Now we all know that, regardless of your own opinion, the DCEU has got off to a rocky start. You might even argue that it’s been on a downhill trajectory since its first film, Man of Steel and truth be told, it probably has.
I’m going to take a look at what DC and Warner Bros should have done post Man of Steel to build their universe. I’m assuming Man of Steel has already happened in the exact way that it did. So yeah, Superman killed Zod and most of Metropolis is destroyed. Here’s my rewrite of the DCEU.
1. Make it Superman Centric
Man of Steel, whether knowingly or not at the time, kicked off this DCEU with the most iconic of superheroes. It tells the story of an alien with super powers learning to become a hero and a symbol of hope for mankind. Towards the end of MoS, you feel like this is the case, you feel like Superman has accepted the mantle as saviour of Earth. But by the time we reach BvS two years down the line, Superman is a reluctant hero. Hell, he’s almost the villain of the piece. He’s unsure of himself and willing to turn his back on mankind. That’s fine for the origin story, but it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense following on from MoS where we saw him accept that responsibility. Sure, he makes the ultimate sacrifice at the end for humanity and maybe when he’s inevitably resurrected in November’s Justice League we’ll finally get the optimistic, heroic Superman this universe needs but regardless BvS does not paint him in his best light and that’s because he’s sidelined for Batman.
At this point readers may be yelling at their screens “This is a more grounded version of the character!” and rightly so. This is a more grounded version of the DC comics. In BvS people question the motives and ethics of an alien with the ability to kill everyone on the planet and that’s an interesting dynamic. But my point is that the characterisation of Superman is way off the mark, not the plot of the film.
Look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War as examples. The world is against Cap in both and yet he stands up for what he knows is right. He doesn’t even think of giving in. It’s not an option for him. And I’d now argue that Cap is the key character of the MCU because of this. He’s been the one at the heart of all the big developments in that universe. Whereas, Superman in BvS is willing to give up. He’s willing to kill a man instead of standing up for what is right. That’s not my Superman and it’s not a Superman you can build a universe on because he’s not a strong enough character. What makes it even more disappointing is that they backtracked on his character development to allow for the introduction of Batman.
Superman is a character of such gravitas with decades of rich history, why would you sideline him? Thematically, he’s the perfect character to build your film universe on so to see him pushed aside to fit in a Batman story is unfair to the character and his fans.
We leads us on to…
2. Man of Steel 2
Batman v Superman should have been, as originally intended, Man of Steel 2. No doubt the studio saw the appeal of Batman after Nolan’s superb trilogy and crowbarred him in at the expense of their flagship hero. That’s not to say that Batman shouldn’t appear in the film, I think he should probably should, but maybe not in the role he was given. I’ll go into this a bit more on my next point but imagine this:
Bruce is old. Too old. He’s aching and damaged. He’s lost people. He doesn’t want to fight anymore. He’s fighting a losing battle and he realises this. He doesn’t want to lose anyone else. Maybe he’s even retired. Maybe he’s even finally gone too far and killed one of his great adversaries and gone into a self enforced retirement out of shame. He sees Superman saving the world from an alien invasion and thinks “This guy could save us all”. He sees Superman and takes him under his wing. He teaches him how to be a vigilante, how to be a hero, how to manage the responsibility. Bruce has decades of experience and Clark has none. It could be a really great dynamic. Bruce providing intel and advice and Clark doing the hands on stuff. Maybe Wonder Woman can turn up too when she learns of Superman’s existence and provide advise from her time living amongst humanity as out outsider.
There could be some great character conflicts there too. Bruce disagrees with Clark killing Zod. Clark says he had no choice. Bruce explains that there’s a line you can never come back from but maybe Superman is above these rules because he’s not a human. It would be a fascinating way to delve deeper into the two characters.
The point is, Man of Steel 2 should have been about Superman’s growth into a universal symbol of hope and Bruce Wayne should have been there to facilitate that and not oppose it like he did in BvS.
Speaking of Bruce Wayne…
3. Batman = DC’s Nick Fury
Batman/ Bruce Wayne should not have been the focus of this universe, we’ve already spoken about that but he could have been integral to building it up to Justice League, just as Nick Fury was to the MCU leading up to Avengers. Bruce meets Clark in MoS2 and begins to advise him as a father figure. Wonder Woman comes out of hiding and she too joins the team. Bruce provides intel to the two because realistically, he can’t fight on their level. He’s struggling to fight street crime in his ageing body, let alone god-like threats. But he’s got the experience and the detective skills and the money to be of considerable use. He’s the man who builds this team around Superman maybe popping up in solo films of the other Justice League members as Bruce Wayne, scheming in the background. He recognises there’s a threat coming and he can’t fight it alone.
Then comes Justice League. In the final act of the film, the stakes are high and this newly formed group of heroes are down and out. Cue the return of the Batman. Imagine that moment of pay off after years of building to it. A fully kitted out Batman returns to the action to help out his new friends. Walking out of the smoke onto the battlefield to help Superman to his feet and offering words of encouragement.
This is one of my main issues with the DCEU. They’ve not really earned anything yet. They’ve jumped straight to the payoff without any of the legwork. You need to build up to certain things and Batman should have been one of them.
4. Make Suicide Squad Joker Centric
Suicide Squad was a bad film, yes. You can read my thoughts on it here. But even if it was a good, coherent film, it still didn’t really provide us with any interesting information or backstory on the DCEU. What’s the Joker been up to? When did Robin die? What’s the Batman/ Joker dynamic like in this universe?
Here’s my pitch:
Suicide Squad should have been ground level stuff on the streets of Gotham. None of that Enchantress twerking nonsense. It should have had fewer characters and they should be all in someway linked to another character in the DCEU. Obviously at this point we’ve only really established Superman and Batman. So let’s say, they’re all Batman villains (to be fair, most of them in the film are).
Let’s use these characters to fill in Batman’s history. Give us an insight into what this guy has been doing for the last two or three decades. And I don’t mean via flashbacks. I mean via character interaction.
Let’s say the Joker has got loose. Batman feels responsible. He’s put him away in Arkham instead of finishing the job. Inevitably the Joker escapes leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. Batman wants to deal with this but is reluctant to go into the field to do it. There’s a reason why the usual forces can’t recapture the Joker. Maybe he has dirt on Amanda Waller or the government and they don’t want that leaking when they catch him or maybe he’s hiding out somewhere the US armed forces can’t go because of political reasons. Whatever the reason, the Suicide Squad are sent to fetch him.
This is where Batman comes in. He knows the Joker better than anyone. Waller calls in his assistance to gather a team of villains to take down the Joker. Batman knows these guys. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and he knows Joker’s too. He could pick members of the team perfectly suited to bringing down the Joker. For example, he picks Harley because he knows he could use her to get inside the Joker’s head. He picks Clayface because he can disguise himself as anything. Deadshot because he’s really fucking good at shooting things. Catwoman because she’s smart and dangerous and probably a decent person at heart. Imagine if the writers had actually thought of a legitimate reason to pick the members of the Suicide Squad rather than because of how good they look in hot pants.
Suicide Squad was a great opportunity to add depth and history to the DCEU and one which was missed.
5. Embrace Hope and Optimism
Thematically, I think the DCEU has been way off the mark, MoS (mostly) excluded. BvS was such a dour experience I didn’t leave thinking that either of them were good guys. They’re just guys fighting over…what, exactly? I’m still not quite sure. Batman and Superman had to fight because it’d look cool on screen and people would go and watch it. And I’m not saying it can’t be dark. Nolan’s Batman trilogy was dark and great. But Batman was still a symbol of hope and optimism. None of DC’s current heroes have really embraced that. Without it, the darkness doesn’t work and it’s just bloody depressing.
In MoS, it felt like we had built up a hero. Someone we can all look up to. But he was torn down in BvS for what reason? I’m not sure but what I do know is that we need a few more heroes going forward and less characters who’s only motivation is to do things is because it’ll be cool.
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