Superhero movies are here to stay, they welcome the brash and unrealistic nature of their origins to provide many a role model and an escape from reality for a few hours and when belief is suspended they can make amazing films. But recently DC Comics, who once stood at the pinnacle of superhero movies, has shown a considerable lack of quality despite some high moments. So what exactly has gone wrong with the direction of the DC movies, why have they had such a steep decline in quality?
They Want To Directly Compete With Marvel
This is a no brainer, Marvel has become a staple and have repeatedly shown that (I still think they have lost their touch) they can make good superhero movies or at the very least that they have a successful formula for superhero movies. However, Marvel spent nearly 6 years setting the ground work for the Avengers and establishing most all of the characters early on. DC just wanted to cash in on Marvel's success and immediately get their hero lineup out the door. And just look at how big of a mistake it was. Man of Steel was a big step in the right direction, it brought the dark grit that DC does so well, it showcased Cavil's acting potential and the action was quick well edited and epic in scale.
Then we got Dawn of Justice. Oh, the grit and the action was spectacular, Cavil and Affleck were a superhero match made in heaven and Snyder's work could have really elevated the film above the theatrical release. Unfortunately, WB and company wanted to appeal more to Marvel fans, they wanted to steal the competition and they stood on Snyders throat, forced rewrites and drastically toned down the movie including leaving out nearly 45 minutes of important scenes. The movie still would not have been a masterpiece by any stretch but it did set a bad precedent for WB, the movie barely grossed it's budget and WB did not learn. Because next, oh god... We got Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad was DC once again seeing a Marvel success in Guardian's of the Galaxy and thinking they could cash in on that success. After all, we all know Joker, Harley Quinn, Deadshot and Killer Croc right? Well yes, we do. Which is why it had already become clear that WB gave absolutely no shits about how this movie would look professionally. They had star power and character recognition, and that would make more than enough money back. Sadly for us fans this is exactly what happened. Even the extended cut was horribly edited, poorly ran and despite some awesome use of color and good chemistry between the characters it was just a giant mess. But man oh man did it make back it's budget. Again, we see DC noticing the success of Marvel taking it's time but all they zero in on is the success and ignore the time, they force rewrites to make the movies less dark and try to appeal to younger audiences.
Wonder Woman was less of those, for some reason Jenkins was given full creative control and while it did not necessarily have the annoyingly tacky humor of Marvel it found a good niche between grit, spectacular cinematography, good acting and humor. And then... And then... We got Justice League.
The sad thing is that Justice League was less of a professional issue and more of an unavoidable side effect. Snyder's daughter committed suicide and prompted him to leave directing for the foreseeable future while he helped his family come to grips. Joss Whedon stepped in to pick up the slack and direct the future Justice League and Batgirl movies. And while his influence did help it suffered far too much from the conflicting tones of Snyder and Whedon. Once again the action was great and the use of coloration in the landscapes and cinematography was second to none (seriously, this movie is fucking beautiful) and it felt like an honest super hero movie. And then you would see the parts directed by Snyder and it felt dark, dreary and Dawn of Justice. It was just frustrating and you felt like there were three different projects with three different teams. I really wanted it to be good and there were parts that I enjoyed, I grew up with DC comics and this should have been better. Justice League was another one of the examples to add to WB's questionable choices. I have no doubt Whedon will do great things with the DC franchise but he was not the right choice for Justice League and much less the right choice to pick up after Snyder. But you gotta make that phat ca$h stacks yo.
It was also just made to combat the upcoming Infinity War and the Civil War movies. That was it, there was no other true rhyme or reason why they could not push it back a couple years and focus on the solo movies. The combined talent behind the DCEU just needs more time to figure out how to effectively make a team-up movie. So far the misses have been movies that future multiple protagonists and antagonists but the standalone futures like Wonder Woman and Man of Steel are rather awesome and enjoyable. DCEU just needs to go back to the drawing board and examine the weaknesses that are holding them back. They are capable of so much more.
They Are Holding Back on The Grittiness That Defines DC Comics
DC has established itself as a very morally grey and violent place. There are exceptions like Superman, Wonder Woman and Shazam. For the most part all these heroes are tortured, angry, methodical and in many cases psychopathic. I mean let's look at Batman, this guy is no hero. He does not kill, sure whatever, pretty sure if you break 6 bones and leave them out all night more than likely they're still gonna die or at the very least have some debilitating issues. Plus, think of all the people he's mentally and emotionally scarred for life, I understand that is kind of the point. Ends justify the means, right? But this is applied to so many characters that I'm sure it has been brought up in conversations at WB's meetings.
It's not like this is the ultimate problem with these movies, they have already portrayed characters as tortured and troubled with varying views of humanity. Hell, all the critics agreed the casting and dark direction was the highlight of the DCEU movies but that the editing and poor creative decisions led to their demise. So why, why in the unholy hell are they unwilling to work in what has been DC's biggest strength for decades? Sadly it can all wrap up back into the other point I made as well. It is not family friendly and they want to appeal to the same audiences that have been attracted by the MCU, and the same audiences mostly made up of fun loving families are not going to want to go see a movie like Watchmen that focuses on the macabre nature of humanity and the morally questionable esteem we hold heroes in. And yet, it has also been proven that there is a market for that kind of story telling in the superhero genre. Just look at what Christopher Nolan did with The Dark Knight trilogy. There is nothing simple about that trilogy; the themes are in no way black and white, the psychopaths are all humanized and the heroes are questionable. And these movies made billions, literally billions and are some of the highest rated movies ever of all time and have dredged in hundreds upon hundreds of awards. The difference? Nolan let his creative team have a say without compromising his directorial style and the result speaks for itself. Why is WB so intent on ignoring this just for the sake of trying to directly combat Marvel? Accept the difference, and embrace the aspect of story telling that most moviegoers would legitimately enjoy. best example I can give is Logan, one of my all time favorite movies and definitely tied with Dark Knight for best superhero movie in my opinion. The whole story you could see as very simple but the undertones of humanities struggle in the face of change leaves a lot of open threads to discuss. And I bet you did not notice how the movie literally drops hints as to why Logan is dying, it was not the direct result of the adamantium and not his age. Trust me, look it up. It is a brilliant piece of simplistic story telling that rewards the keen eye and active ear to all sorts of theories and conclusions.
This is simply something that needs to make a resurgence in DC's movies if they hope to bring back the monetary success of it's past. Hell, even Watchmen which is considered by many critics to be bloated is considered by fans on both sides to be a masterpiece because of it's adherence to the source material as well as simply beautifully shot and well told story of totalitarianism and the necessary evil of violence and lies. DC and WB, please, go back to your roots and stop trying to suck Stan Lee's dick just to please the audiences and get money. Money will come if you focus on what sets these franchises apart.
These are honestly the only big reasons that I could think of when it comes to the current handling of the DCEU. Granted, it is still in it's infancy and has yet to hit a stride of continuity to engross the viewer but the significant amount of roadblocks that have hit this budding franchise warrant a good look by the executives and a true overhaul of what this franchise needs to succeed. It does not need to be completely re-written bor does it need to become Marvel. Stick to what makes you unique, do not try to blend into whatever the popular medium seems to demand. People, despite their seeming willingness to accept mediocrity they do want unique and interesting stories in their movies. Superhero movies have been missing the mark and wasting opportunity, while I have several misgivings about the MCU the brunt of this burden does fall on DC and it's inability to live up to the source material. Hopefully the resurgence of R-rated superhero movies will see a return to form for the genre.