5. Aquaman (2018)
The idea of the ultra-colourful and somewhat silly Aquaman character of DC Comics being translated into the infinitely less colourful and more serious DC Extended Universe seemed to be something of an impossibility. But in casting ‘Game of Thrones’ alum (and vision of masculinity) Jason Momoa, and hiring Saw co-creator James Wan to produce and direct, Warner Bros struck gold with a wholly enjoyable superhero movie.
Restricted somewhat by the confines of its origin story premise, and at times looking as goofy as the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern film, Aquaman wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but its biggest strength was managing to make each of us care about its central character as it threw us onto a rollercoaster of continent-hopping, pun-dropping, fantasy-action-adventure that expressed hints of Indiana Jones.
Wan, who had been a billion dollar director with the Furious 7, proved once again that he had the chops to make a pulsating actioner with enough levity to emotionally resonate, Aquaman being the 2nd certified hit of the new DCEU, its success indicating a positive trend as Warner Bros and DC looked to move beyond the failure of Justice League.
Even in the shadow of its failed predecessor, Aquaman made $1.2billion at the global box office, the total speaking to just how enjoyable and rewatchable this DC movie is. While it may not challenge convention and operate at the very top of the sub-genre like the films to come on this list, Aquaman is still head and shoulders above every other film listed thus far.
4. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Zack Snyder is the filmmaker credited with giving birth to the DCEU, and in Zack Snyder’s Justice League the director offers a film that is in many ways the ultimate DCEU movie.
Re-assembling his vision of the first live-action big screen collaboration between Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg, after having it unceremoniously taken from him and pulled apart years earlier, Zack Snyder puts together a well-paced and rhythmic superhero offering that looks and feels like nothing superhero cinema has ever seen before.
Free from the confines of a theatrical release runtime, Snyder’s four hour epic brings gravitas to the central Justice League narrative and is by far the best of Snyder’s DCEU trilogy. In this 2021 version of Justice League, each hero is properly catered for, their powers essential to the narrative and their group dynamics entertaining. In many ways, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is pure wish fulfilment for fans of DC’s reputably darker comic book output, but it misses out on the top three here for having little by the way of threat to its central heroes and for operating with an at times heavy assumption that those watching the film are entrenched in DC superhero lore and the many characters that adorn the pages of DC comic books.
At four hours, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is also less rewatchable than some of the more punchy and light films to come, but so far as epic superhero team-ups go, this 2021 HBO Max offering is very strong; a monumental improvement on the 2017 version and a noteworthy alternative to Marvel’s superhero team-up canon.
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3. Birds of Prey (2020)
There was a strong sense of revolution soaked into every aspect of the first standalone Harley Quinn movie Birds of Prey. The iconic comic book and video game character’s introduction in Suicide Squad was received divisively at best, and as a result Warner Bros worked hard to get fans (and particularly women) back on side, handing more power to star (and now producer) Margot Robbie and building the project with women at the forefront.
Cathy Yan was drafted in to direct, the supporting cast made up of respected young actresses, and the very fabric of Harley’s emancipation was based in womanhood. Birds of Prey was every bit the film of the moment, embracing the previous half-decade’s worth of progressive politics and women’s rights activism to present a superhero (or supervillain, as may be the case) through the female gaze, thus ensuring a wholly original take on a genre otherwise filled with the various archetypes of masculinity and the gaze of the men hired to present them.
Quick-witted, characteristically colourful and boasting some interesting post-production touches (such as some voiceover appearing as CG neon wording across a number of scenes as if written on by Harley herself), Birds of Prey was a riotous good time; a noteworthy step forward in the pantheon of comic book cinema, and a fun and original film when considered separately to its legacy.
Never has a dirty egg sandwich looked so good.
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