I've seen Justice League three times now since it released. It's been no secret here and on social media that I enjoy the movie a great deal. In fact, I enjoy the entire DC Extended Universe as a whole, even Suicide Squad.
The thing is, for at least a year and a half I have been told that my favorite comic book movie franchise is "a failure," "a dumpster fire" and is "in need of a complete reboot." This is from several different kinds of sources too. Critics, bloggers, reporters from well-known outlets, friends that are no longer my friends(too bad, so sad), co-workers, followers on Twitter and Facebook, etc. Some of them......alright, a LOT of them I don't follow or pay attention to anymore but they exist nonetheless and the latest box office numbers from Justice League suggest that while we might want that negative narrative to go away, it certainly won't be anytime soon.
This is because of the movie's "disappointing" opening weekend of $93.8 million, the lowest opening for a DCEU movie to date. That alone, a mere three days of release, is enough for many to already consider it a failure, even though it has weeks left in the theater at least. Within days there were articles up about WB's "break even" number for the box office, a measure I hadn't heard about since the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice arguments began in March of 2016, and about how much money WB stood to lose from Justice League, already being called one of the worst flops in movie history for WB.
If that wasn't infuriating enough for a loyal and positive DCEU fan's blood to boil, then there's the portion of the DCEU fanbase that ranges from disappointed to outraged over the tonal shift, added humor and Danny Elfman score for Justice League. They have been very loud on Twitter and while a number of them are disappointed but amicable, others are vitriolic and outraged and have frankly been spitting fire over the perceived "incompletion" of Zack Snyder's Superman Trilogy.
It just seems like other than Wonder Woman, there isn't a single DCEU movie that isn't polarizing in some way, shape or form to someone and while everyone has an opinion on what exactly WB/DC needs to do to "fix" its DCEU problem, I'll offer my take here on what the real issue with the franchise truly is.
Expectations. The DCEU is a constant victim of expectations. Period.
Now, some might read that and consider it silly because all movies, especially these grandiose and heavily budgeted comic book movies have a set of expectations from the studio, the fans and the general audience. There's no getting around that and it in many ways drives the financial success or failure of a franchise. What I'm talking about though are personal expectations, ones that each and every one of us holds dear and uses to judge the movies in the DCEU fairly or more often than not, unfairly. It's not just one set of expectations either, it's several different kinds that the franchise is dealing with. Let's start with arguably the biggest one:
EXPECTATION TO LIVE UP TO REPUTATION
How many times have you heard or seen a version this sentence? "A movie with Batman and Superman should be the easiest billion dollars WB could possibly make." I've seen it a lot and quite honestly, it's ridiculous for several reasons. First of all, it assumes that the legacy and popularity of Batman and Superman over the generations is enough by itself to bring in the masses. That might be true if we only had one version of the characters that remained popular over time, but the truth is that there have been several versions written in the comics, for television and for the screen that different people have latched onto in their lives. To make a version of the characters that appeals to each and every fan of Batman or Superman is literally impossible. You have fans for every version, whether it's Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Tom Welling, Brandon Routh(really the same as Reeve) or even George Reeves and Adam West. That's just the live action Batmen and Supermen. The comics are even more diverse in terms of characterization for both. So to assume that WB can pick one version and gain maximum output from it is not feasible. Someone is always going to be disappointed that their version isn't the one being adapted.
So that leads to what the DCEU actually did, which was create new versions based off of certain comic interpretations for Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck's performances. Again, it was a no-win situation. The Reeve fans and the Bale fans hated Man of Steel and BvS largely because they weren't the versions of Batman and Superman that they wanted and there have been so many interpretations of the characters that ultimately the franchise is going to suffer under the weight of what several different people are expecting to see, with very few of them being willing to accept something new and different. Change scares people and the critics and audiences certainly proved that with their response. This was a problem that Wonder Woman never had to deal with because Gal Gadot's version is the only cinematic version to exist, therefore nothing was around to create a pre-conceived expectation for the character on screen. She was allowed to do what she wanted with the character and was rewarded with critical praise for it.
Incidentally, this is a HUGE reason the Marvel Cinematic Universe has succeeded as well. With no prior expectations on Iron Man, Captain America, Thor or even Hulk, Marvel Studios could do whatever they wanted without pressure because they were setting a new standard. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Aquaman and Shazam share this same benefit of "newness" to the big screen when they make their cinematic debuts.
EXPECTATION TO BE FUN AND ACCESSIBLE
Justice League has one of the higher audience ratings of the DCEU and many who have enjoyed it have remarked how fun and entertaining it is. We've seen a lot of people talk about how they took their kids to see it and it was a great time for the family, a far cry from what was being said about MoS and BvS. Like it or not, there's a large section of the general audience that wants to take their kids to see these movies and they simply weren't going to take them to see Metropolis get flattened into dust, or to see Batman bust a sink over Superman's head, and definitely not to see Amanda Waller gun down innocent ARGUS agents in cold blood over a security clearance issue. Those are not family friendly items in a movie, so the families largely stayed at home for MoS, BvS and Suicide Squad. This year they appear to be finally exploring the DCEU with both Wonder Woman and Justice League, but that's only two movies and the jury is still out on whether or not it's a family friendly franchise from now on. It'll take a few more before parents stop asking if it's okay to take their children to see a DCEU movie.
EXPECTATION TO STAY THE COURSE
Just as there those who want the DCEU to be more family-accessible, there are those who consider that move to be the ultimate death of the franchise and want WB/DC to embrace what they did in the first three DCEU movies tenfold. Admittedly the more adult themes and tone MoS, BvS and Suicide Squad allowed those movies to tap into a level of character and story depth that you simply won't find in a more family-friendly film these days and that's the crux of what these fans want to remain, even though Wonder Woman is a pretty good example of how to blend both really well. A lot of it is centered around Zack Snyder's vision for the franchise as the director of three of its movies to this point, but it also extends to the visual look and musical sound of the DCEU that they want maintained as well. Ultimately, these fans want no change whatsoever from what MoS, BvS and Suicide Squad presented in terms of tone, writing and sound. If it means no families with kids in the theater then so be it, as far as they are concerned. Anything short of that is selling out, it seems.
EXPECTATION TO BE JUST LIKE MARVEL BUT BETTER
This is one that annoys me greatly, especially being a fan of the MCU myself. There are those who think that the reason the DCEU is "failing" is because they are not explicitly copying the formula that Marvel Studios created. The fun and accessibility is part of this, but what it really comes down to is the execution of the franchise. Many feel that Justice League was rushed and made "too early" because even though it was released at a similar point in the franchise as The Avengers was, it didn't follow the principle of using a solo movie to build up each of its heroes before bringing them together in a team-up movie. In essence, they wanted a lighter Man of Steel, a Batman solo movie, Wonder Woman, and then solo movies for Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg and THEN Justice League to bring them all together. This ultimately would allow them to enjoy Justice League without having to be introduced to any new characters in the team up since the solo movies would have done it for them already. In addition, they want a defined slate for upcoming DCEU movies that gives them a definitive schedule for what to expect down the road.
I'm not saying that this idea couldn't have worked for the DCEU, but we have already seen it with the MCU for almost a decade now. Why do we want a carbon copy of Marvel's formula with our DC heroes? Is it purely for the sake of financial and critical gain because it is believed that that particular approach is the ONLY way to correctly build a comic book shared cinematic universe? What is more important, telling a compelling a story with our characters or making more money than Marvel Studios does? For a number of fans, the latter is the prime directive and that's what has driven a great deal of debate and sharp conversation between fandoms and others about this subject. We are constantly told that Marvel is "destroying" or "killing" DC, as though WB/DC and Marvel Studios are locked into head-to-head competition with box office dollars and critic scores as the scoreboard measurements, forgetting that at the end of the day both franchises do rely on the other to survive in terms of perception and audience appeal, and that the money they "fight" for is our own and they simply want as much of it as they can get, regardless of how much the other studio gets for itself.
The bottom line here is that the biggest villain that that the DCEU has to contend with right now is expectations, and it's not as simple as picking one particular course of action and sticking with it. These expectations are all things that other franchises including Marvel simply don't have to deal with and it's not a case of claiming bias or any kind of unfair playing field here. DC has been in the movie business for much longer than Marvel has, whether it's MCU, FOX or Sony properties. That lends itself to more attention, more pre-conceived preference and ultimately more expectation heaped on whatever comes next in whatever iteration of the franchise exists. The thing to remember while everyone is telling you that the DCEU needs a reboot, a more defined direction like Marvel or a simple return to form from the first three movies is that WB can find success with any of these directions they decide to take. They can't go in all of the directions though, so at the end of the day someone is going to get left out of this equation and be disappointed. I know it won't be me because I'm open to whatever they decide to do, but I do hope that it won't be you who is reading this and if it is, I hope you can adjust to whatever changes they make against what you really want. At the end of the day, we should just want our movies and celebrate our favorite heroes on the big screen together, shouldn't we? That'd be nice.