The State of the DCEU AUTHOR: Paul J. Wares (Follow @PAULJWARES)
Date: April 17, 2016
EDITOR'S NOTE: Opinions expressed by BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM contributors are their own.
I avoided social media before the release of the movie in an attempt to avoid spoilers and did so quite well. This also included reviews so at the time of seeing BATMAN v SUPERMAN, I was seeing it without the influence of someone elseís opinion. Even with that in mind I had still gotten wind that an apparent slating was happening.
The first review I read after seeing the film was Jettís, as by and large weíre on the same page when it comes to Batman and the DCEU on film and his is an opinion I respect. For the most part agreed with it, it was a fair and balanced review. After that though I looked further afield and was frankly shocked at what I found. The movie was being absolutely panned and I honestly couldnít figure out why. It has its problems, but it certainly wasnít bad and far from as terrible as a lot of reviews Ė and especially its rating on Rotten Tomatoes ¨Ė would have the audience believe. It seemed that the world was not in love with the DCEU.
It was at this time I started writing this article. I was worried. If the movie was a flop as it looked like it was going to be based on all these reports, the DCEU was dead before it even got going.
I love comic book movies, Marvel or DC it doesnít matter to me, I just want good films. The genre has been feeling tired though of late. As much as I enjoy the Marvel films, since the first AVENGERS movie, they have become somewhat formulaic. The exception to this was GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, which was a breath of fresh air and Iíd hoped that BvS would shake up the genre again. That it did, albeit in an entirely different way.
BATMAN v SUPERMAN is no doubt a divisive movie; but if the online commentators and critics were to be believed, itís a bad movie and a sure fire flop. That is simply not the case. At all. Jett wrote in an Op-ed piece a few days later stating that there were no conspiracies to make the film look bad and I once again wholeheartedly agreed; but then something odd happened. People went to see the movie, despite what the critics said and they enjoyed it. Online reaction from fans and non-fans was also far more positive than what had been previously suggested.
Something was going on, somewhere along the way there was a disconnect between critics and audience. Still the critics hammered it, still the online commentators labelled it a flop and still it made money and continued to do so. When it defied the critics it was met with a ďYeah, butĒ when it broke records it was met with a ďYeah, but.Ē It was as if certain entertainment websites and critics wanted it to fail and were determined to put a negative spin on any article written about its successes and turn it into failures, and itís worked. For some it is a perceived failure despite being far from it.
The truth is, this movie didnít meet expectations, both critically and financially, but were those expectations realistic? It was never going to reach the crowd pleasing numbers of THE AVNEGERS because of its darker, more violent take on the subject matter. Superman hasnít been a box office hit Warner Bros. would like and Batman has only scraped above a billion in his last two cinematic adventures; in comparison to the 1.5, 1.4 and 1.2 Billion dollars enjoyed by the top 3 Marvel movies.
So perhaps the perceived failure is simply that of expectation not numbers. At the time of writing this, BvS is about to pass $800 Million dollars worldwide. That makes it the third highest grossing Batman movie ever and itís still only three weeks into its run. It also means itís made more money than every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie released with the exception of the two AVENGERS films and IRON MAN 3 and if it stays on course and predictions are correct it will end its theatrical run as the 5th or 6th highest grossing comic book movie of all time. For a film that was as panned by the media as much as it was/is, I find that a remarkable achievement.
Still the perception remains that it has somehow failed. Fans and critics alike seem to be perpetuating this falsehood, so why has the movie struggled so badly against the negativity?
I think itís safe to say that critics are sick of the superhero movie. Itís been coming for a while, but a backlash was always going to happen eventually and sadly because BvS isnít perfect, itís become the target of some of that long gestating vitriol. Some critics have an innate snobbery when it comes to certain genres of film they donít consider worthy. I could feel it starting with the release of BIRDMAN and while I felt the film affectionally roasted the superhero movie genre, some critics used it as a paddle to beat it with. This was further made apparent by snide comments at the Oscars that year. The backlash had begun and BATMAN v SUPERMAN gave those critics the ammunition it needed for an all-out assault. Assault it they did, in their droves. Sure, itís ludicrous to imagine that all these critics got together and decided to all go after the film, but it only needed a few to open the floodgates and soon more and more jumped on the bandwagon.
I have never understood the notion of pre-judging a movie or a performance before itís seen, but a certain type of fan seems to delight in this on a regular basis and for some this movie was condemned before a single frame was shot for a variety of reasons. It could be because they hate Zack Snyder, or Ben Affleck, or hate Superman or because they think Gal Gadot was too skinny or because Marvel is better than DC. Whatever the reason, the production of this movie was plagued with haters from the get-go. It seemed that these angry voices were everywhere, for every new thing that was released there was to be no end to the discord from some camps. This film never, ever saw the love affection or goodwill thatís enjoyed by the Marvel movies. Once the film was released and the chinks in the armor were all to see, some fans couldnít wait to air how their earlier assertion was correct.
Sadly this brings me on to my next point.
THE CHRIS NOLAN FACTOR
If there was ever a director who was critic and fan proof itís this chap, but heís no longer associated with DC on film and unfortunately thereís a lot of people, critics and fans alike that donít like that.
Chris Nolan on the set of THE DARK KNIGHT
Chris Nolan defined the DC Comic book movie for a generation and this means in some peopleís eyes that heís the only person worthy of bringing Batman to screen and that any attempt by anyone else to do so is heresy. I canít speak for U.S. movie publications, but here in the UK the filmmaker seems to have achieved god-like status. One of the UKs biggest film publications spent nearly half the article they published in their BvS issue talking about Chris Nolan and another even put a sub-heading ďRewriting Chris Nolanís BatmanĒ on their cover. The prejudice to Nolanís Batman was astounding, but such is the love for his movies that anyone taking on that mantle was in for a really tough time. I think that the perception that Nolan is the only person that can do Batman right, has now been put to bed after an astounding performance from Affleck and direction from Snyder, but the thought that he was certainly didnít help sell the movie to the general audience.
With all of these factors in consideration BvS always had its work cut out for it. Add to that itís need for universe building, itís avalanche of character introductions and the weight of box office expectations, it was always going to be in for a hard time if it wasnít 100% perfect.
When I initially conceived of this article it was to suggest the direction that WB may go in the wake of BvS being a box office flop. Since it isnít anywhere near that some of what I wrote isnít relevant.
When things were at their darkest for BvS the worst case scenario was, I saw Zack Snyder being removed as director from the forthcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE film and that movie being postponed while a new director - perhaps George Miller - took over. I foresaw Cyborg, the Flash and Aquaman movies shelved until audience reaction to those characters were established after the release of JUSTICE LEAGUE and the Affleck Batman movie being fast-tracked.
None of this has happened, or at least it hasnít so far. In fact, itís been quite the opposite. To show how confident WB are in the future of the DCEU the plans for the JUSTICE LEAGUE, PART 1, which is now shooting remains in place as it does for the separate movies. In addition WB has moved up WONDER WOMAN by three weeks and added two as yet unknown DC movies to the roster.
Itís possible that Warner Bros is rethinking their overall approach, which I think theyíre right to do if they want the crowd pleasing numbers and box office takings achieved by the two Avengers movies, but they must also stay the course. Reacting too strongly in the opposite direction by lightening everything up, is not the way to go. Yes it had its problems, but BATMAN v SUPERMAN has created a very strong foundation for the future of the DCEU. The greater problems are still how best to sell it to the critics and general audience that is a battle that still appears to be waging as the voices of discord continue and now their target is SUICIDE SQUAD.
That movie is currently undergoing reshoots/pickups. These are scheduled and always have been from the start of the production. They have to be since actors and crew go off and make other films all over the world, getting them all back at a momentís notice would be insanely difficult. They are not doing reshoots because the film is in trouble, WB are not forcing reshoots because BvS is a flop. This has been part of the plan from the beginning and kudos to WB for allowing David Ayer to make his film as good as it can be. Once again a positive story is being spun into a negative one, enough already!
It does continue to prove that WB still has a fight on their hands. So from here on out they must go on a charm offensive with the critics and the audience. We have to love every character they present to us, in the same way we loved Affleckís Batman or Gadotís Wonder Woman and not the indifference we felt toward Superman or Lex.
That is the challenge that lies ahead of them and SUICIDE SQUAD is their first test.- Paul J. Wares
Longtime BOF contributor Paul J. Wares is
a sculptor, mouldmaker, fabricator,
and photographerfrom the UK.
Follow him on Twitter @PAULJWARES.