Trying to protect the planet from its ultimate demise is a stressful business, so we can forgive the likes of Superman and Batman not being the life and soul of the superhero party. That being said, the DCEU has come under heavy criticism due to the tone of its opening three movies being a little too dark. Audiences expect hardship, but also expect some light relief, cheeky winks or clever quips weaved into the narrative.
While DC's shared universe has perhaps been excessively maligned, even those who admire Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman (2016) or this summer's Suicide Squad would admit it's clear that Warner Bros. have struggled to get the balance of tone right.
Of course, it is also a matter of taste, but when it comes to having a qualified opinion, Kevin Smith is at the top of the pile. As well as being a respected filmmaker in his own right, Smith is a self-confessed comic book lover who has directed an episode of The Flash and even named his daughter Harley Quinn Smith. That's dedication.
Too Much Doom And Gloom In The DCEU?
In an interview with Canoe.com, Smith reflected on the tone of the DCEU to date, and in doing so praised that other small comic book movie franchise you've probably heard of, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in "setting the standard" for superhero movies. He said:
"The audience that pays to see these things are like, 'There’s a certain set of standards that we want when we come see these superhero movies', and, yes, most of those standards have been set for us by Marvel… regardless, this is what we want in our superhero movies. We don’t want doom and gloom. We want them to like each other. We want them to have an interplay."
The MCU certainly sets the standard, having made over $10 billion at the box office since the release of Iron Man in 2008. Part of the identity of the MCU is the balance of humor; Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., is a great example of a nuanced character who excels in serious moments but also provides comic relief. All of this is done without sacrificing the level of adversity the Avengers face.
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Back to the DCEU, and Smith believes that the upcoming Justice League could finally be the feature that manages to get the balance right. He added:
“It looks like (Warner Bros. and DC Comics) heard that loud and clear and everything that was missing or perceived to be missing from Batman v Superman seems like it’s in full display on Justice League, so I’m on board. I was already on board, but I’m very happy to see that they’re taking that direction.”
As Smith says, it's clear Warner Bros. have got the message on tone. While BvS embraced the darkness, subsequent backlash was enough to throw the Suicide Squad production into chaos, with the studio unsure of the film's identity. While director David Ayer was originally stated to be seeking a dark take on DC's antiheroes, positive reaction to the quirky teaser trailer caused a frenzied rehash of the movie.
Unfortunately, that came too late, but it as Smith says, it seems evident that Justice League is moving in the right direction — perhaps helped by the increased input of president of DC Comics, Geoff Johns. Let's take a look at the trailer to remind ourselves:
Na Na Na Na Na Na... Deadpan!
The trailer consists of Ben Affleck's Batman cracking deadpan jokes like a seasoned pro (DC's answer to RDJ anyone?) and Ezra Miller looking awkwardly apt as The Flash. As intentions go, the trailer is clearly highlighting the film's sense of humor (it even has the hilarious adult cartoon Rick and Morty playing in the background).
While we shouldn't expect a laugh-a-minute, an element of humor is essential. The previously referenced MCU has the perfect balance of Earth shattering villains, adversity and playfulness. If the DCEU can follow a similar format it could improve the reception its films receive. After all, BvS wasn't a bad film, but it is draining to watch non-stop peril without breaks in between.
Importantly, judging from the trailer, the tone itself is perfect. Affleck is sardonic and cutting, but in a way that works in the DCEU backdrop. The editing feels more energetic and upbeat in a way that will hopefully compliment DC's characters much more, without completely removing the world already established.
It's safe to say Warner Bros. haven't delivered a standout film in the DCEU yet, but there's every reason to remain hopeful. Moving on from Suicide Squad, next year will see the release of Gal Gadot's highly anticipated and kick ass Wonder Woman, followed by the promising Justice League. In the words of Kevin Smith: I'm on board.
Is Smith right in saying the DCEU has had too much "doom and gloom"? And can Justice League remedy this?