Ranking All Six DCEU Films
DC had a rough start to its Cinematic Universe, but how do the movies stack up against each other?
When Marvel Studios kickstarted the first shared cinematic universe, they changed the face of modern blockbusters. Their movies by way of television method was something never seen before, and it took off in a big way. Since then, other studios and franchises have had a harder time kicking off their own shared universes for a variety of reasons we won’t get into here. Warner Brothers’ DC Extended Universe is one such franchise. It’s been a rocky road for them critically, though the only financial flop was 2017’s ill-fated Justice League. That being said, how do the movies rank against one another? Here’s my breakdown.
6. Suicide Squad (2016)
As a fan of the Suicide Squad comics, this was one of my most anticipated movies of 2016. Unfortunately, it ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of the year as well. The editing is choppy and confusing, voiceover is used extensively to dump exposition, and its villain is overpowered and boring. Granted, the performances all range from decent to great (even Leto’s Joker isn’t as bad as the internet trolls would have you believe), and there are some fun moments between the squad members. The real standout of this film is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, who is leading a Birds of Prey movie currently in development. Other than that, the movie is a mess. James Gunn, who helmed Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy duology, is writing a sequel, which is promising. There’s an abundance of great source material to pull from here, so hopefully DC can turn this one around.
5. Justice League (2017)
DC’s rushed attempt at a team-up movie came in the form of 2017’s Justice League, which is a mash-up movie of two very different filmmakers. When Zack Snyder stepped down from the director’s chair after finishing principal photography and putting together a rough cut of the film, Avengers helmer Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the job. Due to studio mandates and Whedon’s very different style of filmmaking, Whedon ended up rewriting and reshooting a large amount of the final product. Snyder’s dark, somber tone clashes horribly with Whedon’s light and breezy one. The end result is similar to Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together and overcooked.
That’s not to say there isn’t any good to be seen in Justice League. The characters bounce off of each other in fun ways, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is always a welcome presence. Ezra Miller is a scene stealer as Barry Allen, a.k.a The Flash, a very different interpretation than the one currently on the CW. It’s a shame production on the Flashpoint movie is on standby, because Miller’s performance is undeniably one of the highlights of this movie. For what it’s worth, the movie also manages to have a good bit of fun, though it seems tonally distant from the groundwork Snyder laid out in earlier films. Overall, Justice League is a good, lightweight movie to put in while cleaning or doing laundry.
4. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
I really want to like this movie more than I do. I am a fan of Zack Snyder, and think he directs some of the most visually enticing movies these days. That said, strong visuals alone do not make a strong movie. This movie tries much too hard to set up a cinematic universe in its lengthy runtime, burning through four or five movies’ worth of material without giving any of those plots enough time to develop in any way that matters. A tacked on showdown at the end of the movie featuring Doomsday could have been a Justice League movie in and of itself.
This movie should have been a direct sequel to Man of Steel. Part of it tries to be just that, but that movie is surrounded by countless plot threads that make it lose focus. The movie jumps around so quickly that it’s hard to have any emotional connection to anything happening. Overstuffed movies can be entertaining, but they have to have a kinetic, propulsive energy to them that this movie never maintains. Bits and pieces of this movie are awesome, such as Batman’s warehouse rescue of Martha Kent or the titular main event (though the resolution to this fight is baffling and cringeworthy).
The actors are all in fine form here, with Ben Affleck owning the screen as an older, hardened Batman inspired by Frank Miller’s comic book run of the character. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is also introduced here, and while her inclusion is not necessary, she is a joy to watch. I’ve always enjoyed Henry Cavill’s Superman, though he’s sidelined for most of this movie. Put simply, this movie has a lot of great pieces that just never come together cohesively.
3. Man of Steel (2013)
The first film of the DCEU is a visual splendor, and I have a hard time finding much wrong with it besides the tone. Superman is a symbol of hope, which is acknowledged in the movie, but never shown. Zack Snyder’s movie is a gorgeously rendered one, but it forgets to have the fun that one expects from a comic book movie about a man saving the world in tights. That’s not to say Superman should be wisecracking Tony Stark style, which would be equally as jarring as the grim tone. Superman as a character is a light in a dark world, and Snyder’s direction doesn’t let that light shine through.
Like most of the DC films, the acting is top notch here. Lois Lane, brought to life by Amy Adams, is a capable and fleshed out character, not just a love interest. Adams clearly enjoys the role, and handles it with the grace and professionalism she always employs. Cavill’s Superman is quiet and reserved, altruistic and pure of heart, despite being in a somber movie. He is arguably the second best Superman, behind the late Christopher Reeves, of course. And Michael Shannon as Zod is a great villain with solid motivations. He is a perfect foil to Superman, driving him to the point of extreme violence. Many fans were outraged by Superman’s violent way of saving the world, but given the tone of the film, it worked for me.
The visuals in this movie are some of the best in any comic book movie. The prologue on Krypton is beautiful and detailed, a true testament to the skills of the VFX artists. The third act is visceral and fun, being effects driven but believable and well-paced. Every character is given something to do, and there are pay-offs for all of them. The positives of this movie outweigh the negatives, no question. In fact, this movie is so good, it almost took the number two slot, which instead goes to…
2. Wonder Woman (2017)
Yes, Wonder Woman is not my favorite DCEU movie, but it is a great one. Gal Gadot is a natural in the role of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, and is given a great movie in which to explore the role, courtesy of director Patty Jenkins. This movie is a visual feast, with a challenging and life-altering journey for our hero to grow from. The action sequences are engaging, boasting some stunning choreography. This movie is the real deal, a triumph in nearly every way. It’s also groundbreaking for being the first female-lead superhero movie since the ill-fated 2004 movie Catwoman.
The No Man’s Land sequence, in which Diana changes the course of World War I, was hands down the most memorable action sequence of 2017. It’s a wonderfully emotional scene, a great character moment for Diana, in which she will not stand by and let innocent people die. It also, unfortunately, is the peak of the action in the movie. The third act battle devolves into a CGI mess, with a generic villain spouting generic villain lines. There are parts of the third act that work (everything involving Steve Trevor), but Diana’s final showdown with Ares begins to drag. It’s a real shame, because the movie is fantastic otherwise. It has an innate sense of fun that makes sure the audience is having a good time throughout. Wonder Woman excels at not just being a great superhero movie, but a great movie in general.
1. Aquaman (2018)
What can I say about this movie? It is nonstop fun from beginning to end, a popcorn film in the purest sense of the word. James Wan, the man behind three different (and very successful) franchises, shows off every bit of his filmmaking prowess in this movie, his first time playing with a superhero property. This movie made me giddy for its entire two hour and twenty minute run time, which flew by due to the fun being had.
Wan’s Atlantis is a treasure trove, a massive, lived-in world crafted with such care, you believe its real, despite it being mostly computer generated. Wan claimed he viewed his movie as “Star Wars underwater,” and that is a most accurate description. The movie is colorful and creative in the best of ways, taking time and effort to develop the world and the people who live in it, more so than any other DCEU property so far. Visually, this is the most impressive DC movie to date.
The actors all know what kind of movie they’re in, and they relish it. It’s over the top, it’s brawny rather than brainy, and they all just roll with it. Jason Momoa is a perfect Arthur Curry/Aquaman for this incarnation of the mythos, finally getting a chance to show off his charisma after being given nothing to do in Justice League. Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are excellent in their respective roles. Heard’s Mera is a force to be reckoned with, and I look forward to seeing her in future movies.
The movie is corny, yes, but that’s not really a negative when it’s designed that way. Aquaman is overstuffed, big budget B-movie, packing a lot of story into its over two hour run time, much like Dawn of Justice, but with one exception: the anarchic energy never lets the movie get dull. There’s too much fun to be had to check your watch, let alone get bored. This is exactly the type of movie I imagined through my action figures as a child. That isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s what makes Aquaman so great.
After a few stumbles, the DCEU looks to be back on track. Both of their 2019 films (Shazam! and Joker) look to be interesting and entertaining. The shift from shared universe episodes to stand-alone stories may be the best thing for them right now. The choices DC are currently making are exciting and fresh. If we get more movies like Aquaman and Wonder Woman, things may begin to look up for the DCEU. I, for one, am eager to see what they come up with next.
Aquaman is currently in theaters worldwide.