The Reel World Ranks the DCEU

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To tie in with the release of Joker, four of the World’s Reel World’s Finest decided to take a look at the entire DCEU* and debate which films are the best and worst.

*Yes, we know they don’t call it that anymore, and never officially did.

Mike Thomas, Matt Waters, Ben Phillips and Jerome Cusson each submitted their own blind rankings which were aggregated, and then each of them was assigned one film in the top four and one in the bottom four. Balance!

One of Us felt a strong need to point out they didn’t like some of these films as much as others, so the highest and lowest individual rankings are given for each film. Happy now, One of Us?

*SPOILERS* for every single one of these films, by the way. Including Joker.

8. Suicide Squad

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Highest: 6th | Lowest: 8th

Matt: I’m thankful this movie exists and never quite sheds its status as a perennial punching bag because it serves to keep me humble. We all make mistakes, up to and including me, a person who is on record as saying this film isn’t as bad as you’ve heard and that Jared Leto’s performance as Joker is… kinda cool. I could pretend I didn’t say those things like a coward, or I could say that tastes change, and that after sitting through two long, dreary, soulless DC movies, it was nice to at least be bombarded with fun for a change, so much so that I overstated this film’s quality.

Fun as it may be in spots, it’s hacky, gimmicky, try-hard fun that frequently trips over itself. A decent portion of the soundtrack is dope, but there are also about 6 different songs played within 5 minutes near the beginning. Captain Boomering has a little unicorn friend! Wait… didn’t I see that somewhere earlier that year? The trailers sold it as Guardians of the Galaxy, but the final product was… not that. Ironic, given James Gunn will attempt to erase the entire thing from our collective brains next year.

I think the worst thing about it is the fundamentally flawed premise; Why was this a Save the World affair, beyond Hollywood’s general fascination with swirling extinction events in a sci-fi sky? You recruited Harley Quinn and Captain Boomerang. You should be using them to pull off a heist or an assassination or something they’re actually suited for and that you would want to distance yourself from if it goes south.

Go watch Batman: Assault On Arkham or Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay for something pointed in a far less misguided direction and with a better Joker performance.

(Check out Matt’s regrettable, dated defence of Suicide Squad)

7. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Highest: 6th | Lowest: 8th

Ben: Batman v Superman might not be the technical and creative disaster that Suicide Squad is, but in some ways that what’s make it worse. Zack Snyder is one of the most visually distinctive directors in Hollywood, and there are moments of genuine beauty in this film. But that doesn’t excuse the rot at the centre of this disaster of a movie.

It should have been apparent to Warner Bros. that Snyder had no handle on the character of Superman after Man of Steel but instead they doubled down, gave him the keys to Batman and free licence to adapt two of the most beloved superhero graphic novels; The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman. But Snyder displays no textual awareness of either book, instead stripping away all nuance and is left with pop imagery that means nothing. Every creative decision in this films seems to have disdain for the four colour comics that so much of the superhero genre pulls from. He read the headlines in the 80s and 90s that comics weren’t for kids anymore and took them at face value. There is no levity or humour in this movie, only unrelenting bleakness and a fundamental misunderstanding of what both Batman and Superman stand for.

On top of that we get an incomprehensible plot, a mystery that holds no intrigue, bizarre teasers for future movies that grind the action to a halt and a third act that might be one of the ugliest things in any superhero movie ever. The problems with Batman v Superman exist right to its very core and can’t be hand-waved because of conflicting edits or corporate meddling. What we have here is a filmmaker uniquely unsuited for this source material, making every single incorrect creative decision he could. Out of disdain for the swashbuckling nature of golden and silver age comics or just because they think this looked cooler I can’t say, but this movie exists and it’s an insult to the legacies of both title characters.

The Wonder Woman theme is pretty cool though.

(Check out Mike & Matt’s review of Batman v Superman)

6. Man of Steel

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Highest: 4th  |  Lowest: 8th

Mike: The trailers for this film with the goddamn Lord of the Rings music with laundry flying in the wind and Clark Kent fucking hitchhiking made you think Man of Steel was going to be this deeply introspective and intelligent film about what it genuinely would be like to be someone raised as Clark Kent only to discover they were a motherfucking alien. Unfortunately, Zack Snyder directed this film, and whatever you want to say about that dude you have got to understand that type of story is not playing to his wheelhouse.

Instead of what was advertised, we got a two+ hour montage of Superman’s life before and during the parts he becomes established as Superman. It features ugly and non-compelling action, Pa Kent telling his son to let people die, and all sorts of other stupid-ass shit that did not make any goddamn sense. (Killing Zod didn’t really bother me based on the context but seemed like a stupid corner to write yourself into.) The film is somewhat of an interesting experiment and stands out as somewhat unique in the world of comic films retrospectively six years later. Unique only goes so far though when you suck shit.

5. Justice League

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Highest: 5th  |  Lowest: 6th

Jerome: I’ll never forget seeing this movie in theaters. I didn’t want to go but MoviePass was right there, so I sucked it up and took a dive into what I thought was a truly awful DCEU experience, the fourth of five that left a bad taste in my mouth. After rewatching all the DCEU movies and gaining some perspective, I’ve come to accept this as a mediocre Frankenstein of  a movie that had no business existing except some Warner Bros. executives wanted a bonus (For real…look this up).

Let’s be clear. Superman’s face looks weird because he couldn’t shave his moustache, but at least he behaves like a hero and doesn’t break anyone’s neck once he remember he’s Superman. Ben Affleck looks tired, but at least he gets to make some quips and isn’t branding people. Gal Gadot is treated like a sex object by both directors, but at least she was in a good movie earlier in the year and will likely get to be a part of the only trilogy in this universe.

Then there’s the B-Team. Jason Mamoa is such a bro in this movie, but one lasso scene toned it down 10 percent. James Wan recalibrated Aquaman and made him palpable in a future film.  Ezra Miller was the Flash but didn’t make anyone forget Grant Gustin. Anything interesting about Cyborg was left on the cutting room floor. Green Lantern? Too soon. There have been more movies that have made fun of Green Lantern than live action GL films in the last eight years. Martian Manhunter? Relegated to the CW. The first five DCEU films were an exercise in how not to do universe building, and this was the natural climax.

Amazingly, Joss Whedon is going to be the person who brought both the Avengers and Justice League to the big screen. The circumstances of Zack Snyder’s departure are incredibly unfortunate, but a break-up was in everyone’s best interest. There is an audience for dark and gritty, but unless it’s Batman related, there’s always going to be a great many challenges and a more limited audience. This is a movie that bridges Zack Snyder into what the DCEU will likely be moving forward, something a bit more filmmaker driven but keeping the spirit of modern comic book films.

(Check out Mike & Matt’s review of Justice League)

4. Joker

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Highest: 1st  |  Lowest: 7th

Mike: You really could not spare yourself from The Discourse surrounding the film unless you removed yourself from the internet entirely. Even if you’re smart (me) and didn’t click on any of these stupid ass articles (me, again), The Discourse was poisoned with dumb and annoying opinions about this film long before anyone but people at the Venice Film Festival saw it.

This film is fucking good for a number of reasons, but the most important ones are for the reasons it is completely different from MCU films and MCU impersonators. There’s no CGI. It’s actually based around a great acting performance with a tremendously detailed characterization. It openly attacks some of the forces of evil in the world that most superheroes prop up (billionaires being the most obvious one). Logan took the first steps forward for superheroes in film telling better stories. This one took a giant leap forward. Hopefully many non-Joker films follow in its lead for years to come.

(Check out Mike & Matt’s podcast review of Joker, as well as Ben & Matt’s rebuttal)

3. Aquaman

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Highest: 3rd  |  Lowest: 4th

Jerome: Picture Thor except bombastic; a film where the two leads have little chemistry but still have a ton of fun along the way. It’s amazing just how much this movie made in December 2018. In a world where Solo comes out around this time, would we be talking about a horror spin-off and Jason Mamoa as an undisputed A-list celebrity?

If I were to read the actual script for Aquaman,  I probably would think “What a terrible movie this is going to be.” The writing is the weakest part, but the visuals and most of the performances elevate this into something worth watching multiple times. Wan is a visual mastermind who had a million things going on in every scene and wasn’t afraid to show an octopus playing a set of drums. Patrick Wilson does not have to play a sexually impotent Good Liberal like he did in Watchmen. He gets to play an alpha male wannabe king, and he chews scenery in a movie that requires big performance. Willem Dafoe has gone from the Green goblin to playing a supporting good guy role. I was waiting for him to turn evil…and it just didn’t happen.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen steals the show and will likely get to go Full Manta in the sequel. Some of the attempted pathos with his father didn’t necessarily work, but at least there was an attempt to set him up to be important in future movies.

Of all the movies on this list, this may actually have the highest Q rating. Wonder Woman had to deal with a dreary pallet and not so great ending. Shazam has its moments, but it never quite took off thanks to being sandwiched between two MCU movies and also trending toward a little more darkness. Aquaman may be too long, but it’s always fun, and Nicole Kidman gets to do more here than she did in all of Batman Forever. (Great. Now I want a “Kiss From a Rose” with Aquaman highlights spliced in.)

2. Shazam

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Highest: 1st  |  Lowest: 3rd

Matt: Much as the small boy above is touching a glowing lightning bolt on the chest of a suspiciously athletic man near a mesh fence in the middle of the night, this film touched my heart. I would be remiss in not pointing out that Ben Phillips tried to tell me how much I would enjoy this film months before I actually got around to seeing it. Sorry, Ben.

It’s obviously not for everyone, but it’s VERY much for me, with its 80’s movie structure, genre subversion, staggering amount of heart and arguably some of the most niche easter eggs in a superhero movie to date. Mister. Freakin’. Mind.

I actually wasn’t fully sold based on the trailers, as the companies who cut these teasers have gotten so good at it they’re able to convince people of wildly irrational things like New Mutants was going to be a masterpiece. I thought they were giving away every joke in the film and the rest was going to give way to typical CGI nonsense, but instead I was surprised at how much fresh energy they maintained. I thought Zachary Levi wouldn’t have the chops to finesse this role, but instead I think he was born for it. I thought Mark Strong was going to be yet another forgettable villain, and while I don’t think he’s top tier by any means, I thought he did a commendable job. The Seven Deadly Sins were too visually similar for my liking, but LOOK WHAT IT LED TO!

I think one beat sums up my love of this film: Near the beginning, Freddy asks Billy if he would rather be able to fly or to turn invisible, stating most people say flight because it’s heroic, and invisibility is a total villain power, but that deep down most people didn’t believe they were heroes, so privately said invisibility. Then, when Billy’s fame as Captain Marvel Shazam goes to his head, he admits he’s jealous because everything he does is an attempt to get people to notice him. Finally, when the kids are each imbued with one of Shazam’s powers, who gets flight? Freddy. Freddy do.

If only Henry Cavill had been available for that final scene…

(Check out The Superhero Pantheon’s review of Shazam)

1. Wonder Woman

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Highest: 1st  |  Lowest: 2nd

Ben: After three dire movies, the DCEU needed a shot in the arm. Enter Patty Jenkins with her first project since leaving Thor: The Dark World over “creative differences” and a chance to beat Marvel to the first female-led superhero movie since 2005.

Gal Gadot had certainly left an impression during her brief moments in Batman v Superman, but I don’t think anyone was expecting just how commanding she would be in this role. Whilst there are flaws with this movie (the third act shift into CGI slugfest is made all the worse for just how good the rest of the movie had been up to that point), Gal Gadot is instantly iconic as Diana Prince and more than makes up for many of them.

Wonder Woman is probably the only movie in the DCEU that has been able to mix the fundamentally mythic imagery of its source material with an actual narrative that has substance. The No Man’s Land scene is probably one of the most effective pieces of superhero iconography in the genre, perfectly meshing the thematic, visual and character into one viscerally incredible scene.

And it’s impossible to overstate just how culturally relevant this movie was in 2017. After the incredibly bleak 2016 and Marvel Studio’s resistance to actually put a woman at the forefront of one of their movies (it didn’t happen until Captain Marvel in 2019), Wonder Woman felt like a real moment. Here was a female-led superhero movie directed by a woman that actually understood the bondage draped feminist icon that William Moulton Moulton and H. G. Peter created in the 1940s . This decision paid off tremendously with Wonder Woman still being the highest grossing DCEU movie domestically, grossing over $400 million.

This isn’t a perfect movie, but it shows just what can happen when a filmmaker with an actual vision and love for the source material is given the reigns.

(Check out Matt, Mike & Arlena’s listicle on Wonder Woman)

 

Violently disagree with our ranking? How about some of the assertions in the write-ups? Heck, maybe you get angry about article layouts. Any and all of this is welcome in the comments or at our various outlets:

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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