of a people’s rebellion. So… that kind of rules, honestly!

There are obviously a few shortcomings to this film’s anti-imperialism. We’re still talking about a superhero movie with a massive budget here. For one thing, the Suicide Squad are given far too much credit for Corto Maltese having free elections for the first time when the leader of the rebellion literally says it’s because of them. They should be acknowledged as very important allies, certainly. But the bulk of the credit should have gone to the people of Corto Maltese and the popular uprising there.

Also, Bloodsport’s decision to use the harddrive as leverage to gain the team’s freedom rather than releasing the information is understandable but pretty disappointing. I would have drastically preferred a resolution where the new government of Corto Maltese removes the chips for them (surely they have scientists capable of doing this) and grant them sanctuary while continuing to be belligerent to the U.S. and bringing the information of their crimes against humanity to light. I know this isn’t the direction a big budget superhero movie is ever going to go, but it would be thematically consistent, dang it!!

Finally, and this is admittedly super nitpicky, but when Corto Maltese’s dictator is complaining about countries that don’t take them seriously, he rattles off the U.S., Russia, and China. And, whatever your opinion of China, any remotely honest and educated observation of their foreign policy would conclude that they absolutely take smaller, less powerful countries seriously and engage with them in a much different way than the other two countries. But, you know. Hollywood gonna Hollywood.

So, yeah! I kinda loved The Suicide Squad!! … hey uh not to be a pest but I’m guessing this is gonna make some money so does this mean we can do Cathy Yan’s Harley/Ivy movie please and make them explicitly gay please pretty please with sugar on top?

(A-Rank)

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