With Suicide Squad’s $135 million opening weekend there are probably a few smiling Warner execs who are thinking right now there’s nothing that needs fixing. But with Suicide Squad’s mixed/terrible reviews coming right on the heels of the terrible reception Batman Vs. Superman got, it’s clear the DC cinematic universe needs a major course correction. The fact is, Suicide Squad is a hot mess of a movie, with an almost nonexistent plot, terrible villain and scene after scene that don’t really connect, making it feel more like they’re trying soooo hard to be Guardians of the Galaxy without really understanding what made that move work (Hey, people liked that movie’s classic rock soundtrack. Let’s try it here, only worse!). Batman Vs. Superman and Man of Steel weren’t really any better, but despite all that, there’s still hope for DC. Warner Brothers wowed audiences at Comic-Con this year with their debut of the Justice League and Wonder Woman trailers. Plus, with the recent regime change putting Geoff Johns partially in charge of the movies, it looks like there might be a chance to right this ship yet. Here are five more things DC should do.
Quit hiring people who think they’re smarter than the source material. One way that Marvel definitely gets it that thus far Warner has not is in hiring people like Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer who at times seem to have genuine contempt for the characters they’re in charge of. I’ll give one thing to Snyder, he’s a visionary director in his own way, but unfortunately his vision is so dark, dreary and hopeless it’s impossible to care for his versions of the heroes. In Snyder’s world, apparently all superheroes either operate at night or in a landscape so bleached of color you’d think you were watching an Ingmar Bergman film. He’s turned both Batman and Superman into straight-up killers with a body count the Legion of Doom would be envious of, and worst of all, the movies just plain aren’t any fun. Don’t even get me started on Goyer’s now infamous, sexist and offensive comments regarding She-Hulk and Martian Manhunter. The problem with hiring people like Snyder and Goyer is they actually feel like they understand the source material better than the fans and creators who have given their hearts to these characters for generations. And if you complain about Batman using guns or Superman not seeming to care that he’s dropping skyscrapers on people’s heads, Snyder and Goyer will just tell you you’re wrong and they know better. I’m not going to say Marvel is perfect. But even the worst of their movies (ahem, Iron Man 2), is still pretty watchable, and at least shows they have people working behind the scenes who understand these characters and care about staying true to what makes them work.
Stop trying to play catch-up with Marvel. Let’s face it. There’s only one reason Batman Vs. Superman exists at all, and that’s for Warner Brothers to try to create a short bridge right to the Justice League movie, which they’re hoping will be their billion dollar box office payday. That’s a problem that’s common with a lot of movie studios nowadays. They’re so hoping to get a film franchise going that they forget to make a good movie. You can see that clearly with Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was so heavy with setup for their now aborted Sinister Six and other Spider-Man spinoffs they had planned that they were hoping it would gloss over the fact that the movie wasn’t very good. But with the fact that Kevin Feige is now overseeing the re-reboot of the series and the knockout performance by Tom Holland as the new Peter Parker as we saw in Captain America Civil War, it seems likely they might be on track to make a Spidey franchise with legs. Warner Brothers had pretty much the same problem with Batman Vs. Superman. Too much of it is devoted to establishing the DC cinematic universe as quickly as possible for them to roll out their next dozen movies. Probably the best thing to come out of B V. S is Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, but when you get down to it, there’s really no good reason she’s in the movie. You could remove her entirely from the movie and it wouldn’t change the plot (such as it is) one bit.
Lighten up. After seeing the trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League, it looks like DC might have learned its lesson (hey, look at that, Wonder Woman is in COLOR!). Even though Snyder is directing Justice League, it appears someone higher up may have gotten through to him that there’s nothing wrong with injecting a bit of a lighter tone and bits of humor into the dialogue. That doesn’t mean that every superhero movie has to be like open mic night at the Apollo, but a little humor goes a long way towards humanizing the characters and helping audiences empathize with them. Marvel figured this out right away in hiring Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark, and just let him be himself. Suicide Squad reportedly went through extensive reshoots to add more humor throughout. The problem with Suicide Squad adding more humor is the same problem as their adding in the classic rock sound track, it all just feels forced and disjointed, and more like a movie that was made by committee using focus group results to write the script. Geoff Johns reportedly said that he wants to bring hope back into the DC cinematic universe, which sounds like a good sign to me. But we’ll have to wait and see what the end result is. If you want to see how the DC universe can work on-screen with a lighter and more fun tone, you need only check out the assorted CW shows, with the crown jewel being The Flash. Grant Gustin is absolutely killing it as Barry Allen on that show. He’s completely charming and charismatic, and judging by the few brief snippets we’ve seen of him thus far, it looks like Ezra Miller might be taking a few cues from Grant and making his movie Barry Allen a likable guy too.
Enough with the killing already. It’s too late to go back and unbreak General Zod’s neck, but at least they can move forward and have their heroes actually act like heroes and quit killing so many people. Hiring Ben Affleck to play Batman turned out to be a pretty good idea. Unfortunately his Batman breaks all the cardinal rules that makes Batman who he is, namely giving him guns and straight up torturing and murdering criminals. Note to DC, that’s not Batman you’re thinking of; that’s the Punisher. Yes, I know there will be some fans who will jump up and point out the various times Batman and Superman have killed people in the comics, but for the most part those moments are rare, and these characters have managed to be role models by proving they don’t have to kill in order to beat the bad guys. And quite frankly, it doesn’t make any sense why Affleck’s Batman would be totally cool with offing a bunch of random thugs, yet the Joker, of all people, is still alive.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken. There’s actually quite a bit that’s good about the DC cinematic universe. Affleck’s Batman is actually entertaining when he’s not killing people. Henry Cavill really is a pretty good Superman, although it’d probably be a good idea to ask him to smile once in a while. Gal Gadot looks like she’s tailor-made for the role of Wonder Woman. Likewise, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn really was one of the highlights of Suicide Squad, which despite mostly being a disjointed and oddly lifeless film, did have its moments that didn’t suck. And then there’s Geoff Johns, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of DC Comics and who might be just the kick in the collective creative butt their film universe has been needing. Over at Marvel they have Kevin Feige, a guy who has proven himself to really care about doing right by the fans and letting the characters be themselves. Hopefully Johns is the guy to do the same for DC We’ll just have to wait and see.