Justice League (The 2017 Release) Review and the Tragic History of the DCEU: Part 1

by Paul Deeter

This is a review in three parts. The first review of Justice League's 2017 release will introduce Paul's blind viewing experience of the film. After watching the Snyder Cut, directly after the first one, the second review of Paul's will drop. Later this week Jason will be sharing his review of both films and an exploration of the DCEU.

2017 was a weird year for the DCEU. To be fair, the last five years have been overwhelmingly complicated for the series. Justice League came out in November of 2017, and smack dab in the middle of two of the more favorable DC releases, Wonder Woman earlier in 2017 and Aquaman at the end of 2018. With the ever successful releases from the MCU of Thor: Ragnarok by Taika Watiti in 2017 and Black Panther in 2018, MCU was on a roll post two Avengers features and Captain America: Civil War which was one of the most ambitious features from the franchise ever. MCU, to be fair, has always been on a roll. With almost no missteps critically and financially since the 2008 emergence of Iron Man, the DCEU had to majorly catch up after 2013's (underrated) Man of Steel reintroduced Superman in a performance from Henry Cavill. The direction of Zak Snyder who breathed a uniquely visual style in his films Watchmen and 300, made Man of Steel one of the most ambitious DC films since Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, and put the DCEU on the radar.

While Man of Steel met mixed reviews from critics, it actually was a very successful film financially. In fact it hyped up the old-school DC fans in such a way that people were feeling very hyped about the potential of sequels and exploration of other DC character's by Snyder. The themes of Man of Steel promised a darker universe from the DC comic series than the MCU. DC stands for Detective Comics, as originally established in the introduction of the original Superman releases and the original comic books in general. The idea of DC is and has mainly been the idea of a "darker" adversary of the MCU, and for a long time, there was only DC. Not to say that Marvel Comics didn't also arrive in 1939, to DC's 1937 introduction, but a lot of mass media including TV shows animated and live action, movies and other forms of popular media existed outside of the colored pages. Outside of TV shows, we would have only a couple of standalone Marvel films before the 90's including Howard the Duck. Yeah, not much competition there. But the DC offered Tim Burton's famous take on Batman, a fun series with Adam West, and then Christopher Nolan's hugely successful trilogy. The X-Men movies in 2001 and beyond were also very popular.

Then Jon Favreau came in and saved the day, with 2008's Iron Man. He introduced a trilogy of films starring Robert Downey Jr., some killer special effects and the promise for Marvel fans that things are going to get better. Then came Keven Feige, then Disney, then Fox went away and so on. So things changed. And year after year, Marvel owned the box offices and left the DCEU in the dirt so fast not even Barry Allen could keep up. I digress.

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel (2013)

When 2013 gave us Man of Steel, it gave us an uneasy idea of what might lie ahead. Would Snyder save the DC franchises by offering a darker universe than MCU. DC fans knew deep down, with a company that gave us The Killing Joke and other extremely subversive takes on the comic book genre, that the DCEU could eventually save the day like the MCU did. Villains like the Joker and Lex Luthor simply had too much damn potential to wipe the screens of Marvel's villains not to exist. Considering the lengths that the DCEU could go to get really dark, Marvel Comics was kid's stuff. Man of Steel establishes a peek into that direction, because it wasn't directed for kids. Sure it's a PG-13 film, but its darker themes of the God complex Kal-El faced, the genocidal outlook of General Zod and the deeply filtered tones red and blues by Snyder, simply worked. With the success of MoS Warner Bros. took on the DCEU. Then, nothing happened.

For three years, both Superman and Batman fans waited for the palate to be reset. There was the workings of Batman v Superman as early as 2013, directly post MoS with Snyder back in control, and then an announcement at Comic-Con in 2014. But after a 2015 release announcement was delayed, the film finally came out in 2016, a year that would also see Suicide Squad. The film that came out was a very stuffed release that visually and thematically matched the tone of MoS

but got very ahead of itself in its two and a half hour running length and the introduction of multiple characters and villains. While the film had the good graces of giving us Gal Gadot in her soon to be extremely successful Wonder Woman role, it also gave us the weirdly cast Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Note I say weirdly and not poorly, because I'm not a hundred percent sure I disapprove. It's a fun if odd maybe twenty minutes or ten percent of the film. It was also a complete bust critically, with an approval rating critically over under 30% and some Golden Raspberry nominations. Critics could not decide what even did work in the film's many choices, whether it be how long it was or how dark, the poor performances from Ben Affleck and Cavill, or it's many strange third act narrative choices. However, despite a cold critical response, the film broke box-office records and was well received from fans, proving there's still quite an audience unaffected by reviews flocking the big-screens today.

After 2016's extremely popular Suicide Squad release in August, the DCEU seemed to be on a roll. While credit can be given to Snyder, David Ayer's approach of humor and dark comedy also wooed audiences, along with the unique casting roles for big name actors like Mar