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THE DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE FILMS, RANKED

EVERY DCEU MOVIE FROM WORST TO BEST

FEATURE
LATEST REVIEWS
By Jake Watt
10th June 2023

In 2013, Warner Bros and DC Studios tried to rush a universe into being, and they used director Zack Snyder to do it. His movies ('Man of Steel', 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice', 'Zack Snyder's Justice League') were increasingly incoherent and self-serious, and, worse than that, his dour vision irradiated almost everything else that followed it. 'Suicide Squad', 'Black Adam' and even the widely-loved 'Wonder Woman' were overburdened by their own importance. It wasn't just Snyder's fault. The appointment of comic book writer (and Richard Donner's former production assistant) Geoff Johns as the head of DC Films didn't help.

Me, I'm a film buff who used to be a pretty big comic book fan, particularly in regard to DC Comics. From where I'm sitting, the DC Extended Universe's movies were mostly bad - overlong, ponderous, numbing and joyless. Almost every one of these films ends in the same way - by the time the third act rolls around, 'Man of Steel'/'Aquaman'/'Wonder Woman'/etc. descends into an insane CGI-fest, with almost too much occupying the screen to take in. The CGI might be good and detailed, but it overwhelms the senses of the viewer.

However, at least these films have always been ambitiously bad, or bad in interesting ways, providing a refreshing counterpoint to the stale Marvel house style.

Tear your shirt off in a phone booth and jump in your invisible jet, because it's time for my list of films from the DC Extended Universe movies ranked, from worst to best.

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15
'JUSTICE LEAGUE' (2017)

A blockbuster that aimed to make the DCEU more competitive with the Marvel Cinematic Universe by assembling another team of big-name superheroes to avenge stuff, 'Justice League' attempted to inject some pizzazz into a film universe that was being repeatedly criticised for its darkness.

After Zack Snyder stepped down from the film following the death of his daughter, Joss Whedon was hired to oversee the remainder of post-production. It's clearer than it's ever been that the writer-director of 'The Avengers' was hired to Marvelise Snyder's movie, with all the snappy one-liners, sitcomish bickering, and clunky televisual action that implies. This included writing 80 pages of new material and reshooting a large portion of the film, which changed many aspects of it. With an estimated production budget of $US300 million, 'Justice League' became one of the most expensive films ever made.

And what a dreadful patchwork monster of a film it was. Gone are the artistic pretensions and boofhead character motivations of Snyder's previous film, 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'. What was left? Whedon's dialogue glued over the bones of Chris Terrio's hacky script, clumsy action and clumsier comedy (a scene where the Flash falls into Wonder Woman's bosom is like something from 'The Benny Hill Show'), accompanied by occasional bursts of Snyder's bombastic slo-mo (cinematographer Fabian Wagner estimates that only 10% of the original footage shot by him and Snyder was used in the final cut). It was also insultingly unpolished, with the rubbery CGI on Steppenwolf and the piss-poor removal job on Henry Cavill's moustache being two examples. Even the actors had a horrible time - Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg, later claimed that Whedon's on-set treatment of the film's cast and crew was "gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable".

I watched 'Justice League' at home on my couch with lowered expectations and was still horrified. On the most basic level, it was simply a miscalculation to try to rush the Avengers formula of success, to stuff introductions for so many new characters into one movie instead of giving them their respective starring vehicles first. A clear product of compromise, committee thinking, and clashing sensibilities, the only thing this film got right was Superman's dialogue. Unlike Snyder, Whedon understood that the humanity of the character was what made him tick.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Justice League'.

14
'SUICIDE SQUAD' (2016)

Writer/director David Ayer described his film to Empire Online as "Dirty Dozen with supervillains". It's a cool concept - the Suicide Squad has always been one of my favourite comic books. Tragically, Ayer is a terrible director. Adding insult to injury, Warner executives took his film – which originally had a 'Black Hawk Down' vibe, minimal music and connectivity to Snyder's films – and gave it to the company that made the film's popular teaser trailer, in order to re-edit it to be more "fun". The new cut included non-stop music and jazzed-up graphics introducing the characters in an attempt turn it into something between 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Deadpool'.

The first part of the film spends significant time repeatedly introducing the characters, each introduction accompanied by a flashback revealing the character's backstory and a needle drop of some recognisable classic rock song. These often dark, tortured characters are undercut by on-the-nose music choices that clash with the footage and stunt the film's pacing with constant stops and starts. The Joker's role, according to actor Jared Leto, was significantly cut down. Personally, I think that Leto is pretty good in the role, but his scenes were heavily edited to the point of confusion. Whole scenes were gutted, leaving maybe 15 or so minutes of Joker in the final cut.

An unmolested version of 'Suicide Squad' from David Ayer would have been bad enough (crazily, he has been pushing for an "Ayer Cut" which he claims exists somewhere). But with studio interference, the result was a half-formed product of many competing visions without any one true leader at its helm. Two good things to emerge from this Academy Award-winning disaster were Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn – despite being heavily sexualised, she inarguably became the star of the DCEU - and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller.

I own every issue of writer John Ostrander's 1980s run on 'The Suicide Squad', purchased from back issue bins over the span of a decade. Foolishly overconfident, I took my girlfriend to the cinema to watch Ayer's film and my heart sank as we were instantly bombarded with character intros, jarring musical cues and that bizarrely edited scene between Common and Leto in the nightclub.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Suicide Squad'.

13
'ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE' (2021)

This was the film that fans demanded, albeit via a toxic #ReleaseTheSnyderCut social media campaign that seems to have been engineered by Snyder himself.

'Zack Snyder's Justice League' was a win for art (translation: a movie director's ego) against meddling studio execs. No one would confuse this cut, with its Nick Cave needle drops and homages to Andrei Tarkovsky, for the work of any other filmmaker. Snyder didn't just realise his original vision for 'Justice League', he injected steroids into it - spending a reported $US70 million of new Warner Bros. money on a reconceived finale and a convoluted epilogue that manages to squeeze even more characters into a massively overcrowded ensemble.

In the basic plot outline, 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' didn't change much. The major difference is that this narrative unfolds over a snooze-inducing 240 minutes of running time, allowing for extended flashbacks, heftier subplots, signature dream sequences, and longer detours into the thinly-developed fantasy realms of Atlantis and Themyscira.

Like most people, I monitored this leviathan over several days. Since the film has no rhythm or pacing, I would literally just switch it off halfway through fight scenes whenever I became tired. Like his "Ultimate Cut" of 'Watchmen', Snyder shovelled all of his footage back into the mix, with little apparent awareness regarding what stuff was vital and what was superfluous. Are the three scenes where Steppenwolf has the equivalent of a Zoom chat with his boss, Darkseid necessary? Who cares! This was less of an auteur’s unfiltered cinematic vision and more like bonus content made to appease the fans who went to bat for Snyder's honour against Whedon and Warner Bros.

12
'BLACK ADAM' (2023)

Dwayne Johnson bombastically hyped his passion project as the catalyst for change in the "hierarchy of the DCU". What he delivered was a weightless CGI punch-a-thon, shot with the same grimy visual Snyderverse style that Warner Bros. had desperately been trying to steer its cinematic universe away from. 'Black Adam' is full of slow-mo action and convoluted world-building that delivers more information than emotion because it has no characters that are worth emotionally investing in. The DCEU is renowned for its dumb needle drops, and Black Adam slaughtering a mercenary army to The Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" might just be the most obvious.

Instead of portraying Black Adam as a villain with a sympathetic backstory, as he is in the comics, director Jaume Collet-Serra goes the anti-hero route, giving him an arc similar to the T-800 in 'Terminator 2'. The film even pairs Adam with a young boy on a skateboard who, like Edward Furlong's John Connor before him, acts as the hulking man-bison's annoying guide to this new world. On top of this, we have a government-commanded super team named the Justice Society (why not use the Suicide Squad?), something called Eternium, the Crown of Sabbac, a criminal group named Intergang, redundant flashback scenes set in ancient Egypt, a Superman cameo and the Rock's bizarre insistence that his film not reference Black Adam's nemesis, Captain Marvel/Shazam.

'Black Adam' marked the Rock's first time as the anchor of a superhero film - a job that the actor's chiselled physique and commercial dominance would suggest was inevitable. Johnson even teased that bigger battles were on the horizon and stated that he envisioned himself as a potential "advisor" for DC Films. Not only was 'Black Adam' an excruciatingly lame, soulless movie, but it was the first embarrassing failure in the Rock's seemingly unstoppable film career.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Black Adam'.

11
'BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE' (2016)

When the Man of Steel is every bit as glum as the Dark Knight himself, what's the point in making them punch each other? Zack Snyder attempts to answer this question with an overblown superhero movie that features no less than five dream sequences and an extended homage to 'Eyes Wide Shut'. Chris Terrio's dreadful script crams in a CIA coverup, a discovered lump of Kryptonite, a downed UFO, the body of Michael Shannon's slain General Zod, glib echoes of real-world terrorism, Jesse Eisenberg's extremely annoying Lex Luthor, "Granny's Peach Tea", multiple Marthas and a big CGI blob named Doomsday.

Impossibly, the script also finds time for laying 'Justice League' groundwork, including shoehorned appearances by ageless Amazonian and future team player Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), as well as Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash. The film ends with the death of Superman, which causes the world to go into mourning. The problem is that, outside of a beautiful montage, Superman barely does anything superheroic between this and his introduction in 'Man of Steel'. What we needed was a 'Man of Steel 2' to establish his relationship with the people of Earth instead of rushing him into a life-and-death throwdown with Batman.

'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' was clearly torn between Warner Bros' intentions for it to be a big launching pad for the DECU and Zack Snyder's desire for it to be the second chapter in a planned five-film arc. For the majority of production, it was mostly under Snyder's control. Then Warner Bros. asked for 30 minutes to be cut out. Snyder's editing team, rushed for time, created a heavily flawed theatrical cut.

Snyder's 182-minute director's cut wasn't much of an improvement, but at least 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' looks fantastic - Superman descending from the heavens like a panel of Alex Ross art, while Batman gets to slip on the chunky armour from Frank Miller's seminal dystopian miniseries 'The Dark Knight Returns' and bust out some slick martial arts manoeuvres against Drazic from 'Heartbreak High'.

I almost walked out of this film after going to watch a day session in a nearly empty cinema – that's how loud and incoherent it was. It's the first time I have ever pulled out my phone to check my emails while watching a movie. I also laughed aloud, incredulously, at the chaos of the Doomsday battle. It's amusing to remember that Marvel turned the third Captain America movie ('Captain America: Civil War') into a Cap's gang versus Iron Man's gang story in order to better compete with the perceived threat posed by 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice'.

10
'AQUAMAN' (2018)

There are four credited writers on 'Aquaman' and it still has the roughest dialogue and exposition dumps of any DCEU film. Fuck, is this thing stupid.

Like Patty Jenkins' 'Wonder Woman', James Wan's 'Aquaman' is part superhero story, part mythological epic. But, while 'Wonder Woman' was populated with great characters, fun plot twists and an exciting story set in the middle of World War I, 'Aquaman' is all spectacle and no substance. Arthur Curry's story falls short in just about every possible way, although Jason Momoa shines whenever he's given something more to do than interrupt stuffy scenes with his stoner-bro shtick, usually by saying "awesome" and throwing up a shaka.

The plot plays out like a series of video game cutscenes, with Momoa and Amber Heard engaging in painfully unfunny, zero chemistry banter as they travel from Point A to Point B on an 'Indiana Jones'-lite quest to retrieve a magical trident. At least the action is eye-popping. No shaky cam or quick cuts here – every fight scene boasts a pleasingly long take, the camera drifting around the chaos like a serene drone, while laser beams shatter plaster walls and Nicole Kidman tears her enemies to pieces. One scene where our heroes dive into the water to follow a flare into the mutant-filled deep trenches of the ocean is gorgeous.

Elsewhere, there are underwater stormtroopers, villains speaking in evil voices and a giant sea monster voiced by Julie Andrews. I felt especially sorry for Patrick Wilson. Casting a guy who looks just like the comic book version of Aquaman as the film's villain was a clever inversion of nerd expectations, but then Wan lumps Wilson with lines like "call me... Ocean Master!" and "the Riiiiing of Fiiiiire!", which he has to deliver with a straight face.

I watched 'Aquaman' in Melbourne's CBD when I needed to kill some time indoors during a heat wave. Even with air conditioning and a bag of Maltesers, sitting through 2 hours and 20 minutes of 'Aquaman' was a real chore.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Aquaman'.

9
'WONDER WOMAN 1984' (2020)

'Wonder Woman 1984' only has three major action sequences. The rest of Patty Jenkins' film is largely comedic, reversing the roles Diana and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, who is shoehorned into this film via an insanely stupid plot contrivance) occupied in the first movie, with Steve now the strange traveller, reacting in wide-eyed wonder at the futuristic world of the '80s. It ultimately distracts from the real plot, which pits Diana against a business tycoon named Maxwell Lord (a wildly overacting Pedro Pascal) who is using an ancient artifact called the Dreamstone that grants anyone who touches it their dearest wish. This includes Kristen Wiig's newly superpowered Barbara Minerva, A.K.A. Cheetah, a nerdy co-worker of Diana who transforms into a rubbery CGI werewolf for a climactic fight scene that was so dimly lit I could barely discern what was happening.

What really drags this film down is the sloppy, misjudged screenplay. What does 'Wonder Woman 1984' have in common with 'Suicide Squad' and 'Aquaman'? Geoff Johns has a screenplay credit. 'Nuff said.

'Wonder Woman 1984' was released simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max, so I ended up watching it with my mum during a Christmas visit. At the one-hour mark, she looked at me with a pained expression and said: "Jake, is this supposed to be funny? This is bad."

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Wonder Woman 1984'.

8
'SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS' (2023)

When 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods' takes a few minutes to breathe and let the heroic family just be together, it's a lot of fun. However, for the majority of its running time, the film is a mess of half-formed ideas and smaller character conflicts that contribute very little to the story. Billy Batson's fear of losing his family is really only present when the plot demands it, as is the villainy of the Daughters of Atlas, who are ruthless one minute and misguided the next. The old-school Captain Marvel comics have so many colourful villains to draw from, I'm still not sure why screenwriter Henry Gayden felt the need to invent the Daughters.

We're used to these movies being designed to shepherd us into one big final fight, and that's fine, but returning director David F. Sandberg's craftsmanship this time is shaky, packed with narrative dead ends, and struggling to maintain its emotional focus. As if sensing the weakness of the material, Zachary Levi goes into overdrive, mugging away to an obnoxious degree that even Ryan Reynolds would be embarrassed by. Meanwhile, the set pieces often descend into a swamp of sludgy CGI. Even the post-credit scenes suffered due to the Rock forbidding the Justice Society from showing up.

It's a shame because the source material is so rich (we never get to see Venusian space worm Mr Mind in action) and Jack Dylan Grazer/Adam Brody as Freddy Freeman/Captain Marvel Jr (the character who inspired Elvis Presley's style) is still great.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Shazam! Fury of the Gods'.

7
'THE FLASH' (2023)

'The Flash' had a very long and painful road to the screen, with numerous director changes even as star Ezra Miller remained on board over the years. Then Miller faced his own personal issues that threatened the making and release of the film.

But Warner Bros. weathered the storm and eventually pushed the film out. Just before its release, Tom Cruise apparently called it "everything you want in a movie" and said "this is the kind of movie we need now", while James Gunn announced that 'The Flash' held the coveted position of being his favourite film of 2023 so far.

Were these Cruise and Gunn lying wildly in order to get as many bums on cinema seats as possible? Of course they were!

However, there is genuinely quite a bit to like about 'The Flash'. For starters, it has an ensemble cast who are undeniably great in their roles, particularly once Barry Allen finds himself in an alternate reality alongside a slightly younger version of himself (also played by Ezra Miller) and teams up with an aging Batman (Michael Keaton, donning the cowl for the first time since 1992's 'Batman Returns') and a young Kryptonian named Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl (Sasha Calle). The film has some moments of genuine soul and humour, too.

Unfortunately, a lot of other stuff bogs it down. 'The Flash' was in development hell for so long that the "multiverse" theme (basically parallel universes where different actors play familiar characters) has been done to death in films such as 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness' and 'Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse'. In fact, it was in development hell for so long that the TV series 'The Flash' on The CW ran for nine seasons and ended – its very first season was based on a rejected script for the film.

It’s impossible to escape the fact that a large part of 'The Flash' was re-shot after filming due to the sudden cancellation of the DCEU film series once James Gunn was appointed to head the studio (it was initially supposed to act as a reboot of sorts, introducing Keaton to the universe for a cancelled 'Batgirl' movie). The story feels cobbled together and the visuals are often spectacularly ugly – not only is the film overly-reliant on CGI, the SFX are the most unpolished and rubbery-looking in any modern DC film.

It’s a hot mess, but director Andy Muschietti should get a lot of credit for salvaging 'The Flash', finding moments of fun and preventing it from being an unmitigated disaster of 'Black Adam'-sized proportions.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'The Flash'.

6
'MAN OF STEEL' (2013)

'Man of Steel' jettisons a lot of Superman lore - there's no Lex Luthor, no Kryptonite, no glasses, no mild-mannered reporter, very little Daily Planet, and even less Metropolis. However, the movie is anything but minimalist – it's a fever dream of religious, military, and sexual imagery. One scene finds Henry Cavill framed with a stained-glass Jesus behind him. In another, he races around a Kryptonian spaceship seemingly designed by H.R. Giger, bioorganic vaginal doorways and all.

A lot of what works about 'Man of Steel' is in the epic imagination of the set pieces. The movie opens with Russell Crowe riding a giant dragonfly, which is a lot more attention-grabbing than a bored Marlon Brando intoning at crystals for 20 minutes. There is a 'Dragonball Z'-style intensity to the superhuman fights that didn't have any real precedent in superhero movies. It's a film every boy would have lost their mind over when he was in primary school, breathlessly relating to your friends over a Party Pie and carton of Oak chocolate milk, how Superman punched a bad guy so hard that he flew into space and destroyed a satellite. Cavill is well cast, too, even though he's mostly just required to pose.

As an adaptation of the comic books? Well, the tone is insanely wrong for Superman. Snyder pretty much does away with the whole secret-identity thing entirely, therefore jettisoning the cautious friendship-turned-romance between Clark and Lois Lane. This is a film where Pa Kent, to protect Clark's identity, commits suicide by walking into a tornado. Even more shockingly, Superman, after causing a huge amount of damage in Metropolis in his struggle against the Kryptonian invasion force, eventually snaps the neck of his nemesis, Zod. Superman doesn't kill. It's a fundamental aspect of his character. In most versions, Superman recognises how overwhelming his power is and how it makes everything around him fragile. And that understanding makes him gentle. Effectively denying Superman his defining traits, such as his complex relationship to humanity, robs the character of a lot of depth.

Snyder definitely made a Superman movie faithful to his own tastes and ideas. The tragic thing is that 'Man of Steel' isn't the worst DCEU movie – I watched it in a cinema when it was first released and found it quite enjoyable on its own terms. The film goes for grand, overwhelming spectacle, and it achieves that majesty more often than, say, 'Aquaman'. But in setting up a template for what would follow, it all but doomed DC's cinematic universe enterprise to failure. Warner Bros. panicked and tried too hard to address all of the criticisms that 'Man of Steel' received. For example, the movie's destruction is so wanton that a lot of later superhero movies, including Snyder's own 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice', included big plotlines about the collateral damage from super-fights. By trying to overcorrect the course of its film universe, Warner Bros. ensured that everything that followed felt tonally schizophrenic.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Man of Steel'.

5
'WONDER WOMAN' (2017)

As played by Gal Gadot, Diana Prince is both an eye-catching action hero - storming across trenches to attack machine gun nests, deflecting bullets with the literal flick of her wrists - and also an amusing fish out of water, plucked from a mythical island and deposited into a retro recreation of the early 20th century. Refreshingly, under the direction of Patty Jenkins, the camera rarely ogles Gadot.

The screenplay isn't original. From a tonal and storytelling perspective, it's a Marvel mash-up of the god-falls-to-Earth adventure of 'Thor' and the fight-the-Germans wartime exploits of 'Captain America: The First Avenger'. It feels almost old-fashioned in its themes of the goodness of humanity and the selflessness of one for the greater good. But the fact that it competently tells one story in linear order with logical progression counts for a lot in the DCEU.

It's easy to forget that 'Wonder Woman' was a cultural phenomenon - my memory of seeing this film in a cinema was that my girlfriend really enjoyed it. It reopened the door for superhero flicks that embraced diverse representation and weren't strictly about white dudes, like 'Aquaman', 'Black Panther', 'Captain Marvel' and 'Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings'.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Wonder Woman'.

4
'SHAZAM!' (2017)

David F. Sandberg crafted a family-friendly superhero film that riffed on the cheeriness of 'Big' and the darkness of 'Gremlins'. The film also doesn't shy away from the lackadaisical attitude a teenager would have towards being a superhero, and naturally young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who transforms into the adult Shazam (Zachary Levi) when he shouts "Shazam!" has to mature as a character.

It feels like bullying to criticise 'Shazam!' – it is breezy, forgettable fun that achieves what it sets out to do. You could point out that Angel and Levi's performances don't line up as the titular hero, who somehow becomes more childish in an adult body. Personally, I thought the biggest fault with 'Shazam!' lay with the villain, Dr Sivana (Mark Strong). In the original comics, he's a weird little scientist with a big head, whereas the film reimagines him as something much more boring, an identically-powered evil opposite number for the hero. It's a take I would extend to Sandberg's entire approach to his source material – the comic is very, very strange and the adaptations (aside from the post-credits scenes) play it way too safe.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Shazam!'.

3
'BLUE BEETLE' (2023)

'Blue Beetle', the live-action on-screen debut of the DC Comics character and Warner Bros.' first feature to centre on a Latino superhero, was originally intended as a streaming release for HBO Max before being promoted to theatrical. Despite being the lowest-budget DCEU film, it’s one of the best.

Recently graduated Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña) returns to his hometown of Palmera City to find his extended Mexican-American family in crisis. Jaime attempts to help out the family by taking a low-level job at a hotel that's part of the multinational Kord Industries conglomerate, but quickly meets Jenny (Bruna Marquezine) and runs into trouble in the form of Victoria Kord (Susan Sarandon) and her bionically enhanced henchman Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo).

Despite not looking as slick and expensive as, say, James Wan's 'Aquaman' or Zack Snyder's trilogy, 'Blue Beetle' is a better film for a few simple reasons: solid direction, good writing and an appealing cast of actors. The soundtrack is pretty great, too. Screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer ('Miss Bala') and director Angel Manuel Soto ('Charm City Kings', one of the film’s that disappeared during the recent streaming purge) have a firm handle on the DC Comics material - 'Blue Beetle' is like a family-friendly combination of Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang's 'The Guyver' and the animated series 'Invincible' on Amazon. Add to this a superlative cast led by 'Cobra Kai' standout Maridueña, who is backed by a supporting cast that includes the likes of Damián Alcázar, Adriana Barraza and Elpidia Carrillo, all of whom have insane amounts of chemistry as the Reyes family/superhero support team. Hell, it even has a score from Bobby Krill, the composer behind 'Midsummer' and 'Beau is Afraid'.

While the film was a box office bomb – superhero flicks having finally fallen out of favour with critics and audiences in 2023 – hopefully Xolo’s Blue Beetle will survive the death of the DCEU and make an appearance in James Gunn’s new universe.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Blue Beetle'.

2
'BIRDS OF PREY' (2020)

With the full title of 'Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn)', the film removes Harley (Margot Robbie) from her previous context as "the itch in (Joker's) crotch"/"a bad bitch" and puts her at the centre of the narrative, fleshing out the character into someone more relatable while maintaining her cartoonishness.

The violent caper plot of 'Birds of Prey' is basically a Guy Ritchie-style affair, gussied up by a pack of spirited performances and a handful of terrific, visually sparkling action sequences. It adds in Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett), and a bunch of other heroes, villains and plotlines to expand the DCEU's vision of Gotham City. There's an easy vibe to the entire ensemble once they all get together. It even has a worthy baddie - dressed in velvet suits and monogrammed gloves, Ewan McGregor is entertaining as Black Mask.

Unlike 'Suicide Squad', Robbie had a producer role on this film. She was able to exert heavy influence over the hiring of the film's director (Cathy Yan) and writer (Christina Hodson), which allows the film to demonstrate its feminist bona fides without making a huge deal out of it. 'Birds of Prey' is also very funny and full of running gags. Quite a few of them work - Harley's love affair with her favourite breakfast sandwich, for example.

Yan takes advantage of the film's U.S. R rating - the upbeat approach to violence lends 'Birds of Prey' something of an amoral edge, adding a demented twist to Harley's cheerful quips about pizza and tacos. The fights come courtesy of 'John Wick' franchise director Chad Stahelski, who supervised the film's action alongside his Wick fight coordinator, Jonathan Eusebio. A 'The Warriors'-inspired amusement park sequence, along with a glitter-bomb police station fight and a car-versus-roller-skates chase, adds up to some of the best pure action ever choreographed in the DCEU.

Unfortunately, the film never overcame the world-ending pandemic that overshadowed the box office, which also claimed the box office returns of 'The Suicide Squad'. It's a shame - I remember watching this at home during the COVID lockdown, getting to the scene where Harley gleefully breaks a dude's legs and realising that I was in good hands with Cathy Yan.

Click here to read our full theatrical review of 'Birds of Prey'.

1
'THE SUICIDE SQUAD' (2021)

James Gunn's semi-rebooted take on the Suicide Squad IP drew inspiration from classic war films and John Ostrander's 1980s Suicide Squad comics to tell a unique tale of kinship and conscience that knew when to act silly and when to deliver pathos.

Gunn excels in developing the dynamics of offbeat teams of characters. In this film, he has three, which almost feels like showing off. There are two squads of Task Force X cannon fodder, of course, but also Amanda Waller's staff back at headquarters, who observe and squabble about the action much like the control room crew in 'The Cabin in The Woods'. Like its characters - C-grade villains defined by past traumas that either didn't make the best life choices or were forced into a life of being bad - 'The Suicide Squad' is an eccentric and violent movie that isn't afraid of getting its hands dirty.

Of course, like 99% of DECU films, the action inevitably gets overwhelmed by CGI mayhem in the climactic set piece. However, Gunn's camera remains steady and his storytelling is coherent - there are no laser beams shooting into the sky or giants wearing horned helmets. Like 99% of DCEU films, this is a long movie. However, it doesn't feel like it - it is perfectly paced and full of jokes that are actually funny. Idris Elba's Bloodsport (replacing Will Smith's Deadshot), John Cena's Peacemaker (who received his own spin-off TV series), Sylvester Stallone's King Shark (mo-capped by Steve Agee), David Dastmalchian's Polka-Dot Man, and particularly Daniela Melcior's Ratcatcher 2 all stand out. Add to that some typically great work by Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, which sees her character continue her evolution from 'Suicide Squad' and 'Birds of Prey', making this film something of a trilogy for Harley.

As a massive fan of the Ostrander-penned comics from which this film draws inspiration, it is clear that Gunn did his homework. Everything about 'The Suicide Squad' feels as fresh and original as 'Suicide Squad' felt made-by-committee. It allows itself to have fun with these characters and their lore, with a looseness and freedom that gives way to a natural anarchic energy.

The surprisingly poor box office performance of 'The Suicide Squad' can partly be explained by the simultaneous release on HBO Max during the pandemic. It also had to combat the stigma of memory of David Ayer's horrible instalment. 'The Suicide Squad' isn't just the best DCEU film, it's also the best film of Gunn's career (yes, better than the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' trilogy) and one of the best superhero films, period. It's easy to see why Warner Bros. later tapped Gunn to lead DC's revitalised film, TV and animation efforts as co-chair and co-CEO of DC Studios.

Before Warner Bros. Discovery can continue banishing what's left of the Snyderverse to the Phantom Zone, they still have one last movie to unload: 'Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom' on the 26th of December.

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