Up until this point, the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) has fought tirelessly to win over disenchanted fans and establish itself as a cinematic universe worth following. So far, every effort has been fruitless. Man of Steel, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad polarized even the most ardent DC fans. Performances were praised even as plots were panned, causing an ever-widening rift between those enamored with the DCEU’s approach and those disappointed by it. Batman V. Superman featured one of the biggest grudge matches in modern cinema and, according to Forbes, couldn’t top Captain America: Civil War at the box office. To be clear, this isn’t favoritism. These are facts.
Now, with Justice League finally playing on screens across the world, it seems that the franchise has resigned itself to what it is and committed to a sense of fun that was always possible for the series but never fully indulged. This begs a number of questions and both dooms and saves the DCEU: Is the franchise’s approach intentional and just not resonating with audiences, or is it still fighting to find its autonomy? The first option is probably the more likely, but where it’s headed isn’t necessarily pleasant or preferable. The film ranks as the most confident, most honest DCEU entry to date, and that presents a troubling issue.
For DC fans, the spike in quality and reverence to the source material is both astounding and pleasing. They wanted a superhero movie that matched the joy they felt when they read the comics. They wanted a story and characters that lived and breathed. For the most part, they got exactly what they wanted. Everyone else was given a middle finger and a curt “Deal with it.” Of course, io9 reported that some critics (who are also clearly fans) recognize that the film is flawed and narratively muddy, but many of them were pleased with the end result. I’m one of these people, and I recognize that not everyone can feel that way because they aren’t the target audience. I’m not using the “it’s for the fans” argument in a positive context. In fact, I’m using it against those who believe it’s a strong case. Superhero films can and should be for everyone, and the big wigs at DC haven’t quite grasped that.
For everyone else, the movie fails to impress or engage them because they don’t have years of nostalgia and respect for these stories to fall back if the film disappoints. This isn’t meant to invalidate the opinions of DC fans. The problem isn’t the masses who grew up sticking with Superman as he battled baddies or punched the air excitedly as they read about Batman’s ongoing battle with personified chaos. The problem lies with DC. It always has. Marvel outperforms these movies because they boast an inclusivity that just isn’t present here. DC makes movies for its fans and for its fans alone. That’s awesome, but it often doesn’t mean big money at the box office.
To make matters more disheartening, director Zack Snyder has always come off as more of a guest than a guide. His creative decisions indicate an ignorance that rips the cores from these characters and replaces them with hollow, hammed-up heroes with little to impart. Luckily, Justice League cracks these carapaces and allows the heroes to operate the way we’ve always imagined they would. Granted, the movie lacks the fun and freshness that makes Marvel fantastic, but it functions as a sure-footed step in a direction that fans will remember fondly and casual viewers will dismiss.
On a more positive note, it warms the heart to see a studio catering to people who love and support them. I’m not saying don’t make it for the fans. I just want everyone to feel the connection fans like me experience when they engage with these characters.
[Featured Image by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP Images]