Has the DCEU Turned a Corner?
Will we start to see the films DC characters deserve?
The DCEU did not get off to a good start. In fact, the first few years of the DCEU was a total failure. Hence my article "The Failure of the DCEU." In the last 12 months however, the DCEU carried out a soft reboot. The changes were extreme. Batfleck is out. Henry Cavill may or may not be out. The dark, broody and let's be honest depressing tone of the films has gone. And with Shazam and Aquaman, it seems that there may actually be hope on the horizon.
After the release of Justice League (which is bad, there's no denying it), it became clear that the DCEU had flopped. The studio made the brave decision to abandon their most popular franchises (Wonder Woman excluded), and move ahead with heroes that had not yet had their own solo adventure. As a fan of the characters myself, I hate to admit it, but I have become bored of seeing Batman and Superman. This boredom stems from the fact that the DCEU's versions of the characters were not accurate or exciting. Nolan's Batman was a much more rounded character, and moody, depressed Superman was worse than Tom Welling's iteration of the character (that isn't an insult, Smallville is still one of the best superhero shows I've seen). Admittedly, this isn't the fault of Affleck or Cavill, they were let down by poor writing and poor films.
Turning to their secondary characters resulted in Aquaman, which thankfully, opted for a lighter tone. Aquaman is not a perfect film, but it does represent a huge step in the right direction for the cinematic universe. Momoa's turn as Arthur Curry gave us a superhero who likes to have fun, and as a result of that the audience was able to have fun too. Admittedly, not all the quips and one-liners really land, but the ones that do are humorous enough for the others not to matter. The CGI in the film was very good, and it felt like with this film, DC finally accepted the fact that Marvel's film template works and therefore mirrored it. Special mention: The Aquaman suit is incredibly cool and that's a definite bonus point.
This being said the film does still suffer from several of the DC film curses. The villain is very one-dimensional, but with that being said the film did promote an eco-friendly tone that I think is needed today. This is not the first DCEU film to suggest that humans are the real enemy (Wonder Woman did too), and I think this is a very interesting idea to embed within superhero movies. Like Wonder Woman, the final battle becomes a CGI slugfest that is hard to follow and looks pretty shitty. All in all though, this was a huge step in the right direction and a solid origin story.
We were then treated to Shazam, which is my favourite of the DCEU films. Zachary Levi is perfectly cast as the titular hero, and Mark Strong is once again an engaging villain. The younger cast, in particular Freddy Freeman, are excellent and very, very funny. The plot is thin but it doesn't stand out so much as the training elements of the film are probably more entertaining that the big fights anyway. The film does feel slightly long, but the emotional arc of Billy Batson helps keep audiences invested.
I expected The Rock to feature in the post-credits scene instead of a speaking worm but we can't get everything we want. I'm skeptical about a Black Adam solo film (Venom proved solo villain films don't always work), but The Rock does have a habit of making entertaining films and I'm sure he and Shazam will eventually do battle. That is if the worm doesn't get to Shazam first.
Looking forward, the upcoming DC films are sure to put a smile on fans faces. First of all we have a sequel to Wonder Woman, which will see Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins reunite once more. Although the decision to bring Steve Trevor back seems to decrease the emotional punch of the first film, I am very intrigued by Kristen Wiig's casting as the villain. I'd imagine DC will attempt to combat the Endgame hype (jealous bastards) by releasing a trailer for this in the coming weeks.
We then have the Joker film, which although I was initially sceptical about, I have to admit the trailer looks brilliant. The casting of Joaquin Phoenix is perfect, and the film has a Martin Scorsese feel which is obviously a huge positive. Although I still think a strand of DC films unrelated to the Justice League seems like an odd decision, but if the Joker turns out to be as good as I think it will be, the unrelated DC films may quickly become more popular than the originals.
Finally, we have James Gunn's Suicide Squad reboot/sequel. Although I am frustrated that Gunn has to make this before returning to the Guardians franchise (especially given that a certain Asgardian appears to be joining them on their next journey), I am excited to see him tackle the Suicide Squad. Gunn is a master of the dysfunctional group dynamics and I'm sure he will find the mixture of humour and emotion that were absent in the first film. Will Smith dropping out is disappointing, but given the terrible state of the first film it may be a blessing in disguise to have as slim a connection to the first film as possible.
If the DCEU is going to flourish, they need to understand the importance of their central characters. The DC universe cannot exist without Batman and Superman, and each character needs to quickly be given the film they deserve. If they can accomplish this, maybe one day we'll get a Justice League film that people actually want to see. Just maybe.