Though never officially titled the Detective Comics Extended Universe, Warner Bros and DC Comics’ line of shared universe superhero/antihero films have long been associated with the acronym DCEU, their feature length story crossovers and continuations proving similar enough to Marvel’s own Cinematic Universe (the MCU) to be assigned such an abbreviation.
To date, the DCEU has presented us with 12 releases, some standalones and others as part of a franchise (or two, or even three), but all linked in a shared universe of darker and more brooding fantasy-action cinema than their Disney-owned counterparts; inspired, at least at first, by the massive critical and commercial success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
With iconic heroes arguably more famous and universally recognisable than those even in the culturally dominant MCU – certainly prior to the release of Iron Man in 2008 – the DCEU may have been critically panned on a number of occasions, but it has leant on the super-strong and ever-popular backs of the likes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to earn a staggering $6billion at the worldwide box office since 2013, and likely countless more profits across its releases on home video, streaming and more recently on HBO Max.
In this edition of Ranked, we at The Film Magazine are looking at this mega power of contemporary studio cinema to judge each of its 12 releases from worst to best in terms of quality, significance, legacy, critical reception and public perception. 2019’s DC Comics adaptation Joker aside (per its status as a standalone DC film unrelated to the central DCEU), these are the DCEU Movies Ranked.
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12. Suicide Squad (2016)
David Ayer’s 2016 anti-hero DCEU movie Suicide Squad was supposed to welcome in an era of viable adult alternatives to the family friendly comic book movie output of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the “leaked” comic-con footage going viral as fans and casuals alike were blown away by its originality.
Fast forward to the actual release however, and things ended up in a very different space.
Suicide Squad was a cluttered mess that included one of the longest first acts of any mainstream film for decades, the character introductions that seemed so cool and original in the trailer playing out like reductionist and trope-tastic moments in the film.
Ayer and company did manage to bring to life a few exciting scenes for the fans who had longed for many of the Suicide Squad’s famous characters to appear on the big screen – such as presenting the Batman as a scary, stalking force of the night in a scene where he pursues Deadshot – but the film was fighting its PG-13 (12A) age rating, obvious studio interference and all the changes in tone and quality that come with both, ultimately concocting an anti-climactic and by-the-numbers superhero-turned-supervillain movie complete with a vicious sky beam of death.
11. Justice League (2017)
When Zack Snyder departed the 2017 version of Justice League to tend to personal matters much larger than any film release, Warner Bros turned to director of The Avengers Joss Whedon for a fix. It turns out that the ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ creator had a much different vision for the film than Snyder did, and the result was another stone cold mess of a movie.
Much like Suicide Squad, Justice League suffered from an overly long first act, the character introductions and team building lasting over 40 minutes and drastically shifting from the serious and apocalyptic tone of Snyder’s vision to comedy bits from the mind of Joss Whedon that ultimately undermined each character and any sense of tension, the stench of studio meddling radiating out of the screen.
Perhaps the biggest offence was how each of the superheroes were failed, none of their powers significant in the grand scheme of the narrative or any of their battles, their personal troubles crowbarred into the dialogue in ways just as jarring as Henry Cavil’s CG mouth (they had to remove the moustache he grew for Mission: Impossible – Fallout during reshoots).
For fans who’d longed to see the Justice League on the big screen, this was such a huge disappointment. What’s worse is that Justice League wasn’t even Batman v Superman II, or Wonder Woman 1.5 – failing to continue the themes, presentation or feel of the previous DCEU films – it was The Avengers-lite, which painted the picture of the DCEU being a lesser version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a reputation that DC and Warner Bros are still battling to overcome per every release to this day.
10. Black Adam (2022)
Hollywood megastar, and multi-time Best Paid Leading Man, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, was apparently fighting to be the lead of his own Black Adam movie for fifteen years before its eventual release in 2022. Given the project’s lack of overall quality and comprehension, that isn’t as surprising as it may first seem.
Black Adam (2022) suffers from a distinct lack of Johnsonisms, the former professional wrestler stripping himself of all the goofy comedy and explosive charisma of his ordinary screen presence to divulge in more dour fare that bleeds any potential directly out of this DC Extended Universe offering.
Even with a stellar supporting cast, and a number of big emotional beats coming to the fore within a timely fable on chosen heroes and forgotten nations, Black Adam feels rushed, its deeper topics mishandled, the film overstuffed with both action set pieces and characters. Even a strong return to the mainstream for former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate isn’t enough to rescue this messy and outrageously cliche superhero film from the doldrums of the DC vault.
In many ways a victim of the modern cycle of studio cinema – that being a script heavy in moments rather than purpose – Black Adam seems to have more under the surface than it does on the screen, like the core of a good idea was extinguished while the film was in production.
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