With the recent release of Justice League, Digital Editor Alex McDonald ponders whether the DCEU has managed to fix one of its greatest mistakes
*Spoilers for Justice League*
The DCEU has had staunch critics since its inception, myself included. Confused characterisation, messy storytelling and bizarre editing choices have held it back from becoming a powerhouse series big enough to compete with Marvel. But this year has seen a monumental improvement in quality for the burgeoning cinematic universe. Wonder Woman was not only a critical and commercial hit but also a hugely important film, giving young girls a female superhero that doesn’t play second fiddle to a host of male counterparts. But it is after seeing Justice League that I believe the previous entries into the franchise may need a reappraisal.
One of my biggest complaints with the would-be-superhero universe was its depiction of Superman. In Man of Steel he saved no one, destroyed half of Metropolis and undoubtedly caused the deaths of thousands of innocents. Batman V Superman thought that it could wash all of this away as motivation for Batman, but it still didn’t show a changed Clark Kent; he was still a moody, self-involved, joyless hero whose sacrifice failed to have any emotional impact. Enter Justice League. I am by no means saying that this is a great film. Enjoyable yes, but it definitely has the same issues that have plagued its weaker predecessors. But one thing that the film gets absolutely right, an awful CGI upper lip notwithstanding, is Superman.
Henry Cavill is an actor whose charm is as prevalent as his muscles; if someone was to tell me that he was a god-like being from another planet, I would probably believe it. But his charm has been wasted thus far in the DCEU, hidden behind brooding stares and mopey self-reflection. But in Justice League, Cavill is allowed to showcase the Superman everyone knew he was capable of. All it took was a little smile, a couple of jokes and an actual desire to save people. Who knew that was what made for a likeable superhero?
So now that DC has seemingly cracked the code with Superman, I think it’s about time to take a look back at his narrative arc across the three films he has featured in. Now I am in no way trying to imply that any of this is anything more than blind luck; it would be impossible to suggest that this was all part of Zack Snyder’s grand plan. But viewed in sequence, there is a character growth that seems far more earned than Batman’s hasty admiration of the son of Krypton.
In Justice League, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman warns the team that you lose something when you die, and remarks that maybe Superman lost his soul. Yet, in death, it appears that Clark has been exonerated of the guilt that held him back in the previous two films; he is far more at peace with his role as a protector. The sullen Superman that gave Batman a run for his moody money is dead and what we have now is an all-new Man of Steel. Perhaps in death, Clark has learned that the world needs him just as much as Lois and (*trigger warning for Bruce Wayne*) Martha do.
What I am asking here, is that knowing this is the end point, knowing that this is where he will culminate, can Man of Steel, BvS and Justice League be viewed as a long origin story for Superman? For me personally, it will certainly make the previous two more bearable and shows some palpable growth for the character. Does that make the DCEU all better now? Of course not. As I said, the majority of its films are still a meandering mess. But it does cast a slightly better light on Man of Steel and BvS in retrospect.
However, nothing can save Suicide Squad: That will forever be a pile of Jared Leto’s used condoms.