To say that DC Extended Universe fans have had a tortured relationship with critics, bloggers and Rotten Tomatoes is a massive understatement to say the least. For most of us, none of what has been said by any of those outlets has meant anything to us since March 25, 2016, maybe even before that. We are probably the first major fan base out of many to tell people that they should make their own decisions, form their own opinions and not give so much reverence to an arbitrary percentage on a website with a highly flawed pass/fail mechanic.
All of that being said, many of us would also be lying to you if we said that we weren't happy about Wonder Woman's certified fresh rating on RT when it was released. I'll fully admit that it's a lot less stressful when the critics finally appear to enjoy one of the movies from your favorite franchise. Acknowledging that doesn't mean that you are putting great stock in RT or the critics at all, it just means that you are happy to see it positively recognized. Most of us are, I would think.
The thing is, a good amount of DCEU fans think that will be short-lived and that the critics will go right back to firebombing the franchise critically once Zack Snyder's Justice League hits theaters on November 17. Their reasons for it are understandable. Critical hatred of Snyder as a director, disapproval of "Batfleck," and the ever-present but ridiculously illogical belief that Justice League is a rushed attempt to catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe are just a few of the "Trumped-up" reasons that fans are convinced the critics are holding on to for their next critical assault on the DCEU.
I've personally become convinced that such an assault is not going to happen to Justice League, at least not anywhere near what we saw with the first three DCEU movies. Going into Wonder Woman, I had a feeling that it would be the first "fresh" DCEU movie and it was by an even wider margin than I thought would be possible. So now the question becomes whether or not Wonder Woman represents the turning point for critical acclaim with the DCEU as a franchise, or was it just one case of the critics getting exactly what they wanted and being nice for once? I say it was the turning point and there's a decent amount of reasons for them, but fair warning to DCEU fans: you're not going to like all of them. I certainly don't, but I acknowledge what I think is going to happen and how it will affect the criticism of Justice League.
Now, let's dig into why the critics are going to praise Justice League:
1 - THE WHEDON EFFECT
We're just going to rip the band-aid off real quick here and get it over with. Joss Whedon's assumption of directing duties is already changing critical minds about Justice League. It's not for the right reasons, but it is definitely happening and you can tell from the reaction to the San Diego Comic-Con trailer. When you have writers thanking Whedon for the new trailer and and fanboys across social media lapping it up, it becomes clear that some people have already built their excuse to say that they like a movie that they truly want to like, but weren't willing to admit so long as it remained a "Snyder only" movie. Never mind the fact that Snyder completed the original 111 days of principle photography and retains his full rights as a director to the movie. People are already ignoring those facts in favor of giving Whedon credit for changing the movie and turning it into what they want to see, and they will believe this fully in November when they watch it, despite the fact that it won't be one bit true. The moment Whedon's name was officially attached to the reshoots, minds immediately changed across the critical landscape and while that sucks because it means a ton of clickbait written to slam Snyder in favor of Whedon, the end result will be a positive critical mass for Justice League as a movie. That's the only silver lining out of that one.
2 - THE BVS EFFECT
While we are on the subject of critics doing things for the wrong reasons, it is also clear that Justice League will be used as one more slam against Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Through three trailers now, it has been observed that the tone and humor of Justice League appears to be much lighter and more accessible than BvS is considered to be and that gives critics a perfect angle in their reviews to say something like this: "Justice League is what BvS SHOULD have been." Plan on seeing at least three top reviewers write that exact sentence or a variant of it when the time comes. BvS has been the target of constant vitriol and derision since it was released and it was after that and Suicide Squad that the calls for a reboot of the DCEU were the loudest. With many under the false impression that a reboot actually is occurring within the franchise, Justice League will give them an opportunity to "prove" it by displaying how different and better it is than BvS, even if they are a critic that doesn't necessarily like the movie. Simply calling it better than BvS might be enough to push a passive, middle of the road review for Justice League into fresh territory, and there is no doubt that a number of critics will say that.
Alright, we got the negative reasons out of the way first. Now let's look at some positives:
3 - THE WONDER WOMAN EFFECT
As of the time of this posting, Wonder Woman's domestic box office total sits at $395.4 million and after still taking in an estimated $3.5 million in its 9th weekend of release, it is now considered to be legitimately challenging the domestic total of 2002's Spider-Man movie that made $403 million domestically. It took my boss at work more than a month to see it at the theater and when he finally did in what was the movie's 8th weekend, his theater was almost full on a Sunday afternoon to see it. This is why my local theater still has four showtimes playing for it, which is the same amount as War for the Planet of the Apes that opened just two weeks ago, and only two less than Atomic Blonde that just opened, and three less than Spider-Man: Homecoming which opened three weeks ago. The point here is that Wonder Woman's popularity is still kicking ass and the critics certified it fresh on RT, so make no mistake, it was BRILLIANT strategy to lead off the new SDCC Justice League trailer with her. New fans of Wonder Woman that have turned out in droves for her movie will flock to see her again in Justice League and that critical praise for Gal Gadot will also carry over and give the critics one less thing to potentially complain about with the movie. If they loved Diana in her solo film, there's a solid chance they will love her in Justice League.
4 - THE GEOFF JOHNS EFFECT
This is similar to the Joss Whedon effect, but it's not entirely for the wrong reasons as that one is. There is a belief that since Geoff Johns was promoted to be in charge of DC Films along with Jon Berg that he has been course correcting the franchise since after Suicide Squad's production. While it is true and admitted by WB/DC that changes have been made, they haven't been as drastic as a full course correction, but that hasn't stopped pundits and critics from believing it is a major course correction. So the idea is that Johns' ascension to being in charge of the DCEU is the signifier that the franchise is on the "right" track and Wonder Woman was the first indicator of that. Simply knowing and accepting Johns' presence at the helm of the franchise along with his mantra of "hope and optimism" for the characters is enough to keep critics thinking that the course change is for real and that Justice League continues that path. If they like it even a little, they will give Johns the benefit of the doubt and call him one of the "saviors" of the franchise......along with Joss Whedon of course.
5 - THE FIRST TIME EVER EFFECT
It can't be understated or ignored that whether or not you think it is rushed, incomplete or perfect, this is the first time we will have ever seen the Justice League in live action on the big screen. Critics may wish to deny or downplay how big of a deal that is because of the DCEU's past and they might even hide behind the excuse of "We've already seen The Avengers," but this isn't the same as seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. This is Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. At least three, maybe even four of those DC heroes surpass the popularity of all of the Avengers by themselves. This is uncharted territory we are entering as far as superhero team-ups go and while the critics will almost certainly be doing their best to compare it to the Avengers, they won't be able to because of the grander scale that these heroes already command before we have even seen a single full scene of the movie. The experience promises to be very different and crisp compared to what critics have been used to seeing with team-ups, and that crisp newness could certainly be enough for them to tip their caps.
6 - THE SUPERMAN RESTORED EFFECT
The most anticipated moment in the Justice League movie is the return of Superman from the dead. Period. This really isn't a debatable thing in my opinion and I say that as an avid Batman fan. We are ALL waiting to see the Kryptonian rise again and join his compatriots on screen to save the world from Steppenwolf and the Parademon army. The same can be said for critics as well, a number of whom no doubt are waiting to base their review solely on Henry Cavill's re-emergence as the Man of Steel. Not only that, but the contention is that the Superman that is returning from the dead is less like the conflicted, wholly relatable one we got in Man of Steel and BvS and more like the stoic, somewhat traditional version that we are all familiar with. We're not talking about Cavill doing a Christopher Reeve impression all of a sudden, but we have been told that it is a far less deconstructed version of the character than we have gotten to this point in the DCEU, which will no doubt ease the minds and soothe the red hot pens of the critics that are still whining about how DCEU Superman has been portrayed to this point. A change of pace for the character in Justice League after his no less than epic resurrection is good for a handful of positive reviews at least, without question.
As with anything I write about these subjects, this is just my opinion and come November 17 it could be one that is completely off the mark. There's just no telling with human beings and their opinions one way or another. I don't think that it will be off the mark, though. I believe very much that the DCEU like it or not, turned a corner in terms of critical acclaim with Wonder Woman and is going to now continue that path with the tone that they are clearly setting as an evolution from the first three films of the franchise. That evolution, while it may rub some current fans of the DCEU the wrong way because it won't exactly be what we saw in MoS, BvS or even Suicide Squad, is still one that in the long run will be healthier for the future of a franchise that has already proven that it can make billions with most of its movies being extremely polarizing among critics and fans. Wonder Woman was a taste of what the DCEU can do with critical acclaim behind it. Get ready for a full course of that when Justice League comes out.