My relationship with the DCEU is what one might call complex. Unlike it’s Marvel counterpoint (which, for the record, I think started great before peaking around the middle of Phase Two, where it, just stumbled from interesting to mediocre, finally wrapping up somewhat satisfyingly with Endgame, and now the world needs to find something else to hold its attention) DC’s attempt at a Cinematic Universe has always been sort of confused.
If I were to compare the two, I’d liken Marvel to the cool but goofy one, who managed to get by on its eccentricities but grew stale and needs to find a new schtick, while DC is the brooding, slightly awkward friend who had big ideas but doesn’t know what to do with them. Where Marvel always thrived in its characters (until it started retconning them circa Thor Ragnorak), DC struggled to find its voice.
The two always differed most in their approaches to the connectivity, with Marvel’s approach being more akin to a television show, with producer Kevin Fiege acting as a sort of showrunner, while DC seemed to, at least at the beginning, take a far more auteur-led approach, allowing individual creatives to take on the properties and do with them what they will.
What approach works best within the context of big-budget, connected universe franchises is pretty obvious (it’s Marvel), but where DC managed to excel was in their visuals.
Whatever you think of Zack Snyder as a filmmaker, it’s hard to deny the guy knows how to shoot a movie. Every frame is gorgeous, and this evident in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Where Marvel tends to pull back from anything too stylized or out there in terms of aesthetic – presumably in the aim of bigger cohesion between films – Snyder imbued the DCEU with a real sense of spectacle. Sure, some parts lean too far over into overblown CG mess, but by and large those movies look incredible.
Of course, the problem lay predominantly with the writing. Snyder has always been very much a visual storyteller in search of a good script. When paired with James Gunn he delivered Dawn of the Dead, still one of the better movies of the Platinum Dunes period of studio horror remakes, but without a good script he falls into Sucker Punch. And I know Sucker Punch has its fans but… c’mon, guys.
While, truthfully, I much prefer Marvel’s output to DC’s, they’re more consistent, more entertaining, more fun, and deliver more in terms of character, gun to head I think I’d struggle to pick which of the two is more interesting.
Marvel was interesting when it began this experiment, but by the time we’d got to Thor: The Dark World, the entire thing had become so formulaic and predictable that the interesting aspect seemed to just sort of… fizzle out. Okay, so Guardians of the Galaxy gave it a little jolt, and there were interesting takes on the formula in the form of Winter Soldier, Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Black Panther, but mostly it was as expected. There are very few surprises there. That may very well be what makes it so accessible, but it also doesn’t make it interesting.
Counter that with the early entries into the DCEU and we find a lot of interesting stuff. I suspect there’s an argument to be made that DC and Snyder were so keen to stuff their movies with big ideas and weighty themes, that they sort of forgot to do anything else. I had a better time with Civil War, it’s a more coherent movie, but if you want to have a discussion, well… Batman v Superman has way more stuff to discuss.
That’s not to say that I think Batman v Superman is any good. It’s an overblown mess of a movie, and even the Directors Cut (which is admittedly better than the one we got in theatres) can’t hold it together. It’s got lots of inconsistent character beats, nonsensical plotting, a villain with a plan so complex that it could almost be a parody, and the less said about “Martha” the better. But, all that being said, it most definitely is an interesting movie.
I quite like Man of Steel. It’s a different take on the overdone Superman mythos, and while it too has its flaws – it’s about 30 minutes too long, some of the structure needs reworking, and the finale is… *sigh* - there are some great moments. The sequence where Michael Shannon’s Zod addresses the Earth in search of Kal-El, for example, is more menacing and scary than every Marvel villain put together. And yes, that includes Thanos.
Perhaps the biggest complaint that is often led at Man of Steel is its finale. I can remember watching the film in the cinema and having a problem with it. It seemed absurd at the time. The insane amount of destruction unleashed upon Metropolis is just ridiculous. How could Superman possibly be considered a hero after that? I mean, we have people who don’t care when immigrant children are locked in cages, are we really supposed to believe the world would accept Superman after that?
And then came the announcement for Batman v Superman.
There were several things I found interesting about the idea of BvS as a follow-up to Man of Steel. Firstly, it seemed to make sense. If we’re saying that Bruce Wayne/Batman exists in the world of MoS, then I can fully believe he would be pissed after the events of that movie. Even if it was retroactive, what the premise seemed to do, for me, was to justify the end of Man of Steel. A good sequel is one that takes ideas from the original and builds on them, and here was a fantastic example of that. Rectifying a problem with your original movie within a sequel isn’t a new idea, but Batman v Superman seemed to be a brilliant example of that.
Secondly, it was a suggestion that DC was beginning to build their own cinematic universe, but we’re doing it in a way that differentiated themselves from Marvel. At the time, as the rumor mill began to whirr, my understanding was that we wouldn’t be seeing solo-outings until after the release of a third and fourth movie, which were supposedly going to be Justice League.
To me this seemed like a great concept. Building out from Man of Steel we would have a trilogy (or quadrology?) of films that told a coherent, single-story, with each new movie further expanding upon and setting up that world. Man of Steel was our way in, the follow-up would give us Superman, presumably by the end of that Batman and he would be best buds, and so we’d see them band together and build the team in the threequel. Once that story was over the characters would then be free to separate into their solo-outings, unburdened by the need for the origin approach that Marvel is somewhat hampered by.
What made this idea so interesting, for me at least, was that it was different from what we had seen with Marvel. It was a different take on the idea of a cinematic universe. And, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty hyped.
Of course, we all know where that wound up, and Batman v Superman was something of a disappointment in my eyes.
When it came time for Justice League to get its big release, I can’t say I was all that interested. The behind the scenes troubles had been well-documented, and even though I adore Joss Whedon’s work (Buffy is the greatest TV show of all time and you should watch it) I can remember thinking his appointment seemed like a really strange choice. He simply doesn’t fit with what Snyder had created. Regardless of how good Whedon is and can be, I had doubts about his involvement in the same way I do about Taika Waititi’s involvement in Star Wars… the two styles just don’t seem to mesh to me.
Suffice it to say that it appears I was right. Justice League is, somehow, an even bigger mess than BvS, and although some of Whedon’s additions are fun taken out of context, nothing fits with anything else, and the film certainly doesn’t make a well-rounded, clear trilogy with Man of Steel or BvS. Furthermore, Whedon’s brighter tone and visual style mean that the repurposed Snyder-shot scenes look awful. The grading is horrible and the film is just jarring.
Is this all Whedon’s fault? Of course it isn’t. It’s not Snyder’s either, though. The blame lay with the studio, who chose to leap upon a chance to, as they presumably saw it, rectify the tone of their output and move to a more Marvel “fun” style approach. They did this by taking advantage of a horrific family tragedy for director Zack Snyder, throwing out almost all of his work in the process (and as we now know, he had pretty much finished the film by that point), and then bringing in another director with totally the wrong skillset, in a cynical attempt to cash-in on what another studio was doing.
Whedon could have said no, of course, but I suspect he felt he could do the characters justice in some way – as a fan – and given the timeframe he had to, as the studio demanded, totally reshoot almost all of the movie, it’s a wonder the film is even something of anything.
Of course, Whedon isn’t the victim here, he was just a guy hired to do a job. The real victims are the fans, who missed out on seeing the conclusion of a story they had invested in (and that should be recognized whether I think it’s any good or not) and Snyder, who was left not only mourning the tragic loss of his daughter, but also the total gutting and destruction of his hard work.
All of this is bringing me around to the point I really want to make, which is that the opportunity to see Zack Snyder’s original vision fo the film is overall mostly a positive thing. A director getting to realize their version of a project they put a lot of time and hard work into is always going to be something worth seeing, whether the film is any good or not. Studio involvement as it is, especially at blockbuster level, it’s unusual for this kind of thing to happen at this scale, and so that’s something worth celebrating.
I mean, congratulations to Zack Snyder for finally being able to put this out there in a meaningful way, and congratulations to all those fans who are good, decent people, who fell in love with and connected with a story and are finally going to be able to see its original, planned conclusion. I mean, I’m excited, and I’m not even that big a fan. So, I get it.
When The Rise of Skywalker was released one of the things that concerned me about that film was the message it, and by extension both J J Abrams and Disney, were extending to those people in the fandom who had targeted actress Kelly-Marie Tran for her role in The Last Jedi.
I don’t need to tell you that The Last Jedi was divisive, or that the abuse, both misogynistic and racist in tone, that she received was completely unacceptable. But when Abrams and Disney released The Rise of Skywalker and showed the world that Tran’s character had been all but cut from the main story, despite her status as one of the main supporting cast in Last Jedi, it seemed to suggest that the director and the studio were taking a stance that appeased those abusers.
Whether or not they actually were is sort of besides the point. What that has done is give validation to those people. It told them they won. And it wasn’t the only example of that. Lots of time in The Rise of Skywalker is spent undoing developments made during The Last Jedi, while Abrams’ vague comments during the press-rounds about that movie seemed to only further the validation.
Rise of the Skywalker isn’t the only example of this appeasement of fan toxicity either. The online backlash against the original design of Sonic in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie saw the filmmakers entirely overhaul it so that the character better resembled his videogame counterpart. And, while that decision was probably for the better overall (I mean, that original Sonic looked really f**king weird) it’s still a studio giving in to the demands of a vocal, often abusive fanbase.
And we saw yet a similar thing again when Sony announced that they had failed to meet an agreement with Disney over the use of Spider-man in the MCU. As far as I was concerned, with the information that I have available, anyway, Disney were the unreasonable ones there, and while Sony ultimately managed to hold out and get a better offer in the end, the fan response was pretty horrific in some corners of the internet, all because they wanted to see a fictional character interact with other fictional characters, even though Disney is well known for a less than ethical approach to certain things, and their growing and troubling monopoly over the industry.
Which brings us to the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut fandom. Responsible for some incredible and wonderful things, like the charity fundraiser for suicide prevention, in honor of Snyder’s daughter, I’m very aware that you cannot simply paint an entire group with a single brush. But, it’s no secret that there have been some less than positive from the same fandom, albeit most likely not from the same people.
The worry then, for me at least, is that while overall the release of Snyder’s original version of Justice League is a massive positive for both him and a passionate fanbase Warner Brothers may have just joined the growing list of studios seemingly giving validation to this toxic and dangerous online behavior.
Now, how to tackle this problem is tricky, to say the least. Because it’s unfair to not release The Snyder Cut when it exists and it will bring an element of joy to so many people. A few awful morons inside a fandom does not represent the entire fandom. But I do think perhaps that studios, filmmakers, actors, and all the key people involved in these projects, need to be a little more vocal in calling out that kind of abusive action.
It needs to be made clear that the release of the Snyder Cut, for example, is despite the toxicity and not because of it.
Like I already said, I’m really excited to see what this cut of the movie has in store, and I’m really pleased to see a positive outcome for both Snyder and those fans who do deserve it. But if studios continue to seemingly validate the behaviors of these terrible individuals without calling it out and distancing themselves from them, then that behavior is only going to continue to get worse.
For those of you in the Snyder Cut fanbase who are good people, I sincerely do hope that it is as good as you hope it will be.