For better or worse, I think I’m at peace with what the DC Extended Universe is now.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is streaming now. And I spent the four hours to see if DC, Warner Bros. and Snyder could Frankenstein a good movie out of the 2017 monstrosity. I ultimately came away from the new cut feeling like it was an objectively better version of a still not good film. Turns out when you make a two hour movie twice as long, you can better explore characters that were criminally underserved the first time. But I don’t think Snyder’s involvement was ever going to save the movie from the larger failings of the DCEU.
There’s a lot to dissect in the movie’s new additions. There’s also a great deal that can be said about how it’s still a poster child for DC’s overambition in creating a film universe without the patience to give every character and plot point its due. Even a four hour film can’t do the heavy lifting of several movies that introduce heroes and their respective deals. But looking at the breadth of DC’s current output, I think I’m coming to the conclusion that I’d rather just watch/read/play other DC content than get too invested in a film universe that’s in such a precarious state.
Generally, I do like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s style. All these movies and television shows filling out a universe that feels interconnected. It means that even when characters are retired, their presence lingers, and I’m given reason to care about what follows even if a favorite like Tony Stark or Steve Rogers goes away. But being a Marvel fan who might not jive with decisions made in the MCU is kind of stuck within it. That same interconnected story means it’s very difficult to escape it, or its influence on things like Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers game.
In a way, the fact that the DC Extended Universe hasn’t become this ubiquitous, all-encompassing thing is freeing as a fan. To know that, even if I think the film continuity is a tragedy of errors, mismanagement, and just…weird as heck tonal decisions….I can still engage with my favorite heroes elsewhere without having to care about any of it.
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I recently started watching the animated Harley Quinn series (which I may have started as an emotional buffer before watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League), and it’s reminding me just on how many different fronts I’ve kept my fingers on DC’s pulse over the years. This show is one of the funniest interpretations of DC’s characters in a way that is especially refreshing after the dark tone of the front half of the DCEU. That same slapstick, joyful view of this world is what has made Legends of Tomorrow so appealing to me (although it’s part of a bigger live-action universe that has been relatively better managed than DC’s movies), on top of Matt Ryan’s version of John Constantine being such a delight.
And it’s not like the DCEU is the sole progenitor of DC’s bad decisions. Green Arrow is my favorite superhero, and the only time he got to be the major focus of his own live-action adaptation was in the TV series Arrow, which turns the usually jovial archer into a Batman clone all broody and dark. And also turned him into a literal cop in one season. But I’m free to ignore that, and look for my Oliver Queen content elsewhere. Such as my favorite fighting game Injustice 2, or his excellent run in DC Rebirth.
I think there’s always going to be part of me that wished the DC Extended Universe had played out to be a deliberately interwoven string of films that prioritized people knowing the universe would follow. But as I sat at the end of Zack Snyder’s Justice League with mostly ho-hum feelings, I think I’m relieved it wasn’t. Because now DC’s output doesn’t feel beholden to it. There are more places to experiment, to leave things without cliffhangers hinting at a future that will excite comic hardcore while everyone else has to Google what it meant after. And in the meantime, the movies have been better. Birds of Prey and Shazam feel festive in a way their predecessors weren’t. So rather than be prickly about Justice League, Snyder or not, I’m just gonna go watch another episode of Harley Quinn.