We need to come to terms with how bad things have gotten for the DC Extended Universe. It’s no secret that the DC films and TV shows haven’t received the same level of success as their comic counterparts at Marvel. The last few films released in theaters, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, were indicative of bigger issues that are plaguing the live action adaptations of DC’s heroes. This is due to three fundamental glaring problems present in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) that Warner Bros. (WB) and DC Comics have yet to fully remedy. While there’s been a major shakeup in the higher-ups at both companies in charge of the DCEU, it’s going to take a lot more than a new management roster to change things up for the better.
Ignoring What Works, No Emulation to Be Different
Marvel not only pioneered the idea of a shared cinematic universe of films, but they came up with a formula that worked. Having films focused on different characters and then combining them into one big event is something that audiences enjoy. This is what worked in the past and continues to work today. Despite having characters that are iconic and reach out to many people, this was something the DCEU avoided in order to be different from Marvel. The DC films started with Man of Steel and instead tried to fast-track a big event before establishing all of the key characters and their world (i.e. the formation of the Justice League).
This need to be different from Marvel can also be seen with the DC TV shows. Unlike Marvel where everything is connected, the DC television shows and DC films are separate entities with their own continuities. In the past, Kevin Smith hinted at a “multiverse” at work for all of the DC properties during one of his podcasts. However, neither WB nor DC have confirmed or committed to such an idea. Why can’t they be connected together somehow? When people watch Agents of Shield or any of the Netflix series, they know that what they see is somehow related to what has happen (and will happen) in the movies. This is something you just don’t get with the DCEU.
Overlooking Key Source Material
It should go without say that an adaptation needs to respect its source material, even with a few changes made for the big screen. However, this is something that the DCEU has radically overlooked with some of their biggest characters. The biggest being the golden rule of DC heroes never killing, which was dropped for the sake of making the films seem more gritty and real. While the TV shows play with the moral question more cleverly, some of DC’s biggest heroes that were role models of this have instead gone in the complete opposite direction. Superman’s defining character trait in comics is striving to be the ideal of morality and justice, which makes his eagerness to kill in Batman V Superman all the more shameful and confusing.
This also affects relationships we see in the films. Jimmy Olsen being killed at the beginning of Batman V Superman. The lack of build up for the Trinity between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are both prime examples of this. How does killing Jimmy Olsen add anything to the universe the DCEU films are trying to build, and what do we lose by not axing him? In addition, without any strong relationship between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman; how can we as the audience really get behind their cause when they start the Justice League?
A Lack of Consistency and Commitment
Despite everything mentioned before, the biggest issue with the DCEU is its lack of consistency and commitment. What started off as a “what if heroes were real” perspective, has gone off the rails with a muddled tone and confusing rule set. Alternate cuts aside, both Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad try to establish different overarching tones for the entire DCEU, and both fail in one way or another. Things become either too serious or too goofy, with the introduction of magic into the DCEU (from Suicide Squad) being a curve ball for everyone involved.
This is also felt in the TV side of things, with a lot of shows not committing fully to their respective characters and stories. The show Gotham predates Batman, yet all of his main villains and key characters already exist. Why hasn’t this become a full on Batman show then? This echoes limitations known for other shows like The Flash and Arrow. Their heroes couldn’t meet any big DC characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman), but could cross-over with Supergirl and fight major villains like Vandal Savage and the League of Shadows.
If these three issues are addressed in future projects, then not all is lost for the DCEU. WB and DC’s cinematic universe doesn’t have to be exactly like Marvel, but they do need to utilize what worked for them and apply them to their own franchises. The DC Comics characters have a long lasting history with the general public, one that spans more than 75 years. It’s only right that their cinematic adaptations live up to and continue that legacy.