This is the combined list of two of our film critics, Dashran Yohan and Samuel Lim.
To say that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has a had a checkered past would be a gross understatement. Since it’s inception in 2013, Warner Bros has been trying to play catch up Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Sure, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises was a rousing success and a proper send-off for Nolan’s groundbreaking Batman trilogy but it was no The Avengers. In a desperate bid to capitalize off the superhero trend, Warners started releasing mediocre film after mediocre film in an attempt to build a cinematic empirr\e. For a good while, we saw the DCEU as something of a joke with the occasional Wonder Woman punctuated between its failed run. Then, it happened. The DCEU became more open to experimentation. It had dropped its woeful attempts at dark, angsty melodrama and simply allowed its properties to speak for themselves.
We saw everything from underwater fantasias to kid-friendly family films to an R-rated exploration of society and mental health. Personally, we believe we’re now witnessing the comeback story of a floundering franchise! With the recent release of Birds of Prey, we figured that now to be a good a time as any to do a countdown of the DCEU’s entries. From the bottom of the barrel to its creme de la creme.
*We know Joker is perhaps technically not part of the DCEU. But seeing as how the DC movies, in general, is semi-rebooting and are moving in a different direction altogether, we thought we’d just include it in.
*Keep in mind, this list is the personal opinion of both our film critics.
9. Suicide Squad
Oh, David Ayer…how you’ve fallen from grace. Still in my heart, I will always remember you as the man behind 2012’s brilliant cop procedural End of Watch and for one of the greatest war films of the decade, Fury. Unfortunately these days, Ayer is more known for his involvement in the abysmally dull and cliche Suicide Squad. Holy dogshit on a stick, this film is bad. So bad that I wrote an entire piece to tell you how much this derivative dribble is the epitome of everything wrong with the DCEU.
For the sake of brevity, however, I’ll simply sum up why Suicide Squad tanked in the quality department: style over substance. Honestly calling the film’s corny one-liners and pathetic attempts at shooting an edgy music video “style” is being generous. If only Warner Bros spent more time working on creating functional team dynamics, an actual villain worth caring about and not butchering the character of Joker. Perhaps then, we’d have a good film. Instead, we get neon-coloured vomit.
8. Justice League
Despite its thin plot, mediocrely written characters and horrible CGI, Justice League is really fun! A lot of that has to do with the performances which are great all around. Forget Batman, Wonder Woman is the leader of the Justice League. Gal Gadot has such a powerful presence that even a huge Batman fan like myself thought, shut up Bruce! Listen to her. Ben Affleck may not have starred in the best Batman movies, but he is the best BATMAN/BRUCE WAYNE. Aquaman is officially the coolest effing superhero in the world. He has long hair, a great beard, drinks whiskey and walks into a tsunami. Occasionally, he surfs on Parademons and yells “yeeeehooo” before flipping his hair. He’s kinda ridiculous. It’s pretty much Jason Momoa being Jason Momoa. The rest of the league are embodied by highly charismatic individuals too — Henry Cavill, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher — all of whom turn this mess of a film into a schlocky summer fun flick.
7. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Believe or not, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice had a lot of potentials to be great. Batman and Superman are both titans of pop culture, representing varied and nuanced notions of justice. Superman representing the idea of noble deontology and Batman standing in for harsh, unforgiving consequentialism. It could have been a riveting battle between two dedicated individuals fighting for their own valid notions of morality. If they didn’t want to go for the high-minded route, they could have at least given us some good ole fashioned superhero boxing match fun.
Batman v. Superman somehow manages to combine the worst aspects of both of those approaches. A plot that is as incoherent as its tonal shifts between Luthor discussing the Greek Problem of Evil and him pissing in a jar and calling it “Granny’s Peach Tea”. Characters with muddled motivations who are contrived into facing off against each other in an underwhelming CGI melee. Some moments of fun fan service help salvage the film from becoming a complete dumpster fire but their effects are marginal.
6. Man of Steel
There’s a common misconception that Superman as a character is boring, that he needs to be altered, flipped, deconstructed or made evil to be interesting. I don’t believe that for a second. There is something genuinely refreshing about Superman’s unwavering belief in justice and peace that if handled properly could be really engaging, uplifting and entertaining. Zack Snyder and Warner Bros, however, did not feel the same way. 2013’s Man of Steel was definitely not a traditional take on the character but neither did it have anything meaningful to say about him either.
Henry Cavill did well enough with what was given to him but the way the role of Clark Kent was written is flawed and inconsistent. The action sequences were a mixed bag. Some of them were pretty exciting and fun. Other times, they are the textbook definition of “superhero fatigue”. I did appreciate Snyder trying to give us a modern and mature take on the character but Man of Steel should be seen as a lesson that cynicism doesn’t always equate to complexity.
Warner Bros might have just given us the perfect superhero film for Christmas! The premise for Shazam! Is just so bonkers and fun, you can’t really criticize it as absurd. It’s about an orphan who gets superpowers from a wizard and learns the true meaning of family. And that is ultimately what the film is about, family. How it shapes us into people we are, how it can make us do great and terrible things and how we get to define it. Watching Zachary Levi’s Billy Batson/ Shazam hang out his foster brother played by Jack Dylan Grazer made for a ton of laughs and though their dynamic isn’t exactly original, it’s still pretty heartwarming.
Admittedly, the weakest aspect of the film is the villains. Mark Strong as the spiteful runt of the Sivana family didn’t resonate with me as emotionally as it should have and the Seven Deadly Sins that hang around him never evolve beyond being his scary, CGI-rendered henchmen. Still, none of that really affected my viewing experience seeing that the real meat of the film revolved around Batson’s journey to find family.
Aquaman is a conventional fantasy film about kings and queens; brotherhoods, bastards and betrayals. It’s about love and bringing together two worlds of many races. It’s about a mother’s prophecy. And at the centre of it all, a regal reluctant hero whose destiny awaits. It’s the kinda movie where Rupert Gregson-Williams’ musical score swells as long-lost family members reunite after a very long time. Aquaman is about melancholic separations and grand reunions.
And it has lines that ring like poetry.
“Out there, the sea carries our tears away.”
“Not here. Here, you feel them.”
It’s also a movie where our hero and his equally heroic lover kiss in slow motion right before heading into battle and possibly their doom. And when done right, I’m a sucker for all of it.
3. Birds of Prey
If you’re planning to get drunk and buy a ticket in hopes to watch Harley Quinn’s trunk ride up her butt or Black Canary’s boobs bouncing in slow motion, this movie is not for you. Like, at all. You see, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is actually cool. And kickass. And a flipping good time at the movies. It’s bursting with personality and attitude and infinitely rewatchable. It’s sexy — oh, it’s really really sexy — but not in a ‘let’s give 14-year-old boys material to jack off to’ kind of way. It’s sexy the same way Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks beating the crap out of each other in a steel cage is sexy. It’s also everything David Ayer’ Suicide Squad should have been.
2. Wonder Woman
Far from the bland hypermasculine feminist tropes found in films the likes of Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman tells a poignant and compelling story of a woman’s love. And like the concept of love, the film expresses the character of Gal Gadot’s Diana through multiple facets. It’s seen from her naive belief in inherent human goodness to her fiery protest against fruitless warmongering to her determined ferocity in battle. It’s all brought to life by a powerhouse performance by Israeli actor Gal Gadot.
What truly sets Wonder Woman apart from its cinematic siblings though is its focus and cohesive narrative. Thankfully, there are no shoe-horned easter eggs or random cameos. Every second on-screen is used to develop Wonder Woman’s journey through moral ambiguity, her relationship with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and the crippling devastations of the Great War. Wonder Woman marks an all too important moment for the DCEU and its fans. It made us all hope again.
Joker is a wonderfully written, superbly crafted, unnerving and uncomfortable telling of a sad man. A broken man with a deeply tortured soul. A literal clown (he works at a company called ‘Hahas’) suffering from severe depression and who tries to justify — and perhaps understand — his mental instability by pointing towards the escalating volatility of Gotham City. A man who starts off wounded and progressively morphs into a delusional cold-blooded killer whose moral compass is vastly different from ours. A man we come to empathise with but rarely feel sympathy for. The broken man is brought to life by Joaquin Phoenix, who delivers a heartbreaking performance of staggering genius that anchors the whole film.