With the recent announcement that Joaquin Phoenix will be playing The Joker in an upcoming origin film for the character, I have come to question Warner Bros’ vision for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) that they been haphazardly building. My initial concerns stem from the fact that in 2016, Suicide Squad featured Jared Leto in the role of The Joker for the first time in live action film since Heath Ledger’s unforgettable portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. There are still reports that Leto has a solo Joker film in the works too, indicating that there will potential be two different actors playing the same character in the same film universe at the same time. While I have no issues with either actor in the role, I am simply left wondering why there needs to be two of the same character in the same universe at the same time. None of the reasons for this that I have come up with in my own mind have made me feel any better, either.
This just highlights one of the biggest issues with the DCEU: continuity. When looking at the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) you can’t help but connect the dots between continuity within their universe and success. It’s obvious to me that one of the biggest factors of audience approval in the MCU is the fact that their characters and stories are all connected in one way or another. The characters make appearances in each others films, the stories intertwine and we walk away talking about how this will affect the events of the next film. The MCU continues to show a high level of cohesion within the universe of films they have been making since Iron Man in 2008. They have solo films for the major characters before they are featured in team-up films and the characters in general are well established through interwoven storytelling. While I don’t generally like comparing the two separate film franchises, I think it’s necessary at times given that both are within the super hero film genre yet one side (MCU) is more popular and well received than the other (DCEU). They are of course very different but still the same in many ways yet the DCEU is trying to forge its own path and sadly it doesn’t seem to be working overall.
I’d like to clarify that I love DC comics, probably more so than Marvel comics, and I have been defending this new DCEU since Man of Steel. I want to like the movies so much but sadly they are extremely hit and miss. There are some great offerings from the DCEU such as Wonder Woman, an origin film for the beloved character, which has a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Man of Steel featured Superman’s origin and character establishment, setting up a likable, believable Superman for the DCEU. Another good film was Suicide Squad, a villain team up film that was not very well received critically but was fairly well liked among viewers. Then there are the more troubling films, which sadly are some of the bigger films in the franchise: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was critically panned and is sitting at a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes and Justice League is at a 40%.
I personally love Man of Steel, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, but why are Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League such problematic additions to the DCEU? My biggest issue with the latter two films is that they felt rushed out, as if Warner Bros said “we need team movies and we need them now!” without really looking into further developing the characters or plot lines beforehand. These are big time films too, story-wise, and they were meant to push the narrative further between the characters of the DCEU. However, they both fell a bit flat and left a bad taste in the mouths of the audience which is devastating considering their place in the DCEU. Dawn of Justice should have come after a solo Batman film and the solo Wonder Woman film. The Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman should have had solo films, or be shown in some other way, before being introduced in Justice League. There is also Green Lantern who has been left out of the franchise all together. Throwing such big characters in so soon without previous appearances is off-putting to the casual watcher and hurried to the comic fans. A film like Suicide Squad worked because the team up made sense as they were all somewhat minor characters in a prison who were pushed together. These characters were introduced and given a mission which all kind of fell together in a way that worked; giving each of them solo films would have been overkill. Justice League, on the other hand, felt forced in the sense that such major characters were aimlessly thrown together to face a big bad guy who fell out of focus among all the other goings on. It felt like it lost it’s purpose half way through and while I enjoy the film, it could have been so much better if they just took their time with it.
Speaking of Batman, he is yet another issue the DCEU faces. Our first introduction to the newest Batman was in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. We see an older Batman who is somewhat unhinged in his mission to kill Superman because of some things that happened which were out of his control such as Metropolis being destroyed. It felt like a stretch to have Batman be this angry without ever even talking to Superman or trying to learn about the events beyond “some people died and it’s his fault.” It was also hypocritical considering Batman himself killed people in this movie. This is mostly because the film’s director, Zack Snyder, took a lot of inspiration for the character from Frank Miller’s more aggressive, has-a-disregard-for-human-life version of Batman. This was a troubling choice in my opinion as it’s a version of Batman that is unlike the most primary version and one that is a bit more niche as far as popularity among comic readers goes. It was a bad choice to make the DCEU’s Batman this gritty killer when most people in the audience would have connected more to a Batman who is against killing and more level-headed, such as in most comics, films and The Animated Series. I understand wanting to be creative and do something different given all the previous on-screen Batman adaptations, but this felt a bit out of place for DC Comics’ most loved hero in a brand new franchise meant to span beyond just Batman. There were plenty of other issues with Dawn of Justice but I feel like this is the most glaring and most harmful. While I normally enjoy Snyder’s creative decisions and directing style, this was a miss for me as an audience member and huge Batman fan.
It’s also been reported that Ben Affleck will no longer be playing Batman going forward. While this doesn’t seem particularly damning on its own, when you pair it up with all the other issues facing the DCEU it’s a pretty big deal. Batman is a beloved character and a star of the DCEU, not a side character or a less popular character. While recasting Batman wouldn’t ruin the character/future films per se, it would add to the continuity issues already discussed. It’s icing on a cake full of problems that may or may not be repairable. So we have a major character who has only been featured in movies that weren’t well received who is now being recast. It’s a problematic situation, to say the very least. On top of that we have major films in the franchise being critically panned, two actors playing the same role and a lack of established characters to work off of due to rushed team-up films. The future of the DCEU is foggy and while I truly hope that the decisions makers at Warner Bros can fix all of this going forward, I’m not sure what’s already occurred can be erased in the minds of the viewers which doesn’t bode well for the DC Extended Universe.