The End Of The DCEU Phase Zero

Marvel set up their cinematic universe in phases. The first phase was leading up to The Avengersthe financing deal the then-fledgling studio got would allow them to make The Avengers pretty much no matter what, although they had contingency plans in case the solo movies bombed (there had been talk of releasing the movie as an Iron Man sequel, for instance).

Since then the phases have been largely delineated by the Avengers movies, with the solo films swirling around and leading into the next team-up movie. It has, to put it mildly, worked. The planning has not been impeccable, but it has been strong enough so far to overcome director changes and the vagaries of public interest.

The DCEU (DC Extended Universe, what the fans call the DC Comics Movieverse) has not been so lucky. The DCEU has seemed like a cinematic encapsulation of the phrase “Man plans, God laughs.” Looking to compete with the MCU, DC’s parent company Warner Bros in 2014 announced an ambitious slate of superhero films… and the wheels started falling off almost immediately. Two of the films from that slate – Justice League, Part Two and Cyborg, are functionally gone. Another, The Flash, is supposedly happening, but has been plagued with the kind of director turnover that can only be attributable to the production office being built on a cursed burial ground. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was savaged by critics and came up short at the box office. Justice League was destroyed by critics and audiences, and was essentially a bomb, not only failing to crack the gold standard one billion dollars worldwide, but actually earning less than every previous DCEU film.

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JUSTICE LEAGUE: Crisis On Infinite Not Giving A Shits

I vividly recall watching Batman v Superman at a press screening. It was the first screening, a showing at the IMAX at Universal City Walk, and there were maybe nine of us in the audience. Twenty minutes into the movie I was ready to give up; the film was assaultive, obnoxious, almost physically painful to sit through. Watching in that environment felt like getting beat up. Going into Justice League I figured that if this film didn’t evoke a fight or flight response in me I would have to say that it was at least better than BvS.

And… it is. Yet at the same time Justice League offers us a new perspective on the disaster that was BvS, a new way of looking at that film. For all its flaws, for how bad it was, BvS was the work of an author. It was a movie with a point of view and a style, and even if I hated everything about that POV and everything about that style as presented, it at least had them. To quote a great thinker:

I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

Justice League has no ethos. It’s an empty, bland motion picture product without a personality or anything to make it feel special beyond the fact that it’s using different intellectual property than other comic book movies are using. It’s a dutiful exercise of corporate art in the service of advancing a larger franchise that the studio hopes will make money. The movie has no reason to exist, and I mean that from an internal, in-universe way.

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