Eulogising the DCEU – What We will Miss…

It's better left dead, but we eulogise the DCEU anyway.

We won’t lie–the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has been a mostly unsalvageable hot mess. From terrible foresight and incoherent storytelling to a basic lack of understanding of the source material and a toxic section of the fanbase who’ve confused nifty camera work for an actual movie, the DCEU is almost certainly better left dead than further prolonged.

But it wasn’t all terrible. From within this steaming pile of crap, one can find a smattering of films ranging from decent to fantastic, and isolated aspects of the franchise worth celebrating… and even re-experiencing.

So, in honour of its 10-year run (probably twice as long as it should have lasted), here’re ten aspects of the DCEU we will truly miss.

10. What could have been following Justice League (2017)

The behind-the-scenes drama of Justice League could fill a multiverse saga of it’s own. From changing directorial hands, to the problems faced by actors and directors (and caused by them, too). That said, while the pretence that was Zack Snyder’s “original vision” continued his legacy of destroying superhero legacies with the surgical precision of a bulldozer, the 2017 version had a promising end.

Most interesting, however (aside from finally getting a competent Superman scene after 4 years of waiting), was the set-up for what seemed like the future of the DCEU: Jesse Eissenberg’s Lex Luthor assembles his own team, beginning with Deathstroke, played by Joe Manganiello.

In an otherwise lacklustre movie (albeit with some of the first proper superhero scenes in the DCEU), this stinger offered the very first silver lining for a prospective future. Sucks to be us.

9. The Batman movie we never got

The months leading up to and following Batman v Superman may have been some of the most interesting ones for DC(EU) fans. As divisive as the attempt at the team-up movie was, the allusions to this Batman’s past certainly offered a lot of potential to be mined. And it was more than enough for a new series of Batman films.

Unfortunately, as with most things in the DCEU (and many modern film franchises) things haven’t gone quite as planned, and the inability to see things through has murdered more than just this film, having removed Affleck’s interest in undertaking a film of this scope before things could come to an absolute end.

And, if things weren’t already conclusive enough, George Clooney’s surprise appearance at the end of The Flash is probably all we need to know that the age of Batfleck is truly over. Not for this article, though–we have more to say on this below.

8. The Flash

Between an oddly-placed debut in Batman v Superman and an admittedly cool Easter egg appearance in Suicide Squad, Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen was in for a hard time with pleasing the audience. And a more beloved iteration of the character already occupying the role on television may have made things all that much tougher.

That said, Miller finally shined in his standalone film, offering the audience a different take on the character which, while far from source, was an interesting look at a character driven by loss, yet dissimilar from many of his brethren. Unnecessary cameos aside, The Flash was a solid entry in the DCEU, without entirely caving into becoming a Batman movie despite what many may have though.

Also, pretty solid “cave” pun, yes? ‘Cause, y’know, Batcave?

The Flash also offered some of the better character moments, especially the one quick scene with Ben Affleck’s Batman offering some closure to the first out-of-costume superhero friendship in the DCEU.

7. The Suicide Squad

While James Gunn’s famously one-trick-pony approach to movies can get quickly boring, his mishmash of MCU tropes to put together The Suicide Squad paid off. While the film owes plenty to Nicole Perlman and the restorative work of Birds of Prey, Gunn’s predictable band-of-misfits-and-underdogs narrative works well here–arguably better than it did in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While it pales in comparison to how a sequel to Birds of Prey could have been, The Suicide Squad delivers on every count of action, humour, and even character development. It also doesn’t hurt that it has an immensely stacked cast which included the likes Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, and the returning Margot Robbie.

This entry, may be the one we least miss given Gunn’s proclivity to maintain his crew. As it stands, we already know that the Peacemaker series will continue into the DCU (see above).

6. Black Adam’s Justice Society

Yeah, the movie wasn’t great. And it was an epic pile of missed opportunities–from not tying up with the underwhelming Shazam! franchise to failing to use the character’s myth and backstory to set up a more interesting universe for the DCEU. But, it was a surprisingly competent entry (by DCEU standards) and had some actual proper writing.

Unfortunately, the overall “Rock-ness” of the movie prevented it from being anything more than a big budget cosplay tribute to the greatness that is actually Black Adam.

But, primary plot aside, Black Adam delivered an interesting look at the Justice Society of America, a true legacy superhero team if there was ever one. Composed of Doctor Fate, Hawkman, Atom Smasher, and Cyclone, this iteration of the JSA is primarily influenced by the 1999 to 2011 runs of the Justice Society comics-easily some of the most influential depictions in recent years.

Unfortunately, despite a quick tease of their continued existence in Sha2am!, it seems unlikely that the Society, as we’ve seen them, will resume their heroics in the new DCU.

5. The Villains of the DCEU

DC films have had a hero problem far outdating the DCEU. From Nolan’s post-Batman Begins Batman to Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern, the understanding of what made these iconic characters tick in almost 80 years of publishing just seemed absent. Oddly enough, that never really seemed to be an issue with the villains (much).

Be it Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow or Mark Strong’s Sinestro or Michael Shannon’s Zod or Mark Strong’s (again) Sivana or Ezra Miller’s other Barry Allen, the DC movies of the the last two decades have largely provided amazing depictions of villains.

Even ones such as Heath Ledger’s Joker or Batman v Superman’s Doomsaday, which tend to go a little off-tangent, have been fantastic.

And nothing more needs to be said about Ewan McGregor’s absolutely brilliant turn as Black Mask in Birds of Prey.

Even the more controversial casting choices have somewhat paid off if the audience are willing to look past pre-conceived notions. Jesse Eisenberg’s casting as Lex Luthor, for example, was a stroke of brilliance, contemporising the character for the 21st century while still depicting the him as a person whose genius formed the basis of the threat he posed.

This oddly prescient foresight influenced the casting of most characters across the DCEU, but it’s especially prevalent with the bad guys. Perhaps this may be simply reflective of how villainy is just easier to be portrayed dynamically, or it may be an indication of the misplaced priorities of the minds behind the franchise.

Nevertheless, the villains of the DCEU not only remain one of the strongest elements of the otherwise abysmal run of films, but will also be greatly missed.

4. Blue Beetle

It’s odd that the DC movies somewhat stopped sucking once they stopped trying. While the Blue Beetle film had a messier-than-average journey from script to screen, its final product was one of surprising sincerity and genuine earnestness.

Much of Blue Beetle feels like it would have been better suited for television but, as with all DC properties, that tends to be the better option. Fundamentally, the film works better for the simple reason that it doesn’t try to outsmart its source material, or shroud everything with the unnecessarily dour tone that plagued a good half of the DCEU.

Thankfully, while the status of the Blue Beetle film itself remains in limbo, the character and actor Xolo Maridueña have been confirmed to return for James Gunn’s new DCU. Whether this is a good thing remains to be seen but, at the very least, we’re promised a little bit more of one of the few things that has worked.

Also, can we please continue with Ted Kord’s arc? Just reveal that he’s off time travelling with Booster Gold in search of Beatriz da Costa (who should totally be Jenny’s mom)!

3. Wonder Woman (2017)

Given Wonder Womans status as the first competent film in the DCEU, it now seems almost poignant that her presence pretty much saved Superman’s and Batman’s collective butts in their fight against Doomsday. And we’re not just talking about her saving those final 20 minutes of a movie which had no business being greenlit in the first place.

While Gal Gadot’s attempts at acting (and political views) leave much to be desired, her take on Diana Prince in both Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman met many of the expectations fans carried. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than looking good in an iconic costume to sell any character (just ask Henry Cavill), and the recurrent hand-changing culture behind the DCEU may have axed any hope the sub-franchise had at maintaining its quality.

And, depressingly, the more we learn about it, the more it seems that Wonder Woman is as good as it is not because of the right assembly of talents but, rather, in spite of everyone involved in it… except Allan Heinberg–dude’s the only one who seemed to know what’s what.

In fact, the only reason Wonder Woman, as a film, ranks as low on this list as it does, is because of its inability to maintain its quality with the impressively insipid Wonder Woman 1984.

2. Batfleck and Co.

Arguably one of the most controversial bits of casting, Ben Affleck’s take on Bruce Wayne/Batman has, in fact, turned out to be the best bit of hero casting in the DCEU. While much of the backlash to the initial announcement had less to do with Affleck’s capabilities as an actor and more with his reputation as at that point–thanks to a string of flops with his selection of Jennifer-ed romantic interests, as well as the farce that was Daredevil (also an entry in his list of “Jennifer-ed” flops).

Nevertheless, Affleck not only proved to be a great Batman, but also one of the better Bruce Waynes since Michael Keaton. And, perhaps an indication of WB’s desire to actually just have another Bat-franchise following the The Dark Knight Trilogy, was the amazing casting for just about all the Batman characters.

Jeremy Irons’s Alfred remains one of the standout aspects of Batman v Superman, a brilliant silver lining in what was otherwise a miserable attempt at a movie. Like Affleck as Batman, he may easily be one of the best live action depictions of the character.

Another, tragically underutilised actor was J. K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon. Debuting in the 2017 Justice League, the character had much planned for him, including the now forever-shelved Batgirl, originally slated for release on HBO Max.

Unfortunately, like Ben Affleck’s solo Batman movie, this line-up and the potential Batfamily content we may have gotten, is long gone. 

1. Birds of Prey (and whatever the hell the rest of its unnecessarily long title was)

This was hands down the best entry of the DCEU. While I still have some qualms with it having been branded a Birds of Prey film, and with the creative choices regarding Cassandra Cain, the film stands out on its own given its very rare degree of quality.

Although anchoring a Birds of Prey movie with Harley Quinn will forever annoy me (just call this “Gotham City Sirens”, c’mon!), this was one of the very few times (second only after Wonder Woman) where it felt like the DCEU was actually putting out a complete, well-planned, properly scripted film. And Birds of Prey isn’t just great by DCEU standards–it is straight up the best live-action movie DC has produced this century.

Unfortunately, things just weren’t meant to be for Birds of Prey, with the continuing story spinning-off into The Suicide Squad instead of a proper sequel. And, given the amazing cast and their depictions of their respective characters, it truly is tragic that we’ll never get to see a proper continuation of their arcs.

Honestly, WB should consider a Birds of Prey series independent of the upcoming shared universe to continue the adventures of this iteration of the team.

Honorable mention: Jonathan Kent’s Death

Jon Kent has been dead for the 10 years and has managed to miss most of the DCEU. Good for him
Tan Guan Hao

Disclaimer: At the point of publication, I have not yet caught Aquaman 2. If, somehow, any part of it matches the quality of anything on this list, we will update it.