Autumn is upon us, and as DC’s team-up juggernaut Justice League approaches with the intensity that only Warner Bros marketing team can muster, what better time is there to look back on the DC Extended Universe movies so far, ranking them in order of greatness?
(Don’t worry, that’s a rhetorical question – after all, this is Set The Tape and we love lists almost as much as we love judging things)
Man of Steel
The first out of the stable back in 2013, Zack Snyder’s establishing chapter isn’t exactly a divisive film, but it certainly seems to elicit reactions at either end of the appreciation spectrum. Starting with a largely blank slate, Man of Steel is aware at this point that other heroes exist in the universe, but isn’t beholden to hat-tipping in their direction either as callbacks, fan-service or studio-interference. In its place as a cornerstone of the franchise, this is the instalment most comfortable telling one story about one character and doing that its own way.
The most satisfying difference between this and previous entries to the Superman canon is that Snyder manages to make Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) an interesting character. By virtue of being an attention-diffusing alter ego, the Daily Planet reporter has always been necessarily dull. But the problem arises that someone as physically and morally bulletproof as Superman is also inherently uninteresting. The solution? Remind everyone that Kent and Superman are both artifices and make the story about Kal-El; the reluctant hero, the stranded refugee, the planet’s most powerful being whose only practical guidance is an artificial intelligence hologram of his dead father. No wonder the boy’s got issues.
From one of the purest examples of a superhero comes the cleanest DCEU movie to date. And sure, the climactic showdown with General Zod (Michael Shannon) goes on for far too long and with concentration-numbing levels of carnage, but this is hardly the first or last blockbuster to which that charge can be levelled.
Coming in a very close second place is Patty Jenkins’ 2017 tale of Diana, daughter of Themyscira. As one of DC’s flagship properties, Wonder Woman had little to prove but excelled at that anyway, an incredibly solid piece of filmmaking. Gal Gadot shines as the slightly naive but thoroughly determined heroine in an adventure which is textbook, comicbook fun.
The story has that slightly old-fashioned feel which DC seem unable to shrug off completely, but in the context of a mythical island and First World War trenches, this is tonally ideal. If there’s any drawback at all, it’s that Jenkins’ entry is never really more than A Good Superhero Flick. But in all fairness, Patty’s not trying to re-invent the wheel, just to ensure that the Justice League have the best wheels available…
To shoehorn in the inevitable Marvel comparison, the Avengers get-togethers work because most of their characters have already been introduced. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad shoulders a burden it never quite carries with nine central anti-heroes, most of whom are unknown to civilian audiences, and tries to tell a fluid story using them all. Screen-time seems to correlate directly with the roster’s billing and publicity, and the result is uneven – an ensemble piece with a seeming disregard for teamwork.
Much like the next entry on the list, the narrative is founded on a spurious premise that isn’t borne out (irrespective of their unique skills, how would the team really stand up to another Zod? Especially armed with only hotpants and a baseball bat?). But Ayer knows what he’s aiming for – to have fun. And despite too many characters, subplots and needle-drops, he just about achieves that much, at least.
• Notable for reminding us that we really want that Batfleck movie, please.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Oh. If Suicide Squad is a film which knows what it wants to achieve without being quite sure how to go about it, Snyder’s second foray into the DCEU has no clue on either count. Perhaps most charitably described as an intriguing mess, Dawn of Justice features some interesting ideas and moments of greatness, but mostly makes the audience wish they were watching them in something else.
The ‘versus’ aspect of the full title never quite works to begin with and is ultimately resolved with the same vague level of commitment. This preliminary hero collaboration is never boring, just needlessly jumbled and confusing. There are plenty of aspects to enjoy, but the studio’s absolute lack of focus puts Dawn Of Justice at the bottom of this (admittedly short) list…