Sleuth News: Ranking the DCEU Films

With the release of Aquaman (See our review here), the DC Extended Universe has released six films and here at Sleuth News we rank them as the DCEU works to turn the tide (Quite literally in the case of Aquaman) to produce better films. Still, one cannot help trying to rank the most critically panned franchise, with a seventh unlikely edition incorporated into our list. Check it out below:

7. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

It’s hard to deny this was a film that epitomizes the expression “It’s reach exceeds it’s grasp”. This is a film that tries to do a lot throughout it’s 2 and a half hour long run time. Not only is it continuing the events of the first DCEU film Man of Steel, but it’s introducing Batman and Wonder Woman along with several scenes seemingly integrated to set-up several future films. And due to the way the film was edited down (The “Kingdom of Heaven curse” as I like to call it), whatever story is here is unfocused and almost disorienting to keep up with.

Not to say the film doesn’t have some bright spots (Not much in one of the most depressing superhero films ever made). Ben Affleck is spectacular as a seasoned Bruce Wayne/Batman, given easily some of the best character scenes and action scenes in the film (Particularly the warehouse fight scene). He carries Batman’s paranoia towards Superman with believable rage and worry for people. And Gal Gadot gives a strong entrance as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman albeit she’s barely in the film. Henry Cavill unfortunately continues to play Superman like a lost puppy and Jesse Eisenberg’s baffling take on Lex Luthor almost is played like Heath Ledger’s Joker. The sad part is the first 30 minutes of the film is actually a pretty spectacular set-up, but after that MORE set-up happens and nothing ever feels like it’s progressing.

6. Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad is equally a mess, but at least director David Ayer has the good decency to let the characters have some fun, even if it’s crass fun. Margot Robbie is obviously the shining star here, bringing Harley Quinn to life with utter commitment. She’s got the voice down, the crazy pixie girl idea merged with the former psychiatrist she once was before falling for the Joker. On the other end of that spectrum is Jared Leto’s bizarre take on the Joker. Seemingly ripping off Heath Ledger’s vocal tones as the Joker (Leto and Eisenberg must be in some kind of fan club?), his character is pure psycho with none of the motivation or intrigue that makes the character so interesting. It’s for this reason that Will Smith’s take on Deadshot is at least admirable as he’s a hitman with a backstory, a criminal who loves his daughter but can’t stop the thrill he gets from killing. The plot points are all over and of course the film finds a way to end with big flash and bang. Not as bad as BvS, but that’s not a high bar.

5. Justice League

What can we say here? This movie has already been done to death in the analysis department. It’s not really good or bad. It’s a generic film that tries too hard to be like The Avengers. The fact that Joss Whedon came in to direct heavy reshoots after director Zack Snyder left the project, due to a death his family, doesn’t disqualify that comparison anymore. While Justice League was meant to be Zack Snyder’s conclusion to a three film arc he had been building since Man of Steel, the result is a pretty played out story. The heroes fight, they unite, and they save the day. In between some surprisingly bad visual effects and a bland villain in the form of the CGI-heavy Steppenwolf, members of the JL appear bored to death in every scene (Affleck in particular).If they aren’t enjoying the film they are in, why should we?

4. Man of Steel

I watched this film and felt like I died a little inside, but I can’t deny the film has a solid storyline. The problem with this film is it’s a Batman film disguised as a Superman film. After the success of The Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan and TDK co-writer David Goyer were asked by Warner Bros. to take that same grounded approach and apply it…to a story about an alien usually given a parallel with Jesus Christ. As you can guess, the result is a tonally moot tale that follows the structure of Batman Begins in every way. Now, I grant you, this film was overshadowed by the decades long legacy of Christopher Reeve as the character.

That being said, however you choose to adapt a character, there are some traits you shouldn’t lose of a character in translation and the result here is a very brutish Superman, removed of any moral compass or even personality. While the intention here is a Superman who finds his way, he never really finds his way. His lost nature continues on into BvS. The shining moments are without a doubt the “first flight” of Superman which harnesses the true magnitude of his powers, the impressive score of Hans Zimmer, and Michael Shannon’s work as the villain Zod. Shannon brings to the role an utter commitment and motivation that Henry Cavill lacks in the lead role. And let’s not get started on the Bayhem-level destruction done in the film…let’s just move on.

3. Wonder Woman

Hey, no one has ever said WW is a bad movie…just an overrated one. Powered by political bias for it’s feminist tone, the film’s purpose and storyline are exact reflection of Captain America: The First Avenger in the Marvel universe. While the film has beautiful visuals and a competent storyline, the real star is the action scenes, particular the “No Man’s Land” sequence, but the film is crippled by a third act predictability that hinders anything that was worth developing in the first two acts. While Gal Gadot does a competent job, her acting for me feels somewhat forced but given her character needs to be naive to push the story forward, it at least feels understandable how childish her character is in the film.

2. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition

The difference between the theatrical cut of BvS and it’s 30-minute longer Ultimate Edition are like night and day. Those 30 minutes are not filler scenes but scenes that more define and bring focus to the story. The conflict between Batman and Superman is more defined as a whole subplot of Cavill’s Clark Kent going to Gotham City to investigate the Batman is added in along with more detail of Lois Lane’s investigation into a conspiracy working to discredit the Superman. While the film is still far from perfect, it has it’s own “broken masterpiece” appeal to it. It’s an intriguing film that dares to at least present a mythos and a scope that most films wouldn’t dare. The biggest issue still in the film is the Superman’s character arc diddles around his purpose on Earth, BUT with the Cavill given more time to play Clark, you start to see a Superman that at least is not so simply…kind of a meat head. Still, with all these perspectives more defined around Superman as the central figure, the film questions the point of a superhero in modern context. And no matter what anyone says, Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor just cannot be redeemed because it just doesn’t fit who Lex is. If I could edit in Bryan Cranston in every scene Eisenberg was in…I’d say that come close to fixing the movie’s flaws.

1. Aquaman

Aquaman is a reverse Wonder Woman. Instead of the final act, it’s the first act that is a mess. However, the benefit of a set-up for a film is audiences are more open to things until the film’s narrative takes form. And as Aquaman goes, it becomes the most fully realized of the DCEU films in both story and visuals. Here, colors are allowed that Man of Steel wouldn’t allow. Crazy production design to fit the otherworldly nature of Atlantis is given vivid life in a way that Wonder Woman didn’t even give to the world of the Amazons. Not to mention it balances it’s large ensemble far better than Justice League did. But more than anything, it’s an experience first. A genuinely entertaining story that dares to let you see the good AND bad of the world being shown.