A Not So Valiant Effort

Bloodshot misses the mark. Although I’ve always been a huge superhero fan, even I never heard of Valiant Comics until maybe 5 years ago. You’d be surprised at just how many obscure comic book titles there are. Bloodshot was yet another futile attempt to launch a cinematic universe. Harbinger would’ve been the next installment, but nobody’s really asking for that. Bloodshot seemed like a badass anti-hero deserving of some media attention. Since I figured it would be bad, I only saw the movie out of obligation. I saw Bloodshot by myself, but it has the unfortunate honor of being the last movie I saw before the theater shutdown. The pandemic forced it onto streaming 2 weeks after release.

Despite fans clearly craving comic accuracy, Bloodshot is more Vin Diesel action flick than superhero movie. Although Bloodshot’s origin isn’t always consistent, he’s either mafia hitman Angelo Mortalli or covert operative Raymond Garrison. Diesel plays U.S. soldier Ray Garrison who loses his wife and his life to a mercenary. Bloodshot feels like a generic 90’s superhero movie with shady organization Rising Spirit Technologies led by Guy Pearce. KT is Ray’s sexy fellow soldier, Jimmy Dalton is a throwaway villain with a suit resembling X-O Manowar, and Wigans is an overly eccentric hacker.

RST manipulates Ray with false memories in order to eliminate enemies like one played by Toby Kebbell. In the comics, Bloodshot was infused with regenerating nanotechnology that gave him chalk white skin, red eyes, and a red spot on his chest. The movie keeps the overall ability, but the R rated story is watered down to a PG-13. Diesel doesn’t bother wearing a wig or looking like the character at all. Ray only looks like Bloodshot when he overexerts his power at the end. Bloodshot is more or less dead on arrival.

Bloodshot

Bloodshot vs. Jimmy Dalton

Born in Darkness

Spawn has the 90’s written all over it. It’s no secret that DC and Marvel are the reigning comic book companies. Comic creator Todd McFarlane got his start making edgy Spider-Man comics and bringing Venom to life. His style was so edgy that it led to the creation of the first creator-owned superhero company Image Comics. McFarlane had been developing Spawn ever since he was a teenager. Until his anti-hero became the hottest thing in the 90’s. Though I’m always wary of hell-raising superheroes, Spawn is a badass character with a prominent red cape, edgy spikes, chains, glowing green Necroplasmic eyes, and a Spider-Man inspired black costume. Spawn’s success led to toys, video games, a mature animated series, and a terrible 1997 movie that came out way too soon. I sometimes forget the film even exists, because of how unique it is.

Apart from being the only legitimate Image Comics movie, Spawn is the first movie starring an existing black superhero. I’d say that’s a big milestone, but Spawn suffers from the same problem as Steel (released 14 days later). Spawn has over-the-top performances, a dated 90’s soundtrack, horrifically bad CGI, little faithfulness to the source material, filler that distracts from the titular hero, and a baffling PG-13 rating. Only the makeup used on Spawn and his archenemy the Violator have any comic accuracy. Spawn mostly follows CIA operative Al Simmons’ origin of being betrayed by his boss and sent to Hell where a devil turns him into a Hellspawn with a variety of superpowers. Michael Jai White tries his best, but it’s difficult to get excited when his face is always horribly disfigured. Aside from his wife Wanda and daughter Cyan, fellow CIA agent Terry and his killer are both race changed to be white instead of black.

His killer is now a sexy female assassin named Jessica Priest. Martin Sheen plays his overly evil boss Jason Wynn with plans of destroying the world with a deadly bioweapon or something like that. It doesn’t stand out nearly as much as John Leguizamo mugging the camera as the overweight blue-faced clown Violator. We all know how much Michael Jai White hates clowns. This was unfortunately Nicol Williamson’s final role as Spawn’s mentor Cogliostro, but it’s not too insulting. Although they try to recapture McFarlane’s unique art style, the devil Malebolgia, Hell, Violator’s demonic form, and Spawn’s cape are all awful special effects. Until MacFarlane’s reboot escapes development hell, Spawn remains one of the worst superhero movies of the 90’s.

Spawn

Spawn broods

Tra-La-Laaa!

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is packed with action, thrills, and laffs! Although I was 22 at the time, Captain Underpants was something I had to watch in theaters. Unlike the previous DreamWorks Animation movie starring an underwear clad hero released in 2017, I already knew what to expect from Captain Underpants. I’ve been reading Dav Pilkey’s epic novels since middle school. I mostly ignored them in elementary school, but I found them hilarious and relatable when I gave them a chance. Like the main characters, I myself created my own superhero comics at a young age. Knowing they were making a movie was both unexpected and overdue. DreamWorks made The First Epic Movie cheap, but very faithful to the books.

The cartoony drawings are nicely computer animated and the potty humor is very much intact. Your enjoyment of the movie depends on how you feel about the source material. The cast of comedians is fitting, but not at all what I imagined. The adult Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch voice 4th graders George Beard and Harold Hutchins. George is the kid with the tie and the flat top and Harold is the one with the t-shirt and the bad haircut (remember that now). Like the books, they’re best friends who love pranks and making comics at Treehouse Comix Inc. Their crude comics are recreated with fun traditional animation and the “Flip-O-Rama” is even used in a graphic action scene. Ed Helms is a mean, but surprisingly sympathetic principal Mr. Krupp. A romantic subplot is added to humanize him a bit more.

Like the book, Krupp is hypnotized into thinking he’s the greatest superhero of all time! Although Captain Underpants steals the show as a dimwitted superhero, the friendship between George & Harold is the heart of the movie. They hilariously try to keep their principal out of trouble, but a classic villain gets in the way. Unlike his starring book, Professor Poopypants plots to eliminate all laughter. Nick Kroll voices a mean villain, but Jordan Peele voicing the nerdy tattletail Melvin Sneedly is more unexpected. Laughter saves the day and Captain Underpants gains powers in the process. Ending with terrible talking toilets and an appropriate song from Weird Al Yankovic. Captain Underpants will win over the young and the young at heart. “Tra-la-laaa!”

33. Captain Underpants

George and Harold laugh at Captain Underpants

Life is Good, but it Can Be Better

Wonder Woman 1984 is heartbreaking. I really wish the DC Extended Universe would get their act together, because I don’t know how many times I can be disappointed. Wonder Woman isn’t flawless, but it is the first DCEU movie I genuinely loved all the way through. The Amazing Amazon was finally given a film that both honored her history and made her a role model worth cheering for. Of course I was excited to see a sequel. Even after Warner Bros. continued mishandling their heroes in Justice League, Wonder Woman remained untarnished. Patty Jenkins returned to direct and Gal Gadot made the sequel her fourth portrayal of the iconic heroine. Setting the movie in 1984 made sense considering Diana’s immortality and the fact that 80’s nostalgia is still a thing.

Trailers made Wonder Woman 1984 look brighter and more optimistic. I was definitely excited to see the movie until the pandemic struck. Although it should’ve come out November or December 2019 like originally planned, Warner Bros. foolishly moved it to June 2020. It was frustrating to see all the theaters close and even more frustrating to slowly lose excitement for something I really wanted to see. Like most tentpole releases, WW84 was moved from August to October 2020. When Tenet failed to attract viewers, Warner Bros. sort of panicked and gave the movie a final release date of Christmas day 2020. Both in theaters and on HBO Max at no charge. Since I absolutely need to see a superhero movie on the big screen, I made seeing it a present for my family. I tried very hard to love Wonder Woman 1984, but I needed to stop lying to myself…

19. Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman runs through DC

Wonder Woman 1984 is yet another superhero sequel with an undeniable drop in quality. No matter how hard Rotten Tomatoes tried to convince you otherwise. I’ve never seen a movie go from 90% to 59% in a matter of weeks. It got so bad that Rotten Tomatoes had to change its critical consensus from glowing to lukewarm at best. I can’t say that I saw too many warning signs on the surface. Gal Gadot was still the ideal Princess of Themyscira after her performance won me over, but DC continued to cast the most unlikely actors to play their biggest characters. Well known comedian Kristen Wiig is the last person I’d expect to play Wonder Woman’s archenemy Cheetah. Wonder Woman has a colorful rogues gallery, but Cheetah is the villain I always wanted to see the Amazing Amazon go up against. I just never knew much about her comic book history or origin. Regardless, it was encouraging to know she’d be making her theatrical debut in the movie.

It was confusing, but I was just as happy to know Chris Pine would return as Steve Trevor despite dying at the end of Wonder Woman. WW84 is technically the first direct sequel in the DCEU. Batman v Superman doesn’t count as a Man of Steel sequel since the Dark Knight gets just as much attention. Birds of Prey doesn’t count as a Suicide Squad sequel since it’s more of a Harley Quinn spin-off. WW84 has no other DC superheroes or references to other films. I continued to believe in Patty Jenkins as a director, but now I think she’s part of the problem. Although she had a perfect understanding of Wonder Woman in her first movie, WW84 feels like she got way too much creative control with no one questioning her decisions. Starting with an agonizingly slow 2 hour & 31 minute runtime. There’s no reason why it had to be that long. I was happy to be in a movie theater again, but even I have my limits.

Wonder Woman 1984 begins promisingly enough with a flashback dedicated to part of Diana’s origin that was missing in the first movie. In the original Golden Age comics, Diana secretly performs in an Amazonian competition on Paradise Island to determine who brings Steve Trevor back to “Man’s World.” Diana wins the competition and her mother Queen Hippolyta reluctantly accepts her as champion. Since the competition would’ve slowed things down, WW84 makes it part of Diana’s childhood. I suppose Gadot’s cheesy narration should’ve been the first warning sign, but it was just nice to see the beautiful island of Themyscira again. It’s the only time we see Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright reprise their respective roles as Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope in the entire movie. Young Diana participates in the athletic event that includes a giant obstacle course, horseback riding, and javelin throwing.

She’s knocked off her horse and cheats by taking a shortcut. Her Aunt Antiope hammers in the film’s message about always telling the truth and her mother does the same with a not so subtle reference to another Amazon warrior. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with the flashback, but it is 11 minutes longer than it needs to be. The tone shifts considerably when we enter 1984. Thanks to movies and/or shows like Stranger Things, 80’s nostalgia is practically inescapable. If Wonder Woman is like Captain America: The First Avenger, then WW84 is like The Winter Soldier. But only for its American setting in Washington, DC. The 1984 opening scene is more like Superman III. It’s overly comical and sees the titular hero save several civilians at once. The entire sequence screams 1980’s with bright colors, questionable fashion, aerobics, and a mall as the first action set piece.

Every background performance either sounds off or is overexaggerated to the point of unbelievability. A gang of criminals trying to rob the mall is so over-the-top that it feels like a Joel Schumacher Batman movie. Most problems can be found in Wonder Woman’s first fight scene. Diana makes her grand entrance in the already perfect Wonder Woman costume. The red & blue colors are a bit brighter, but the only real difference is her 80’s hairdo. It was suddenly clear that Diana wasn’t going to use her sword or shield in any fight scene. I knew I was in trouble when Diana said “I hate guns” out of nowhere. Patty Jenkins was so certain that a hero who fights for love wouldn’t use harsh weapons or kill people. Some fights come to a screeching halt just so Diana can clarify no one will get hurt. Not that Zack Snyder ever got the memo. So Wonder Woman finally uses her tiara as a boomerang and only occasionally uses her indestructible bracelets.

It’s really her Lasso of Truth that she turns into an all purpose superweapon capable of swinging, catching bullets, deflecting objects, and even flying through the air. It’s almost never used as a straightforward lie detector, but it is shown to also reveal the truth to people. Wonder Woman knocking a criminal into an oversized drum, holding a criminal by the leg after flipping him, and throwing a child into a giant teddy bear while winking is the corniest thing I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. I hope you liked it, because those 3 minutes are all we see of Wonder Woman for well over an hour! It’s almost like Patty Jenkins forgot this was a superhero movie and decided to make a romantic comedy in the meantime. I loved Gal Gadot as a wide-eyed optimist capable of great heroism, but the material she’s given really makes me question her performance.

Since World War I, Diana Prince became quite the wet blanket. She doesn’t go out with friends, date, or even own a TV. Her life can be seen in photos of her old war buddies, an elderly Etta Candy, and the watch Steve gave her. Steve Trevor is practically all Diana can think about half the time. She now works at the Smithsonian Museum where Diana encounters Barbara Ann Minerva. In the comics, Cheetah is three women and one man. Priscilla Rich is an ordinary human debutante with a split personality who grows jealous of Wonder Woman. Deborah Domaine is the equally human niece of Priscilla who befriends Wonder Woman, but ultimately takes on her aunt’s mantle. No one talks about Sebastian Ballesteros, so Barbara Ann Minerva became the definitive Cheetah. Unlike her predecessors, Dr. Minerva was an archeologist granted the appearance and powers of a superhuman cheetah by the god Urzkartaga.

Kristen Wiig is surprisingly fitting as a mixture of each Cheetah, but Barbara is literally every bespectacled nerd who feels invisible cliché. WW84 is almost exactly like Batman Returns with a less than confident woman gaining confidence by becoming a cat, and a shrewd businessman as the antagonists. Pedro Pascal comes full circle after his role in the failed 2011 Wonder Woman pilot. Maxwell Lord is a shrewd, but powerful businessman responsible for the formation of the Justice League in the 80’s. He’s had many appearances in animation, Smallville, and Supergirl. Jay Baruchel was meant to play Lord in Justice League: Mortal before the film was cancelled. So Max Lord made his cinematic debut in WW84 instead. I’m happy Pascal is getting a career boost, but there’s no reason to make him Latin or give him so much endless attention.

Maxwell Lord is an oil tycoon who does TV infomercials with the catchphrase, “Life is good, but it can be better.” He’s meant to represent Gordon Gekko, but modeling him after Donald Trump really makes me question critics who praised the film’s “escapist qualities.” I couldn’t care less about Lord’s crappy working environment, endless boring business discussions, or the fact that he has a son to make proud. It’s in the comics, but that doesn’t mean half the movie needs to be dedicated to it. Cheetah is practically sidelined in the process. A lot of time is spent on Diana befriending the nerdy Barbara who wants to be just like her. The movie also has a ton of catcalling that never feels natural. Diana saves Barbara from a creep without revealing her identity. At work, they both try to identify this movie’s McGuffin. A Dreamstone created by the Duke of Deception.

Wish fulfilment feels like a serious cop out when it can be used to explain Cheetah’s powers, Maxwell Lord’s telepathic percussion, or the sudden appearance of Steve Trevor. Barbara makes a wish to be just like Diana and ends up looking hotter in the process. She also gains the unintended side effects of Wonder Woman’s super strength that she uses in a random aerobics session. Lord steals the stone after seducing Barbara and wishes to become the Dreamstone itself. His comic accurate power of percussion ends up feeling more ridiculous with every wish he grants. Lord has to touch a person, but grows weaker after taking something in return. Before Lord became the stone, Diana wished to have Steve back. He does return at a gala, but it’s done in the most unnecessary way imaginable. Rather than have Steve Trevor appear out of thin air, Patty Jenkins thought it made sense to have Steve possess the body of a guy literally credited as “Handsome Man.”

Diana & Steve lovingly embrace, then proceed to use his body like a sex doll. No DCEU movie can ever seem to escape controversy of some kind. Chris Pine is still perfectly likeable as Trevor, but making him the new “fish out of water” goes on forever. Steve has an 80’s clothing montage, visits the Air and Space museum, sees airplanes, subways, and appreciates art. Didn’t this movie used to have a superhero in it? Things finally get back on track when Diana & Steve investigate the origin of the stone. Learning that every wish comes with a trick. Diana scolds Barbara for giving the stone to Lord and she grows resentful of having her wish taken away. Wiig is surprisingly convincing when she eventually turns evil. She beats up the creep who harassed her and fashions herself a cheetah print outfit.

Diana feels the effects of the stone when her powers diminish, but she still helps Steve fly to Egypt to confront Lord. Another ridiculously implausible scene is Steve & Diana using a plane that’s been sitting in a museum. Nevermind that it’s both full of gas and easy for a WWI pilot to fly. When Diana remembers radar tracking, she randomly gains the ability to turn things invisible like her father Zeus did for Themyscira. I can’t complain too much, because it finally gives Wonder Woman her iconic Invisible Jet. In the comics, the plane made up for Diana’s lack of flight capabilities. It’s a magical moment with Steve & Diana seeing fireworks on the Fourth of July, but it doesn’t feel earned after so many moments with the couple. Lord gains more oil from the ruler of Bialya. Even more time is dedicated to Arabian politics I couldn’t bother to understand.

Diana is drawn to his wish and finally suits up again at the 1 hour & 21 minute mark. If taking this long to see Wonder Woman again was supposed to be a recreation of the brilliant “No Man’s Land” scene, then they failed miserably. Not even with Han Zimmer’s infectious score. Still, it’s enough just to see Wonder Woman flip tanks even if her powers are slowing her down. The Israeli Gal Gadot saving Muslim children as Wonder Woman can’t be a coincidence. Lord gets away, but his power only gets worse until the whole world descends into chaos. I officially checked out when Lord meets the President resembling Ronald Reagan. Lord takes the President’s power in exchange for Cold War missiles that can destroy the world any second. More baffling is Lord interpreting the President’s global satellite broadcasting system as a metaphor for touching everyone on Earth. He plans to use the remaining wishes to make himself healthier.

Wonder Woman’s third fight scene at the White House is probably her best action set piece by default. Her Lasso comes in handy, but Steve being told not to kill doesn’t make things easy. Even though he could easily make a wish from Lord after handcuffing him. Barbara showing up in her Cheetah outfit is their best confrontation in the movie. Wonder Woman does her best, but she’s too weak to defeat her former friend. It’s clear that Diana has to renounce her wish after a tearful goodbye where she vows never to love again. Wonder Woman achieves flight by launching her Lasso into the air and floating on the clouds like Peter Pan. There’s no reason to question anything at this point. Diana returns home where she dons the golden armor worn by the bravest Amazon warrior in history.

In the comics, the gold armor was worn by Wonder Woman in the Kingdom Come storyline. I immediately recognized the golden eagle-like wingsuit, but that doesn’t mean it translates well to film. I think she only wears the costume to show less skin in the climax. Diana flies to the satellite base where she’s confronted by Cheetah after Barbara wishes to be an apex predator. The final Cheetah design leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than use makeup, Wiig’s fur is entirely awkward CGI that’s far too similar to Cats. Their fight is equally uninspired with Cheetah clawing Wonder Woman’s armor and their second confrontation ending after she’s electrocuted. It’s the last physical fight since Lord has to be taken down with words. SPOILER ALERT! Diana uses her Lasso on Lord to tell the world that all their wishes are inherently selfish and they should all be renounced.

Nevermind people who might wish for sick relatives to be healed or world peace. Lord’s past is also revealed at the last possible second with him becoming way too sympathetic after everything he’s done. Hugging his son is literally the last we see of him. The final scene set during Christmas is so sappy it feels like something on Hallmark. Diana finally experiences the world and talks to “Handsome Man” before soaring through the skies again. The mid-credits scene is just as cheesy, but at least it features a cameo that was a long time coming. The gold armor wearing Amazon Asteria is none other than former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter. WW84 nearly ruined my Christmas, but at least theaters were finally opening up again. I just hope the third installment learns from the sequel’s glaring mistakes. Wonder Woman 1984 is truthfully a disappointing step backwards for the Amazon.

20. Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman in gold armor

Preceded by: Wonder Woman

Gotham City Sirens

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is Birds of Prey in name only. Along with a ridiculous overlong subtitle that should’ve been a warning sign from the beginning. Part of me will always be annoyed with the direction of the DC Extended Universe, but I’ve always been on board with each movie that was announced. Birds of Prey sounded like a step backwards. Suicide Squad is arguably the worst film in the DCEU. One of its few redeeming qualities was casting Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Joker may have been a hit the previous year, but I never asked for an R rated Harley Quinn solo movie. Yet Robbie was so attached to the Batman villain, that she produced Birds of Prey herself. The first problem is the title.

In the comics, the Birds of Prey are an all-female team from Gotham City. The team has always been known for including Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, and Lady Blackhawk as team members. Their 1996 debut led to a short-lived 2002-2003 TV series, but they haven’t made many appearances outside of an Arrow episode. Birds of Prey is clearly a Harley Quinn movie since she was never part of the team in the comics. A Gotham City Sirens movie would’ve made more sense. Cathy Yan was chosen to direct despite having only one movie under her belt. The production design didn’t inspire confidence, the R rating felt unnecessary, and Yan saying the movie would “smash the patriarchy” made me nervous. I’m glad Birds of Prey was released at the beginning of 2020, because the movie bombing at the box-office speaks for itself…

17. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was a financial failure for several reasons. There was no reason why the movie had to be R rated. If the target audience was supposed to be teenage girls or younger, then that part of their demographic wouldn’t have been able to see it. The PG-13 MCU isn’t gonna suddenly have an R rated movie that half their audience will miss out on. Birds of Prey is the only DCEU movie I didn’t see with my parents. As much as I enjoy Deadpool, I wish studios would stop thinking that’s enough to make a successful superhero movie. Christina Hodson’s script is so wannabe Deadpool without being clever. The violence is jarring and characters drop the F bomb every other sentence. To put things in perspective, Joker is a 2 hour & 2 minute movie with 25 F bombs. Birds of Prey is a 1 hour & 49 minute movie with 78 F bombs.

The surprisingly short runtime is one of the few highlights for me. The only thing missing is nudity. Which is weird considering Harley Quinn’s promiscuous nature. The rating is one thing, but I really have a problem with the costume design. Rather than wear her trademark red & black jester outfit or even her more provocative Suicide Squad costume that was at least red & blue, Harley wears a bizarre mishmash of colors. There’s her generic t-shirt and short shorts with pom-poms look and a diamond jumpsuit that’s pink & gold for some reason. It’s so inaccurate to the comics that it feels like a joke. Suicide Squad may have had overly edgy costumes, but at least they tried to look like the comics. Yan was given way too much creative control if Warner Bros. seriously thought fans wanted to see a 2020 superhero movie that looks nothing like the source material.

The movie is essentially Harley Quinn and maybe 30 minutes of Birds of Prey if you’re lucky. Ever since her Batman: The Animated Series debut, Harley Quinn was crazy fun to watch, with an infectious sense of humor, sexy jester outfit, and surprisingly mature abusive relationship with the Joker. I understand her becoming a fan favorite, but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand giving her so much attention. In the 28 years since her first appearance, Harley has appeared in almost every Batman related animated series, several animated movies, and a TV-MA animated streaming series based on her New 52 solo comics. She’s had many voice actresses throughout the years, but Arleen Sorkin has the definitive Brooklyn accent. Before Margot Robbie, Mia Sara and a stand-in voiced by Tara Strong were the only live-action portrayals of such a cartoony character.

Harley’s boost in popularity is mostly thanks to her joining the Suicide Squad in the New 52. Having Harley break up with the Joker is fine, but it doesn’t really work without Poison Ivy. Birds of Prey feels kind of pointless and lackadaisical, but I can’t say that it’s the worst thing in the DCEU. Not that I’ll ever understand how it got a 79% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not a personal disappointment like Batman v Superman or a disjointed cringefest like Suicide Squad, but bored indifference isn’t something I want to feel for a superhero movie. I only watched it once in theaters and never bothered to rewatch it until very recently. Birds of Prey takes place 4 years after Suicide Squad, but it’s barely a sequel since the Joker doesn’t even appear. Jared Leto was such a bad Joker that I don’t blame them for avoiding a cameo. Still, it doesn’t make sense to have such a crucial part of the story happen entirely off-screen.

Animation is used to depict Harleen Quinzel’s mostly faithful origin story. How she was abandoned by her father, sent to a Catholic orphanage, became a psychiatrist, and fell madly in love with Mr. J. Even the animated Joker doesn’t look like Leto. When she breaks up with her puddin, Harley is thrown out on the streets of Gotham City. By my calculations, that’s approximately 14 times Gotham has been depicted on the big screen. With the exception of cutting her pigtails short, the only other comic accuracy is Harley joining a roller derby team, having a stuffed beaver, and getting a pet hyena named after Bruce Wayne. Apart from a Captain Boomerang wanted poster, Batman doesn’t make an appearance either. Harley makes a public statement about her emancipation from the Joker by blowing up the Ace Chemicals plant. Something that puts a target on her back. The plot is so thin that Harley is almost always seen in average situations like ordering a breakfast sandwich that’s given way more attention than it should.

She uses playful narration accompanied by Suicide Squad style visual stats to string together a random collection of women with practically nothing in common. Their only connection is the Batman villain Black Mask. A low level crime boss I never expected to see as the main antagonist in any movie. I never knew much about Black Mask apart from the black skull mask he wears at all times. In the comics, Roman Sionis forms the False Face Society, runs Janus Cosmetics, and is a much more intense villain who is fond of torture. The torture part works for the R rating, but cutting people’s faces off or forcing a woman to strip crosses the line. More attention is also given to him running a nightclub more like the Penguin. I’m happy Ewan McGregor is getting a career resurgence, but his Black Mask portrayal sucks. Roman Sionis is seriously over exaggerated, profane, ambiguously flamboyant, randomly sadistic, and never wears the black mask until the climax. He’s the poor man’s Joker.

Chris Messina plays his right-hand Victor Zsasz. Another Batman villain given way more attention than you’d expect. Cutting tally marks into his skin after every kill is also appropriate for an R rating, but it barely comes up in the movie. Since the DCEU can’t go one movie without a McGuffin, a diamond connects everyone as well. The Birds of Prey now includes Huntress, Black Canary, Renee Montoya, and Cassandra Cain. Barbara Gordon is nowhere to be seen as Batgirl or Oracle. Renee Montoya is similar to Harley Quinn for being a character created for Batman: The Animated Series. She’s just an ordinary hispanic Gotham City police officer revealed to be lesbian in the comics. Although she became the second Question in 2007, most of her history is as an officer. So I have no idea why Montoya is given so much attention in the movie. Rosie Perez feels like the odd woman out in a team like this.

Montoya builds a case against Sionas while investigating the recent Crossbow Killer. All the guys at GCPD push her to leave the force. Her sexuality is clumsily inserted in the movie with Harley’s narration saying a district attorney is her ex-girlfriend. Montoya crosses paths with Harley several times in an attempt to bring her in. Unlike the rest of the cast, Black Canary is seriously miscast. Her name is taken a little too literally with the African American Jurnee Smollett playing Dinah Lance. The co-star in a Harley Quinn movie is not how I wanted to see Black Canary make her cinematic debut. Black Canary has a complicated history, but a lengthy one that saw her as a member of the Justice Society and the primary love interest for Green Arrow. She’s always depicted in a sexy leather jacket & fishnet ensemble. The only confusing thing about her is there being two different Black Canary’s named Dinah Drake and Dinah Laurel Lance.

She appeared on Birds of Prey and Smallville, but her biggest claim to fame is Arrow. Katie Cassidy, Caity Lotz, and Juliana Harkavy never worked on their own, but together they created a convincing whole. Smollett’s Canary is barely recognizable as a lounge singer who wears mostly gold. Her trademark metahuman “Canary Cry” is vaguely mentioned by Montoya as a power belonging to her mother. Dinah crosses paths with Harley at the Sionas nightclub where her fight with sexual predators earns her a job as Sionas’ new chauffeur. Her job is to ensure the diamond gets to Roman. Until it’s stolen by Cassandra Cain. No character is more botched than their portrayal of a mute martial arts expert who can read body language. She’s still Asian, but Ella Jay Basco is an obnoxious kid with a cast who pickpockets people. I wish she was mute, because this Cassandra is a seriously annoying substitute for Russell from Deadpool 2.

She pickpockets the diamond from Zsasz and ends up swallowing it for the rest of the movie. Any attempt to get it out is just disgusting to think about. Dinah already knows Cassandra from her building and involves Montoya after she gets arrested. Harley becomes involved when she offers to get the diamond back after Sionas abducts her. But not before an extremely random recreation of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” with Harley as Marilyn Monroe. The only part of the movie that received consistent praise was the action. It’s fun to see Harley infiltrate the GCPD with beanbag cannons, using her baseball bat, dynamite, and roller skates in a car chase, but that doesn’t automatically make it John Wickian. A coke-fueled Harley apprehends Cassandra, only to grow soft during a brief mostly off-screen bonding session. Cassandra having no clue who the Joker is, is another minor annoyance. The only decent guy in the movie betrays Harley and she betrays Cassandra not long after they bonded.

The final bird of prey is Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress, known to the public as the Crossbow Killer. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is surprisingly inspired casting considering her long history in comic book related superhero movie roles. Bertinelli’s violent origin as the lone survivor of a mob family massacre remains intact, and so does her training to become an assassin at a young age. Unfortunately, the movie still finds a way to ruin her edge by turning her trauma and angry outbursts into a joke. Huntress hunts all the men responsible for her family’s death, but stops after killing Zsasz. All the women converge in a climax set at an amusement park. Harley convinces them to work together when Black Mask leads the False Face Society against them. Since the team comes together at the last possible second, none of them have any natural chemistry.

Harley uses her oversized hammer and the rest of them use her leftover gag weapons. They fight off the men and Black Canary uses her “Canary Cry” once in the entire movie. Huntress gives Harley a lift when Cassandra is taken. They face off at a foggy dock where Harley starts to believe in her own abilities. Sionas is killed in a graphic explosion and the women casually eat at a diner afterwards. Harley steals their car and rides off with Cassandra when the diamond comes out. It’s only briefly through narration that Huntress, Black Canary, and Montoya call themselves Birds of Prey while wearing vaguely comic accurate costumes. The title is even more pointless since Harley doesn’t even join the team. No wonder they changed the name to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey after it bombed. There’s no reason to stay after-credits since it’s just Harley saying something about Batman that gets cut off. In the end, nothing new is learned and the entire movie is practically meaningless. Birds of Prey should have never been made like all of DC’s other failed projects.

18. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Harley Quinn takes aim

Preceded by: Suicide Squad & Followed by: The Suicide Squad

Send in the Clowns

Joker put a spotlight on the Clown Prince of Crime. For better or worse, Joker exceeded expectations in the process. I don’t think I’m too far off in saying the Joker is the greatest supervillain of all time. The psychotic criminal clown is the perfect archenemy for the brooding Dark Knight. Although I always root for the hero, I can’t deny how entertaining the Joker is in every incarnation of his 8 decade history. He’s been the most famous evil clown in history, ever since his 1940 debut in Batman #1. He was supposed to be killed off, but the Joker’s popularity endured him as Batman’s greatest enemy. It’s ironic that Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson couldn’t agree on who created the Joker.

Since he’s never had a definitive origin. Its always been part of the intrigue to think someone could be so psychotic with virtually no explanation. Part of the reason why I was against a Joker origin story. Even if it was separate from the inconsistent DCEU, I wasn’t especially crazy about the supervillain solo movie trend that started with Venom. The first trailer wasn’t at all what I was expecting and the R rating made Joker seem more like a thriller than a simple comic book movie. I was still on the fence about a Batman movie without Batman, but I guess it worked for Gotham on TV. Despite an unnecessary amount of controversy and a laughably low 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, Joker rightfully became the first DC movie nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards…

15. Joker

Arthur Fleck becomes Joker

Joker is a character study that shouldn’t work as well as it does. Which is why comic books deserve way more credit for introducing such complex individuals. The Joker was always meant to be a crazy, but intelligent serial killer hidden under a permanent grin and clown motif. His most iconic look has always consisted of chalk white skin, green hair, a red smile, and a purple suit. Although he’s never had a definitive name or origin, the Red Hood falling into a vat of Ace chemicals tends to be the favorite. The Joker maintained his violent tendencies throughout the Golden Age, but the Silver Age turned him into a prankster with goofy gag weapons. Most kid friendly interpretations tend to lean on the clown’s silly side. It wasn’t until the Bronze Age that the Clown Prince of Crime got his edge back.

The Joker has had a profound impact on Batman’s life ever since. From killing Jason Todd (Robin) in “A Death in the Family” to paralyzing Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Not to mention his disturbingly unhinged portrayal in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. I’m not a fan of the more sadistic Joker in recent comics, but it is fascinating to think about the many ways you can interpret one character. Joker actors have always brought something new to the man who laughs. Cesar Romero was a creative colorful comedian perfect for Adam West’s Batman. Jack Nicholson was already an Oscar winning actor who practically stole the show as his darkly comedic version from Tim Burton’s Batman. The 1989 movie made use of his chemical toxin origin, controversially made him the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and gave him the name Jack Napier.

Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill, is arguably the greatest Joker who debuted in Batman: The Animated Series on top of several animated movies and video games. Heath Ledger was on a whole other level as the most grounded Joker to date in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He’s my personal favorite portrayal in a performance that more than earned an Oscar after his untimely death. Oscar winner Jared Leto sounded like a good idea for the DCEU’s Suicide Squad, but his overly edgy gangster Joker is laughable for all the wrong reasons. Turns out Joaquin Phoenix wanted to do a low-budget DC supervillain character study for years. His methodical acting style wouldn’t have worked for Marvel or any other franchise character. Ironically, Todd Phillips similarly wanted to direct a grounded comic book movie. Although horror directors were proving themselves in lighthearted DC movies like Aquaman or Shazam!, Phillips was a comedy director who proved himself with the darkest DC movie of all time.

Thanks to the success of Deadpool and Logan, Joker more than earns its R rating. Joker is meant to be a Martin Scorsese style thriller from the 70’s. Specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. An 80’s Warner Bros. logo is used, while the DC label is nowhere to be seen. The soundtrack makes appropriate use of songs like “Send in the Clowns,” Smile,” and “That’s Life.” Although it was unlike any superhero movie I’ve ever seen, I knew I couldn’t miss it. No matter how controversial the movie became. People preemptively decided Joker would inspire real life crime, while critics seemed to attack the movie for its treatment of mental illness. Although some people think this is a sympathetic take on a remorseless supervillain, it’s way more complicated than that. Joker delivers a matter of fact interpretation of a mentally ill loner in a society that abandoned him and treats him like trash.

Though I was afraid this would be a definitive origin, the “unreliable narration” approach keeps things ambiguous. This version of the Joker is Arthur Fleck. Despite not existing in the comics, it’s still weird that they’d call him Arthur when Aquaman already has that name. Joaquin Phoenix has the long hair of Heath Ledger, but his portrayal is totally different. Phoenix became practically anorexic after losing a ton of weight for the role. He’s also a chainsmoker, but the biggest distinction is his trademark Joker laugh being a neurological condition. Arthur’s uncontrollable laughter is so distinct that it’s impossible not to play along. You can tell how much Arthur is suffering thanks to Phoenix’s stellar performance. Parallels to Taxi Driver can be seen in a 1981 Gotham City that’s rat infested with piles of garbage creating tension between its citizens. Swearing only occurs when necessary, but they don’t hold back on uncomfortable violence.

Arthur is a party clown with dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. Forcing himself to smile is disturbing, but it’s hard not to understand how difficult his life is when kids beat him with his own sign. Arthur has a therapist who doesn’t listen, co-workers who don’t respect him, and a mother who tells him to put on a happy face. Although I wasn’t completely sure how much of the Batman story would be involved, this was the first movie to give Thomas Wayne significant attention. I’m just glad Brett Cullen played him instead of Alec Baldwin. Thomas Wayne is a more controversial figure running for Mayor of Gotham. Frances Conroy plays Arthur’s mother Penny Fleck as an equally mentally ill woman trying to reach out to Wayne. Arthur is like Travis Bickle for his descent into madness and surge of power when a fellow party clown gives him a gun.

When the gun gets him fired, Arthur uses it to murder three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen who harass him on a subway train. Another moment that’s difficult not to understand his side of. Arthur comes one step closer to becoming Joker while dancing to the music in his head. Zazie Beetz has her second comic book role after Deadpool 2 as single mother Sophie Dumond. Her cynical attitude gains Arthur’s attention and he somehow starts a relationship with her after the subway murders give him confidence. Parallels to The King of Comedy are unmistakable since Arthur is obsessed with a talk show host named Murray Franklin. Martin Scorsese may have dropped out as producer, but getting Robert De Niro to play the host is perfect full circle casting. Similar to Rupert Pupkin, Arthur has delusions of Murray embracing him like a son.

Arthur’s failed stand-up routine only stands out for his uncontrollable laughter. Nudity is only seen in his journal/joke book. His hopes are crushed when Murry makes fun of his stand-up routine on his show. Although he feels like a success, Arthur’s life takes a downward spiral when it’s implied Thomas Wayne might be his father. A disturbing scene of Arthur at Wayne Manor is when we see a young Bruce Wayne. Dante Pereira-Olson doesn’t have much to say, but Arthur trying to entertain his future archenemy is unforgettable. Douglas Hodge is a similarly flawed Alfred who tells Arthur that his mother was delusional. Things get worse when his mother suffers a stroke and the police show up with questions about the recent clown related murders.

A murder that sparks a movement of sympathizers who target the rich Thomas Wayne for his comments about the less fortunate. Arthur’s supporters dressed as clowns are disturbingly close to reality. Arthur confronts his potential father, but Thomas doubles down on Penny being delusional and punches him in the face for touching Bruce. He seeks answers at the future Arkham Asylum, but his answers are far worse than he thought. SPOILER ALERT! Arthur was actually adopted, abused by his mother at a young age, and developed a mental illness over time. Fleck is so far gone that the entire relationship he had with Sophie was all in his head. Her ultimate fate is best left ambiguous. His mother’s fate isn’t ambiguous when Arthur coldly realizes his life is a comedy while smothering her to death. Things start to turn around when Arthur is invited onto The Murray Franklin Show.

Apart from his traditional party clown attire, Arthur truly becomes Joker when his old clown buddies drop by. The guy who ratted him out is brutally murdered with a pair of scissors, but the little person who was nice to him is spared. It’s easily the most bloody act in the movie followed by pitch black comedy when he can’t reach the lock. Arthur Fleck Joker is different from any other version of the clown. He’s got the long green hair and white makeup, but he looks more clownlike with a red nose, smile, and blue diamond eyes. Some people might call his suit purple, but I think it’s more of a maroon color. His look is as instantly iconic as Joker’s improvised dance on stairs from the Bronx, New York. It was a far bigger takeaway than what people assumed would happen after the movie’s release. The police catch up to Joker and begin a pursuit in the midst of clown protests. Joker takes advantage of it by inciting a riot that gets the officers attacked.

Although far from a traditional climax, Joker on a talk show is a comic accurate reworking of a moment from The Dark Knight Returns. Arthur requests Murray refer to him as Joker before entering the show with another little dance. The building tension of the scene is masterful as Joker tries to win over the crowd and Murray continues to make fun of him. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen when he admits to killing people. Despite the warning signs, Murray doesn’t stop the show. He engages Joker in an intense discussion about society until he’s suddenly shot. The death of Murray Franklin happens live and incites an even worse riot. Batman begins with an R rated depiction of Thomas & Martha Wayne being murder in front of Bruce by Joe Chill in a clown mask. Joker is also born while wearing a bloody smile in front of an adoring crowd of anarchists.

The movie ends on another ambiguous note of Arthur in a mental hospital laughing to himself. Joker was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. I was fine with the nominations since it won the most deserving awards. Hildur Guðnadóttir won Best Original Score for her haunting cello music. Joaquin Phoenix finally won Best Actor after being nominated for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master. Since Heath Ledger also won an Oscar for playing the Joker, that made them the second pair of actors to win for playing the same character. Ironically, after Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro each won for Vito Corleone. All the pushback was meaningless when Joker became the first R rated movie to gross a billion dollars. Joker is like a joke that only so many people will understand.

16. Joker

Joker dances on stairs

The World’s Mightiest Mortal

Shazam! is my favorite Captain Marvel movie. Aquaman was already an improvement in terms of a post-Justice League solo outing, but I honestly didn’t know how to feel about a Shazam! movie. Since it’s fully steeped in the DC Extended Universe without really being connected to anything. Which is ironic considering the character’s complicated history. Unlike his fellow costumed crime-fighters, Captain Marvel wasn’t originally created by DC comics. Bill Parker & C. C. Beck created Captain Marvel for the now defunct Fawcett comics. He debuted in the 1940 Wiz Comics #2, which featured the very familiar image of a superhero attacking a car. Unlike Superman, Billy Batson is a child who becomes the adult Captain Marvel by saying the magic word “Shazam!” I didn’t know too much about Captain Marvel growing up, but I always thought his powers were cool.

Captain Marvel’s adventures were so fun, colorful, and cartoony that he even started to outsell the Man of Steel himself. Since they saw the dark haired, cape wearing, super strong, flying superhero as competition, DC sued Fawcett for copyright infringement. Captain Marvel fell out of circulation until he was picked up by DC themselves in the 1973 Shazam! #1. The reason for the name change was all the comic companies trying to create their own Captain Marvel in the 60’s. There was Marvelman, M. F. Enterprises’ Captain Marvel, and of course Captain Mar-Vell. When the name ended up in Marvel’s hands, DC couldn’t use the name promotionally. It’s a messy situation, but Shazam somehow endured throughout the decades. Appearing in live-action and animation before a movie made by New Line Cinema was considered in the early 2000’s. Although Warner Bros. originally wanted a darker tone, Shazam! rightfully became the most enjoyably lighthearted film in the DCEU…

13. Shazam!

Freddy feels Shazam’s symbol

Shazam! works because it’s basically Big with superpowers. The thought of a kid becoming an adult superhero is pure wish fulfilment that’s perfect for comedy. Unlike most DC characters, Captain Marvel never strayed too far from his original tone. Although his age varies, Billy Batson is usually a homeless 12 year old radio correspondent given immense power by the elderly wizard Shazam. Saying the name “Shazam!,” gives Billy the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Captain Marvel comics had cartoony visuals and emphasised the idea of a Marvel Family that shared his magical power. Shazam! comics may have lost some of their magic, but it’s enough just to see the World’s Mightiest Mortal standing alongside Superman.

Even though Captain Marvel is technically the first superhero adapted for a live-action film serial, his 70’s Shazam! TV series isn’t as well known. He made several cartoon appearances, but the closest thing to a starring role was in the 25 minute short Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam. Captain Marvel has always been in the Man of Steel’s shadow. So I was nervous to learn about a Shazam! movie when the DCEU couldn’t even get Superman right. Warner Bros. continued to cast unlikely actors when former MCU actor Zachary Levi was announced as Shazam. Being recast as Fandral made sense for Levi since he was already similar to Flynn Ryder, but Shazam literally has the same muscular physique as Superman. Regardless of physical appearance, Levi has a childlike sense of humor that works well for a literal child superhero. The movie didn’t seem real to me until an extended teaser trailer was released at Comic-Con alongside Aquaman.

Very unlikely horror director David F. Sandberg was hired since James Wan worked so well beforehand. Now there are 2 DC movies in a row with an out of nowhere Annabelle cameo. I think they fast-tracked Shazam! just so it would be released within a month of Captain Marvel. The latter may have the larger box-office numbers, but the former was way more critically acclaimed with a surprisingly high 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Shazam! is far from perfect, but it’s way more fun than Captain Marvel. I just wasn’t so sure in the first 36 minutes of the 2 hour & 12 minute movie. For some reason they spend 8 minutes setting up the villain before an additional 28 minutes spent exclusively on Billy Batson. I understand establishing characters, but Shazam! doesn’t really turn on until after Billy says the titular magic word. Similar to Batman Returns, Shazam! takes place during Christmas for unexplained reasons. It’s either the strong family values or the fact that the hero has a red & white costume.

Captain Marvel has an equally colorful rogues gallery dubbed the Monster Society of Evil, crucial for being the first supervillain team consisting of existing antagonists. Although everything was pointing to his archenemy Black Adam, DC made the bizarre decision to delay his debut appearance for a solo film. Despite already casting Dwayne Johnson like a million years ago. Shazam! instead makes his human archenemy Doctor Thaddeus Sivana the main villain. The very reliable comic book character actor Mark Strong made this his second famous DC antagonist after playing Sinestro in Green Lantern. Now the Superman similarities are unmistakable since Shazam is fighting a bald industrialist with daddy issues. It doesn’t help that former Lionel Luthor actor John Glover is playing Sivana’s abusive father. A child Sivana in 1974 is first seen with his father and equally abusive older brother driving on a snowy road set to “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Another problem I have is with some of the dialogue and/or performances feeling overly exaggerated. Bully characters feel especially over-the-top. When his brother messes with his Magic 8 ball, Thaddeus is magically transported to the comic accurate Rock of Eternity. He sees a very important hungry caterpillar and monstrous statues of the Seven Deadly Sins. He’s greeted by the welcoming wizard Shazam. Unlike the comics, Shazam is black and wears red robes with a lightning bolt symbol on it. Apart from unnecessary use of the word “sh*thole,” it can’t be a coincidence that Djimon Hounsou appears in both Captain Marvel and Shazam! At least Shazam actually stands out when he tests whether or not the child is pure of heart. When the Sins tempt Thaddeus with the powerful Eye of Sin, Shazam inadvertently leads Sivana down a path of evil. Resulting in a slow car crash that cripples his father and gives him the lifelong mission to find the Rock again.

Even more time is spent on a grown up Sivana using his wealth to track other individuals that the wizard reaches out to. A scientist disintegrating when she touches a door covered in magic symbols is when Sandberg’s horror roots kick in. Apart from the demonic look of the Seven Deadly Sins, adult situations, and unusually frequent swearing, Shazam! could very easily pass for PG. Sivana confronts the weakened wizard while stealing the Eye for himself. The Sins join with him to make Sivana way more powerful than he ever was in the original comics. Although they’re a major threat, the Sins are no different than other generic CGI villains in the DCEU. Their voices are pretty standard and their mouths don’t even move. Doctor Sivana uses his power to murder his brother, father, and their business associates in a puff of smoke. Shazam nearly loses hope until the true champion appears before him in the form of 14 year old runaway Billy Batson.

Asher Angel won me over the moment he utters Billy’s old fashioned comic book catchphrase “Holy Moley.” Although he’s mostly seen in winter clothes, Billy retains a red hoodie. Unlike the comics, Shazam! takes place in Philadelphia instead of the fictional Fawcett City. Angel’s Billy is a lot closer to the New 52 version since they emphasis him being a foster kid. In some ways, Billy feels more mature than his adult counterpart, because Batson makes it his mission to find the mother he lost 10 years ago at a carnival. The 8 year old Billy wanting a tiger is one of many references to Mr. Tawky Tawny. An anthropomorphic tiger companion of Captain Marvel in the 40’s. The only thing Billy has left of his mom is a toy compass. When using a police scanner doesn’t work, a social worker sends Billy to a new foster home. The actress playing the social worker is apparently the same character who appears in Sandberg’s previous film Lights Out.

If you’re still comparing the DCEU to the MCU, then Shazam! has the most in common with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Both follow a youthful superhero in red, have an ethnically diverse cast, explore what it’s like living in a world full of superheroes, and lean more into comedy. Billy’s foster parents are the extremely friendly Victor & Rosa Vásquez. With the exception of Freddy or Mary, the ethnically diverse Darla, Eugene, and Pedro were all introduced in the New 52. They’re each a modernized version of the Lieutenant Marvels. Faithe Herman plays Darla Dudley, the youngest black foster child who’s very talkative, affectionate, and an adorable scene stealer. Ian Chen plays Eugene Choi, the second youngest Asian foster child who plays a lot of video games and is a hacker. Jovan Armand plays Pedro Peña, the second oldest Hispanic foster child who’s shy, overweight, and possibly gay.

None of them have nearly as much history as Captain Marvel Jr. or Mary Marvel. I was most excited about seeing them in the movie. Grace Fulton plays Mary Bromfield, the oldest teenage foster child who loves her family and is on her way to college. This is Fulton’s second Sandberg directed film since Annabelle: Creation. In the comics, Mary is the long lost sister of Billy who becomes Mary Marvel when she’s given part of his power. Mary is actually the first female version of an established superhero who predates Supergirl herself. But no one is more well known than Captain Marvel Jr. Elvis Presley himself modeled his whole look after the junior superhero’s haircut and cape. Jack Dylan Grazer plays Freddy Freeman, a disabled foster kid who’s the same age as Billy. Just like his role in It, Grazer is a motormouth scene stealer who’s easily the second best thing about the movie. His quips are hilarious and his obsession with superheroes keeps the DCEU relevant.

Freddy wears a Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman shirt throughout, has an authentic Batarang, and a bullet that was actually shot at Superman. Although Freddy tries to befriend his new foster brother with his superhero knowledge, Billy would rather not have a pretend family. All the kids attend Fawcett Central School where aggressive one-dimensional bullies pick on Freddy and the rest of his family. Billy proves he’s pure of heart by defending them. Just like the comics, Billy is transported to the Rock of Eternity on a subway train. Shazam tells the young Mr. Batson the importance of becoming Earth’s champion. Black Adam is only briefly mentioned as an ancient former champion corrupted by the power Billy reluctantly accepts by finally saying the word “Shazam!” As Billy is transformed from a single bolt of lightning, the humble wizard crumbles before him.

Although Zachary Levi has possibly padded muscles, his costume is absurdly accurate to the comics. It’s a very primary shade of red with solid gold trim, a short white cape, hood, and lightning bolt symbol. He’s a classic superhero for the modern world. Levi wears the Shazam costume throughout the entire movie since he has no other choice. Just like Big, Billy goes from confused to enthusiastic when Freddy realizes who he is. Together they try to figure out Shazam’s superpowers and take advantage of his adult form. The wisdom of Solomon isn’t used too often since Billy is pretty immature. He discovers the power of Zeus by summoning bolts of lightning. The speed of Mercury shows up when he tries to stop a mugger. Freddy & Billy become heroes for hire when a woman gives them money. While humorously trying to buy beer at a convenience store, the stamina of Atlas gives Shazam bullet immunity. Darla discovers Billy’s secret when they return home, but continually cut class in order to test out the rest of his powers.

Since they couldn’t use the Captain Marvel name, several superhero names are used as a running gag. Yet they never use the obvious Captain Thunder or even his replacement name Shazam. Not that the name change ever made much sense. It’s kind of refreshing seeing a superhero simply goof off and have fun. Especially when it’s set to “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. I could do without the flossing, but everything else Shazam does for Freddy’s YouTube channel is hilarious. He charges people’s phones, tries to leap tall buildings in a single bound, enters a strip club, and they even go house hunting for a secret lair. The only power he can’t seem to master is flight. None of it is entirely heroic, so Billy starts to push Freddy away by going off on his own. Even after Freddy promised Shazam would join him for lunch. Shazam shares a moment with Mary after saving her life. She unknowingly helps put his selfish view of having a foster family in perspective.

Freddy & Billy come to blows at the dinner table and when Shazam shows off to a group of paying fans. The strength of Hercules truly comes out when Billy accidentally strikes a bus with his lightning. He catches the vehicle and earns more admiration from the city despite causing the problem. Doctor Sivana seems to appear out of nowhere when he confronts Shazam’s champion in order to steal his power. Billy expectedly fights like a child at first, but he mostly tries to run away when Sivana retaliates. He drops the hero out of the sky, only for Shazam to finally believe he can fly. They end up in a mall where a particularly pathetic mall Santa reminds you this is a Christmas movie. Shazam throws Batman toys at Sivana and even gives a shout out to Big by running on a keyboard. He reverts back to Billy when backed against a corner, but Sivana discovers his identity anyway when Freddy goes looking for him.

Billy gives up the hero life at the same moment Mary, Eugene, and Pedro discover his secret identity. Eugene tracks down Billy’s birth mother Marilyn Batson, but she’s not exactly what he expected. SPOILER ALERT! She’s kind of a terrible person who abandoned Billy and doesn’t want him in her life. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s enough for Billy to realize who his real family is. When Sivana threatens them, Billy shows the courage of Achilles in a heroic shot of him leaping off the roof while shouting “Shazam!” Sivana wants Shazam to take him to the Rock of Eternity where he can use the wizard’s staff to gain his power. His family helps by throwing the Batarang at his head. Billy gains a major advantage when he realizes Sivana is weakened when the Sins are let loose.

While attempting to leave the Rock, the kids encounter scary doors. Including one filled with comic accurate crocodile-men. Billy transports them out while thinking of the strip club and they run off to the carnival. It slowly became a common climax location, but the extended fight makes up for the film’s sporadic action. Billy embraces his role as Shazam when Sivana comes looking for him. His family divides the Sins, but they prove difficult to attack when Billy is nearly drowned. When he transforms back, Sivana makes one final attempt to gain his power. Until Shazam remembers what the wizard said about sharing his power with his brothers and sisters. I had a feeling, but I honestly wasn’t expecting the Marvel Family to appear so soon. They say “Shazam!” in unison and each transform into adult superheroes. Age varies depending on how old their younger self is.

Adam Brody fulfills his lifelong dream by playing the superhero Freddy capable of flight. Although I am bummed that he has the blue Captain Marvel Jr. costume, but not the red cape. Michelle Borth doesn’t get much attention as the superhero Mary, but her red Mary Marvel costume is flawless. Ross Butler mostly uses lightning blasts Mortal Kombat style as the grey costume wearing superhero Eugene. D. J. Cotrona puts his massive muscles to use as the green costume wearing superhero Pedro, but it’s Meagan Good as the purple costume wearing superhero Darla who gets the most attention. She remains youthful and zips by with her superspeed. Meanwhile, Shazam takes to the skies to fight Sivana in a less devastating way than Man of Steel. Although throwing in a jab at Batman v Superman sends a mixed message. Since his family is busy fighting Gluttony, Sloth, Greed, Pride, Lust, and Wraith, Shazam lures out Envy. Billy strikes the creature and apprehends the vulnerable Doctor Sivana.

All Sins are trapped in the Eye as the city hails the new team of superheroes. The Shazam Family establish their lair in the Rock of Eternity and Billy embraces his foster family. As a final loose end, Freddy’s family join him for lunch as Shazam keeps his promise. More unexpected is Superman making an appearance from the neck down (since Henry Cavill was apparently unavailable). Another Homecoming similarity is a fun sketchy credits sequence set to “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” by the Ramones. It’s the closest thing to having Shazam interact with the Justice League. The mid-credits scene ties into a potential sequel by having a crazy imprisoned Sivana meet Mister Mind. He’s the super-intelligent caterpillar villain of Captain Marvel that casual audiences will definitely be thrown off by. The post-credits scene is just Shazam joking about Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish. Shazam! is proof that an old fashioned hero can work if enough people care about the source material. “Shazam!”

14. Shazam!

Shazam and his family

Followed by: Black Adam & Shazam! Fury of the Gods

King of Atlantis

Aquaman brought the King of the Seven Seas to life. DC somehow managed to turn a swimming punchline into an absolute badass with an equally awesome film. I honestly never thought I’d be so entertained by an Aquaman movie. Let alone one that exists in the DC Extended Universe. After the lukewarm response to Justice League, it was a little over a year before the next DCEU flick came out. Warner Bros. once again couldn’t get their shared universe right. So Aquaman made his unceremonious debut in Dawn of Justice and Justice League before we really got to know who he is. Aquaman is the greatest underwater superhero of all time. At least until Marvel finally figures out how to make a Namor the Sub-Mariner movie. Fun fact: Aquaman is a rare DC rip-off character who made his comic debut 2 years after Namor.

Created by Mort Weisinger & Paul Norris, Aquaman’s first appearance was as a featured superhero in the 1941 More Fun Comics #73. I’ve always been intrigued by Aquaman, but I understand how fun it was to make fun of his fishy superpowers. Shows like Super Friends didn’t help his reputation. So DC always made an effort to give the King of Atlantis more dignity. The only media exposure he got was in animation, frequent appearances on Smallville, and an unaired WB pilot. Although he nearly appeared in Justice League: Mortal, an Aquaman movie surprisingly became a priority when the DCEU launched. More unexpected is horror director James Wan wanting to bring Atlantis to the big screen. It’s not perfect, but Aquaman is a spectacle unlike anything I’ve ever seen before…

11. Aquaman

Aquaman becomes worthy

Aquaman has more CGI than any other DC comics adaptation. Green Lantern notwithstanding. Which is why Aquaman always worked much better in animation. Although he hasn’t had the spotlight nearly as many times as you’d think. Aquaman wasn’t even a core member of the Justice League in the animated series. Despite being a founding member, the Protector of the Deep wasn’t always part of the team. The Golden Age placed Aquaman in the war effort, while the Silver Age gave him more lighthearted aquatic adventures with his kid sidekick Aqualad. I guess it was Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish, the sight of him swimming with dolphins, and the apparent uselessness of his powers on dry land that turned him into a joke. Which is why the 90’s gave Aquaman an edgy redesign. Ditching his silly orange & green costume for a shirtless look complete with long hair, a beard, and harpoon hand. This brooding version of the King of Atlantis was the primary inspiration for Jason Momoa.

As I said in my Justice League review, Momoa is no blonde adonis like the traditional Arthur Curry. Even the slightly more serious New 52 comics maintained his original design. In terms of live-action, Alan Ritchson had the right look for a young A.C. on Smallville. Even Justin Hartley looked the part in the failed Aquaman pilot before ironically playing Green Arrow later on. Santiago Cabrera was a less traditional choice for Justice League: Mortal, but not nearly as non-traditional as Momoa. Since I only viewed him as a burly bruiser, I remained skeptical until his first full appearance. Despite his less than accurate gold & green Atlantean armor, I was mostly on board with his portrayal. Aquaman really gave Jason Momoa time to shine in an appropriately colorful lighthearted globetrotting epic. He’s both charismatic and looks like he’s having a blast.

Momoa was practically born to play Aquaman. Although he isn’t fully white like the comics, he is part-Hawaiian. Water practically followed his entire career from Baywatch Hawaii to Stargate: Atlantis. Ironically, a younger Momoa with blonde hair would’ve been the perfect comic accurate Aquaman. His Morai tattoos, trademark facial scar, and muscles just gave him a tougher appearance. Along with his beard and long hair given blonde highlights. Women went crazy for his exotic look. That, along with seeing an underwater world on the big screen ensured Aquaman would become the unexpected highest grossing DC movie of all time. Apart from Wonder Woman, it was finally a DCEU film I fully enjoyed watching in theaters. Water is easy for animated films like The Little Mermaid or Finding Nemo, but it’s practically impossible for live-action. Not even James Cameron could make an Aquaman movie work until the special effects caught up with the project. It’s part of the reason why James Wan wanted to direct.

Completely different from Zack Snyder’s lackluster portrayal of Atlantis, Wan utilized a process called dry-for-wet. Where an actor or actress is dry, but visual effects create an underwater look. Blue screen rigs were used to simulate swimming. While hair, capes, and other free flowing objects are 100% CGI. Thankfully they ditch the stupid speech bubble thing in favor of actually having Atlanteans talk underwater. Even political discussions are instantly more entertaining when shot underwater. Sure it looks like a glossy cartoon at times, but how else would they have achieved it? My only problem with Aquaman is its 2 hour & 22 minute runtime. It’s as epic as Lord of the Rings, but it does feel like they crammed every aspect of Aquaman into one movie. Aquaman is similar to Man of Steel in terms of showing his origin through flashbacks. The movie literally begins before Arthur Curry is even born. Then we follow him as a baby, toddler, child, preteen, teenager, and adult. I have to admire Warner Bros. for somehow managing to find that many kids who look like Momoa.

Like most versions of the comics, Arthur’s father is a lighthouse keeper and his mother is the Queen of Atlantis. The first 9 minutes are dedicated to how Tom Curry & Queen Atlanna met and fell in love. Temuera Morrison is the perfect Maori father for Arthur since he’s already a fixture of pop culture and previously played Abin Sur in Green Lantern. There’s actually a lot of former superhero actors in the movie. Including Nicole Kidman who previously played Chase Meridian 23 years ago in Batman Forever. Ironically, Kidman was born in Hawaii just like her on-screen son. DC takes a page out of Marvel’s book by digitally de-aging both actors. Kidman was easy since she’s aged like fine wine, but Morrison ended up looking kind of rough. After having a son born from both worlds, Atlanna is tracked down by the Atlanteans. In the first of many action scenes started by a sudden explosion, Atlanna defends her new home with the five pronged quindent seen in Justice League. Tracking shots are at least one primary difference from Snyder’s style, but there’s still a lot of slow motion throughout.

Atlanna returns to the arranged marriage she was fleeing in order to protect her family. Years later, a child Arthur defends himself from bullies at an aquarium by telepathically communicating to all the fish in the tank. I know that superpower gets some flak, but it’s actually a lot cooler than it seems. It gives his golden eyes a bit more context. Arthur isn’t completely forgotten. Atlanna has her advisor Nuidis Vulko train the future king in his youth. Since Willem Dafoe was left out of the theatrical cut of Justice League, Aquaman is technically his first appearance. His digital de-aging doesn’t look good at all. Vulko answers questions I never even considered about Atlantis. More than simply breathing underwater, Atlanteans are dense enough to endure extreme pressure, survive cold temperatures, and see in the darkest depths of the ocean. Though Arthur grows resentful when he learns that his mother was killed for simply having him.

Which is why Arthur was a heavy drinker who wanted to be left alone in Justice League. Apart from a throwaway Steppenwolf reference, there’s barely any connection between movies. An obligatorily shirtless Aquaman displays his immense underwater strength by lifting a Russian submarine out of the water. The vessel is being hijacked by very important mercenary pirates. Aquaman has a mostly recognizable rogues gallery with at least 2 major standouts. His archenemy Black Manta and his personal foe Ocean Master. The lesser known Yahya Abdul-Mateen II brings a subtle menace to technologically proficient pirate David Kane. Though Black Manta debuted in 1967, he didn’t unmask until 1977. I was very excited to see Black Manta in a movie, since he’s one of the earliest African American supervillains.

Kane gains a small amount of sympathy thanks to his father played by Michael Beach, giving him a manta knife belonging to his frogman grandfather. Arthur makes short work of his pirates, but gains an archenemy when he refuses to save Kane’s father. Turns out Kane was hired by King Orm Marius to stage an attack. Patrick Wilson is ironically, just as much a frequent Zack Snyder collaborator as he is a James Wan collaborator. Wilson previously played Nite Owl II in Watchman, but also stars in the Conjuring and Insidious franchises. Although comic origins vary, Ocean Master has always been the power hungry half brother of Arthur with the traditional goal of wanting to wage war on surface dwellers for polluting the ocean. It’s a standard villainous motivation, but Wilson sells it. Aquaman is similar to Thor for focusing on a sibling rivalry. Orm gathers all the armies of the Seven Seas in order to obtain the title of Ocean Master.

Vulko is Atlantis’ vizier present when Orm forms an alliance with King Nereus of Xebel. It’s not exactly the return to the big screen I expected from Dolph Lundgren, but he did have a recurring role on Arrow. So Nite Owl II, Green Goblin, and the Punisher discuss Atlantean politics before Kane’s staged attack. When Nereus sides with Orm, he systematically unites the remaining Kingdoms under his command. Including the mermaid-like Fisherman Kingdom. King Ricou is voiced by a very busy Djimon Hounsou. Meanwhile on the surface, Arthur shares a drink with his loving father. Tom is proud of his son for becoming what social media has dubbed Aquaman. Although people love him, Arthur continues to swim away from his destiny. He’s greeted by a much more colorful Mera ripped straight out of the comics. In spite of her current reputation, Amber Heard looks good in Mera’s green cleavage-bearing swimsuit while sporting bright red hair. Her “accent” is completely missing, but I barely noticed the first time.

Since Mera is Aquaman’s true love who married him in the very first superhero wedding, it only made sense to make her the co-lead. She shows off her unique hydrokinesis powers when Orm unleashes a devastating tsunami on the surface. Although betrothed to Orm by her father King Nereus, Mera risks treason to ensure Arthur becomes the rightful king. Atlantis is a lot more like the New 52 in how it portrays the underwater Kingdom as a cross between science and magic. They take Mera’s minisub to an impenetrable Atlantis protected on all fronts by cannons. The movie does utilize an air pocket, but only when Arthur, Mera, and Vulko need a shipwrecked boat to privately talk in. Though Atlanteans look down on Arthur as a “half-breed,” he need only obtain the lost Trident of Atlan to become ruler. Vulko tells the legend of how Atlantis fell into the ocean and adapted to life underwater. It’s a complicated quest with a lot of convenience, but Arthur & Mera basically need to travel to the fallen Kingdom of the Deserters with a cylindrical message.

Another interesting Atlantean distinction are the high-born who can breath on dry land and lower Atlanteans who only breath water. Ludi Lin plays Orm’s lead footsoldier that requires high-tech armor to breath. They attack Arthur armed with his mother’s trident and imprison him in Orm’s palace. He challenges his brother to a duel in the Ring of Fire. I’m still somehow able to take everything seriously despite Orm wearing shiny gold armor, Mera wearing a jellyfish wedding dress, and the comic accurate octopus Topo playing the drums. Arthur & Orm don Atlantean armor in an intense underwater clash of the tridents. Aquaman is also similar to Black Panther for having a battle in a hidden Kingdom that determines the ruler. Mera intervenes when Arthur is nearly killed and fully commits treason by escaping in her minisub. Turns out Aquaman’s ability to talk to fish is a lot more rare than he realizes. Most Atlanteans view sea creatures as either food or dumb animals. Sharks and giant seahorses are ridden in battle.

Arthur & Mera hide in a whale à la Pinocchio and travel to the unlikely location of the Sahara desert. Atlanteans are so dense that they can jump from a plane without a parachute. Most of the humor comes from Arthur & Mera’s opposites attract dynamic. Arthur is occasionally made to look slow-witted, but he’s actually very knowledgeable about history. They manage to find the Deserters Kingdom under the sand where they unite their cylinder with the ancient forge. Mera waterbends the sweat from Arthur in order to activate a secret message from King Atlan himself. They follow a cryptic riddle to Sicily, Italy. Along the way, Arthur manages to fall in love with Mera. A bottle is meant to lead them to their next destination when placed in a king’s hand. When they find the way, David Kane returns seeking revenge as Black Manta. He’s able to build a surprisingly comic accurate battlesuit using Atlantean technology given to him by Orm’s men. He spray paints the armor black, equips it with rocket boosters, and constructs a giant bug-eyed helmet using the red plasma energy from a prototype Atlantean gun.

Arthur & Black Manta’s rematch is a lot more evenly matched with the former taking many hits. Mera is hunted as well, but she manages to kill the remaining Atlantean soldiers using wine. Black Manta is temporarily taken out when his optic blast backfires on him. Mera heals Arthur on a boat and they come to an understanding about their seperate worlds. James Wan’s horror roots literally resurface when they’re ambushed by the vicious creatures from the Trench. They’re a memorable obstacle to face, but please don’t make a spin-off about them. Arthur & Mera fend off the creatures when they discover they’re afraid of the light. They swim through a whole horde of Trench before ending up rescued on an uncharted island populated by dinosaurs. It’s at this point that I officially knew Aquaman was overstuffed. More unexpected is its many similarities to Ant-Man and the Wasp. SPOILER ALERT! Apart from Randall Park playing Atlantis obsessed scientist Dr. Stephen Shin, both movies feature a grey haired former Batman love interest, covered in warrior gear, playing a lost mother revealed to be alive all along. Queen Atlanna has a heartfelt reunion with her son and leads him to the lost Trident guarded by the mythical leviathan Karathen.

Although Aquaman has many superhero connections, its strangest connection ended up being with Mary Poppins. Rather than cameo in Mary Poppins Returns, Julie Andrews choose to voice a leviathan in a competing superhero movie. Your guess is as good as mine. Arthur proves himself worthy by telepathically communicating with the leviathan. He claims the powerful Trident and finally wears Aquaman’s comic accurate orange scaled shirt, green pants, and gloves. Something he somehow manages to pull off in an epic hero shot. Orm similarly pulls off his goofy comic accurate purple cape and silver mask when he claims the title of Ocean Master. His final Kingdom to conquer is the delicious battle-ready Brine. Their crab king is given more dignity with the voice of John Rhys-Davies. The climax is a large-scale underwater war between all Kingdoms. Aquaman makes a grand entrance on the leviathan, commanding the Seven Seas with his Trident. A whole legion of fish come to Arthur’s aid and draw out Orm’s armies. Mera suggests fighting Orm on the surface and they kiss for good measure.

Aquaman riding a seahorse is practically a nerdy dream come true. King Nereus accepts Arthur’s rule and the rest of the Atlanteans bare witness to the final conflict between brothers. Aquaman vs. Ocean Master is an epic slow motion fight where the hero perfects his Trident skills. Arthur shows his brother mercy, but Orm begs for death until their mother returns. Atlanna offers her misguided son a chance to better himself. He’s arrested, but there’s still possibility for redemption. In the end, Mera dubs her hero King Arthur of Atlantis. Tom & Atlanna have a heartfelt reunion of their own and Arthur embraces his destiny as Aquaman. “Everything I Need” by Skylar Grey closes the story in an underwater credits sequence. A mid-credits scene reveals Black Manta somehow alive after his battle with Aquaman. Dr. Shen takes him in while tinkering with his Atlantean armor. Kane swears revenge by teasing the sequel. I’m not sure why I never expected much from an Aquaman movie. I was thoroughly entertained by its grand scale, legendary approach, and watery world of wonder. Aquaman swims further than most DCEU movies.

12. Aquaman

Arthur Curry joins Mera

Preceded by: Justice League & Followed by: Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

I Don’t Want to Be the Bad Guy Anymore

Megamind asks the question, what if the bad guy won? Despite making a dramatic narrative shift with How to Train Your Dragon, DreamWorks Animation wasn’t done making satirical comedies. Megamind is a sincere superhero parody that was right up my ally. Since I’m a huge superhero fan, it didn’t matter that I was 15 at the time. I was excited as soon as I heard the concept. Although I did accidentally mistake a Despicable Me trailer for Megamind. Understandable considering both are 2010 computer animated movies about a theatrically comedic supervillain learning the value of being a hero. The difference is Despicable Me got a long running franchise, while Megamind was one and done. Apart from the short film The Button of Doom, Megamind is a seriously underrated superhero flick that deserves more attention. I really wish DreamWorks didn’t lose faith in straightforward comedies. The 3D computer animation is an improvement over Monsters vs. Aliens in some areas.

Megamind has tons of style and personality thanks to comedian Will Ferrell. He’s an “evil” blue supervillain with the giant head of the Leader, baldness of Lex Luthor, genius intellect of Brainiac, and showmanship of rocker Alice Cooper. On the opposing side is Brad Pitt’s second DreamWorks role after Sinbad as prototypical white caped Elvis inspired superhero Metro Man. He seems like a jerk at first, but their long-standing rivalry is purely circumstantial. Much like Superman, Megamind & Metro Man were both sent from exploding planets to two vastly different lifestyles. Megamind was raised as a villain in prison and Metro Man was raised as a hero in luxury. Although Megamind tries to be good, he realizes it’s a lot more fun to be bad. They engage in a typical battle of good vs. evil until Megamind unexpectedly wins. What does a villain do when he no longer has a hero to fight? Apparently he makes his own hero.

Megamind is fast-paced with an awesome 80’s rock soundtrack and a cast full of equally hilarious comedians. Fellow SNL alumni Tina Fey is just as good as the Lois Lane inspired reporter Roxanne Richie. She grows indifferent to being kidnapped over and over, but finds a new purpose when she unknowingly falls in love with a disguised Megamind. She helps him to be good and they become a cute DreamWorks couple. Apart from an invisible car, brainbots, and a dehydration gun, David Cross voices Megamind’s faithfully evil fish headed mechanical gorilla suit wearing Minion. Along with constantly mispronouncing words, their bumbling villainy is another highlight. Jonah Hill’s second DreamWorks role is as Roxanne’s dorky cameraman Hal Stewart. Named after two Green Lanterns. Megamind manages to synthesize Metro Man’s powers and they wind up in Hal. So he disguises himself as Marlon Brando’s Jor-El to make him Metro City’s newest superhero Tighten. In a clever twist, Tighten is the one who breaks bad, while Megamind is forced to become the good bad guy in an epic climax. Megamind is a cliché filled thrill ride that I can’t help but love.

19. Megamind

Megamind makes his arrival with Minion

The Brave and the Bold

Justice League untied the League, but divided the fanbase. Although Wonder Woman finally gave the DC Extended Universe a win, it was still way too soon for a large scale team up. Unlike Phase One of the MCU, Man of Steel and Wonder Woman are the only solo movies set before Justice League. The first 5 movies of the DCEU are the equivalent of Iron Man, Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers. I was nevertheless very excited to finally see the Justice League of America on the big screen. First uniting in The Brave and the Bold #28, Gardner Fox created the team in 1960 as a Silver Age version of the Justice Society of America. With superheroes as big as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter on the team, how could I not be a huge fan of the Justice League?

If not for DC’s bestselling superteam, Marvel may not even exist. Making it all the more pathetic that Warner Bros. couldn’t even get a movie made before The Avengers was released. The Justice League had far more success in animation. From kid friendly Saturday-morning cartoons like Super Friends to well thought out universe building like Justice League & Justice League Unlimited. Not to mention a handful of excellent animated films based on famous DC storylines. The only movie to enter serious production was the cancelled 2008 George Miller directed Justice League: Mortal. The DCEU wasn’t well thought out at all, but Zack Snyder seemed like he was listening to fan concerns. A First Look at the movie made it seem a lot less serious. The first trailer set to “Come Together” was just as encouraging, but since troubled productions go hand in hand with the DCEU, I should’ve known I’d end up disappointed…

9. Justice League

Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, the Flash, and Aquaman unite

Justice League isn’t as messy as Batman v Superman, but it is a mess in many other ways. Personally I was turned off the moment I saw the complete roster of heroes. The New 52 is a universe of rebooted storylines that have affected DC properties ever since its launch in 2011. The Justice League’s roster included all of the original 7 members except for Martian Manhunter. He was permanently replaced by Cyborg. Despite reading and enjoying the New 52 Justice League #1 comic, I never understood putting Cyborg on the team. I get that he represents modern technology, but his place will always be on the Teen Titans. Although Cyborg isn’t the first black DC superhero, he is usually the only African American on either team. That didn’t bother me nearly as much as the glaring lack of green on the team. Green Lantern has always been a crucial part of the Justice League, but Warner Bros. made the idiotic decision to leave him out. Despite continuing to feature him in their new DC movie logo. I don’t care how bad the 2011 movie was, Hal Jordan should’ve gotten a second chance.

Now the team consists of: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. Even that didn’t pan out, because Superman died in Dawn of Justice. Although it was obvious Superman would return, he was still left out of all marketing. My next concern was Zack Snyder’s continually bizzare casting choices. Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot proved themselves, but I had serious doubts about Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, and Ray Fisher. The Flash is one of my favorite superheroes outside of the DC Trinity. Police scientist Barry Allen became the Scarlet Speedster when he was struck by lightning and dosed in chemicals. He made his debut in Showcase #4 where he established himself as the Silver Age Flash. Between the original Jay Garrick and his successor Wally West, Barry Allen is the definitive Fastest Man Alive. Ezra Miller seemed a little too offbeat and flamboyant for the part. Especially after Grant Gustin was already doing so well in The Flash CW series. Miller’s Dawn of Justice cameo highlighted the Flash’s superspeed, but his out of nowhere message from the future wasn’t the best first impression.

A Suicide Squad cameo showed off his costume, but not much else. Miller ended up being a notable highlight as Barry Allen. Since he’s an inherently light hearted superhero, the Flash is the primary comic relief. It’s just his costume that looked overly complex. The Flash wears a scarlet suit with gold wings, but it looks more like armor with wires strung around it. Aquaman has always been the biggest punchline in DC comics, but he’s also the definitive underwater superhero. Despite his aquatic powers and ability to talk to fish, Arthur Curry has been taken a lot more seriously in later comics. He is the King of Atlantis after all. Jason Momoa felt like a bizarre choice since he’s mostly known for burly bruisers like Conan or Drogo. He’s no blonde adonis, but Momoa’s long hair and beard does match a later version of Aquaman. Not sure I understood his pale blue eyes though. His Dawn of Justice cameo revealed Curry underwater with a five pronged quident instead of the usual trident.

I wasn’t crazy about Aquaman’s Maori tattoos, but his costume left less of an impression. Rather than go for the traditional orange & green, Aquaman wears generic gold & green Atlantean armor. Momoa’s performance has a lot of brooding in it, but he makes up for that by acting like a laid back bro. Cyborg became a fan favorite thanks to his fun loving portrayal on Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans, but his tragic origin has changed to incorporate the Mother Boxes from Apocalypse. Turning Victor Stone into a highly advanced part-man part-machine with alien tech built inside him. Ray Fisher was previously a stage actor with no film experience, so I only took him at face value. His Dawn of Justice cameo was the only one to depict his origin. I do appreciate the irony of Miles Dyson himself Joe Morton playing Victor’s S.T.A.R. Labs scientist father Silas Stone turning his son into a cyborg with a Mother Box. Fisher ended up being very robotic with barely any personality, save for the stray use of his catchphrase “Booyah.” Cyborg’s metallic body wasn’t much better. His body is way too skinny and generic compared to the bulky white parts he normally has in the comics.

The continued involvement of director Zack Snyder made me just as nervous. The Justice League have always been a colorful band of costumed crime-fighters, so I really didn’t understand why Warner Bros. kept him on board after Dawn of Justice. Zack Snyder did step down, but for far more tragic circumstances. So he was replaced by someone who already directed 2 successful superhero ensembles. Joss Whedon proved himself with The Avengers, but that doesn’t mean you can easily drop him into the already established DCEU. The marketing of the film noticeably started to change with Alex Ross style posters, light hearted trailers, and a November release. The most puzzling thing was a shockingly short runtime of exactly 2 hours. I was far less uncomfortable seeing the movie with my family, but it’s a serious problem when Justice League doesn’t leave an impression. So I wasn’t exactly shocked when it failed to break-even. The director credit may say Zack Snyder, but you can tell this is a Joss Whedon film from the start.

Justice League begins with an unbearably cringy scene of Superman rescuing people before his death. I appreciate having an optimistic Man of Steel at the very beginning, but why did it have to be on a phone with kids asking him the most childish questions imaginable. Whedon’s signature dialogue is made very clear with gems like Superman comparing hope to car keys. Even that isn’t the most cringy thing about the scene. Henry Cavill wasn’t allowed to shave his Mission: Impossible – Fallout mustache during re-shoots. Rather than delay the film, Warner Bros. ended up digitally erasing Cavill’s mustache. The results are way too distracting to take seriously. CGI is a major problem in Justice League. It’s practically a video game with a CGI villain, CGI henchmen, a CGI Cyborg, CGI landscapes, and CGI being used to make the climax less dark. The Justice League logo is shown on a flag before an opening of the world mourning the death of Superman. Lois Lane and Ma Kent mourn Clark’s death, but there’s also chaos in the streets of Metropolis. Setting it to “Everybody Knows” was another weird choice.

Danny Elfman ended up scoring the movie instead of Han Zimmer. You can definitely hear his original 1989 Batman theme if you listen close enough. Since the runtime is only 2 hours, it feels like every character is introduced with no time to establish anyone. Even the incoming conflict doesn’t have much set up. Batman is immediately seen in Gotham City tying up a criminal. He uses his fear to attract a Parademon. In the comics, Parademons are the foot soldiers of Darkseid. They look exactly like they did in Bruce’s Knightmare, but now they have neon green blood to make them more kid friendly. Speaking of being obnoxiously kid friendly, Steppenwolf looks nothing like he did in the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman. His face is overly human with a goofy horned helmet and uninspired armor. It doesn’t help that Ciarán Hinds is given the most generic villainous dialogue and forced attempts at comedy. Not that I was expecting much from a villain I never cared about.

Of all the Justice League villains to fight, why go with Steppenwolf? Especially when he’s so closely associated with Darkseid. The criminal that Batman ties up, practically tells the audience that Parademons are invading because Superman is gone. Alfred gives further exposition by revealing Lex Luthor’s journal to be their guide. An indeterminate amount of time passes when a bearded Bruce Wayne searches for the rest of the metahumans. Despite Dawn of Justice featuring a murder crazy Batman, Ben Affleck softens up the Caped Crusader considerably. Since Batman is always less brooding while on the Justice league, he’s not such a sad loner with a sense of humor. Most of the time it works, but sometimes it feels like Whedon trying too hard again. Probably his best joke is saying he’s rich when asked about his superpowers. The batsuit is the same except for a more armored tactical batsuit with goggles that he wears in the climax.

Bruce finds Arthur Curry in a small fishing community that counts on him as the legendary Aquaman. He saves fisherman on a sinking boat and brings fish in a mural that Bruce notices. Arthur not so politely declines the offer to join Batman’s team before Momoa’s obligatory shirtless scene. As Aquaman dives into the water, Bruce shaves and discusses a strategy with Alfred. Jeremy Irons wasn’t that rough in Dawn of Justice, but he’s also softened up with references to the Penguin and offhanded jokes. Wonder Woman is currently in London where she makes her grand entrance atop the Lady Justice statue. Since Diana Prince actually had a solo movie to make her a beloved character, Gal Gadot ends up being pretty consistent. Except that she’s still cut off from the world and talking about Steve Trevor decades later. The Wonder Woman costume thankfully hasn’t changed, but the way she’s shot is different. You can tell by all of the tight pants Diana wears.

Wonder Woman is first seen disposing of a bomb detonated by gentlemen terrorists. It’s great hearing Wonder Woman’s epic theme again, but the sequence doesn’t have any bearing on the plot. Although Diana is on good terms with Bruce, she doesn’t join the fight until the Amazons get involved. Justice League utilizes almost every hero’s individual supporting character regardless of relevance. Connie Nielsen returns as Queen Hippolyta alongside her scantily clad Amazonian sisters. They’re the first to encounter Steppenwolf when he comes for their Mother Box. The Amazons put up a valiant fight, but Steppenwolf manages to obtain the McGuffin anyway. So Hippolyta lights a beacon Lord of the Rings style, to warn her daughter of the incoming conflict. Diana is still working as a museum curator when she sees a burning Greek monument. Diana stops by the Batcave where Bruce is working on a new Flying Fox plane. She tells him the story of Steppenwolf attempting to conquer the Earth centuries ago.

It’s one of the movie’s main highlights since it brings together the armies of Earth, Atlanteans, Amazons, the Old Greek Gods, and even Green Lantern Yalan Gur. I’d say it’s enough just to see one Green Lantern, but Gur is immediately killed as his Power Ring flies away. The Old Gods include a jacked Zeus, Artemis, and David Thewlis’ head plastered on a stuntman playing Ares. Steppenwolf was exiled after his defeat, but tries to find all of the Mother Boxes in order to establish “The Unity” for Darkseid. Darkseid is literally mentioned once in the entire movie. The Mother Boxes are under protection from the Amazons, Atlanteans, and humans. Since Steppenwolf already has the Amazon box, he sets his sights on Atlantis. I was very excited to finally see the underwater society on the big screen, but all we see is a tiny portion of it. Amber Heard plays Mera, the redheaded true love of Aquaman who possesses hydrokinesis. She fights a water breathing Steppenwolf who briefly encounters Arthur when he swims down to the depths. Their aquatic fight ends with Steppenwolf obtaining the second McGuffin.

That’s followed by the dumbest creative choice in the entire movie. Rather than simply speak underwater, Mera has to create a stupid air bubble just to talk to Arthur. She mentions his queen mother and origin, but all of that will have to wait for his solo film. Since neither Diana, nor Bruce got anywhere with Arthur, they separately contact Victor Stone and Barry Allen. Barry is first seen jokingly using his superspeed in prison where he visits his incarcerated father. Dr. Manhattan himself Billy Crudup plays Henry Allen. Like the New 52 comic and CW series, Barry’s father was falsely accused of killing his mother. Most of their bonding doesn’t affect anything apart from Henry telling his son not to run around in circles. Bruce travels to Central City where he meets Barry in his second favorite chair. Although Miller has his moments, hyperactively talking about brunch is once again Joss Whedon trying to be funny. It is a cool moment when Bruce throws a batarang and Barry enters the Speed Force while figuring out he’s Batman. The Flash’s superspeed isn’t just running really fast. Time seems to stop and blue lighting surrounds his body. Barry immediately agrees to the Justice League since he needs friends.

Cyborg has almost no time dedicated to his life before the accident. All we see are old photographs and a sullen Victor hiding away when his father comes to check on him. Although he’s angry at his father, he seems to get over it really fast. We also bypass seeing Cyborg developing his rocket flight or any other weapon built into him. All we really learn is that Silas has the final Mother Box called a Change Engine. He works at S.T.A.R. Labs, which is still in possession of the Kryptonian scout ship. Diana contacts Victor when he hacks the batcomputer, but she doesn’t seem to get very far when they meet face to face. Not until a series of Parademon kidnappings that result in Silas Stone’s capture. The cringiest scene by far is a meeting between Lois & Martha at the Daily Planet. Whedon seriously thinks an old woman swearing about aliens probing her husband is funny. What’s worse is the nonchalant way Martha talks to Lois after Clark’s death. Diane Lane doesn’t have much to do apart from having the Kent farm foreclosed on. Amy Adams is similarly shortchanged, apart from Lois taking a break from writing.

When the Parademon kidnappings enter Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon contacts an old friend using the Bat Signal. Many assumed James Gordon was dead during the events of Dawn of Justice, but he’s alive and well after 20 years with the Dark Knight. J. K. Simmons sounded like inspired casting, until he ended up with literally nothing to do. Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash are joined by Cyborg when they talk to Gordon on a rooftop. They conclude that Steppenwolf must be taking kidnapped S.T.A.R. Labs employees beneath Gotham Harbor before suddenly vanishing. The Flash lampshades the superhero trope by vanishing himself. The Justice League unite less than an hour into the movie. Cyborg saves his father when Steppenwolf interrogates him. Wonder Woman steals the show by fighting Steppenwolf with her sword & shield. Batman fights Parademons hand to hand, but eventually ends up using a new vehicle called the Knightcrawler. The Flash is frustratingly shortchanged by making him afraid to do battle with anyone. Batman telling Barry to save one person is supposed to be inspiring, but it just doesn’t make sense for his character.

The Flash eventually shows his power by helping Diana retrieve her sword. Unfortunately it’s followed by Barry landing on her boobs for no reason. Cyborg gets everyone to safety in a reprogrammed Knightcrawler when Steppenwolf ends up flooding Gotham Harbor. That’s Aquaman’s cue to swim in and stop the flood with his powerful quident. Arthur officially joins the team as Cyborg flies away for unexplained reasons. He returns with the final Mother Box that Victor explains to be the source of his power. Bruce takes the team to his Batcave where he gets the morbid idea to revive Superman using the Mother Box. Despite the events of Batman v Superman, Bruce refers to Clark as if they were best friends. Unlike The Avengers, the Justice League arguing never feels warranted. Diana & Arthur agree that bringing back Superman could go terribly wrong. Bruce & Diana fight when he questions why she’s hidden herself away, but they quickly patch things up later on. Barry & Victor sort of bound while digging up Superman’s corpse. The former is somehow the funnier one trying to fist bump and connect over being accidents.

The team infiltrates the Kryptonian ship where they place Kal-El’s body in the genesis chamber. Cyborg taps into the mainframe and the Flash uses his speed to activate the box. When Superman returns, it’s a Pet Semetary situation where a shirtless Clark has no memory of who he is. He uses his x-ray vision on the team, but only becomes hostile when Cyborg activates his defense system. The Justice League vs. Superman is an expected fight that overwhelms most of the team. Cyborg & Aquaman are both taken out, but Wonder Woman is strong enough to have a headbudding match. Probably the best scene in the entire fight is Clark being fast enough to see the Flash when he tries to sneak up on him. Things get cringy again when Clark spots Batman and uses the infamous “Do you bleed” line against him. I guess the Knightmare scene is called back to when Lois arrives to calm Clark down. He flies off with her, but the tender moment is undermined by Bruce once again making a joke. The last Mother Box is taken in the chaos and Steppenwolf enacts his evil plan at a power plant in Russia.

Another annoying Whedon trademark is him thinking the audience cares about random civilians in a superhero movie. For some reason, a pointless Russian family is cut back to periodically throughout the movie. Without Superman, the team plans to fly to Russia in the Flying Fox, but not before another joke where Aquaman tells the truth while sitting on the Lasso of Truth. Clark takes Lois to Smallville where their tender moment is also undermined by cringy dialogue. Lois tells Clark he smells good and he describes coming back to life as itchy. At some point I had to question whether or not Joss Whedon was intentionally trying to sabotage DC. Clark reunites with his mother and decides to rejoin the fight at Lois’ insistence. The climax now has an ugly orange skyline. As Batman draws out the Parademons in the Batmobile, the rest of the team come to his rescue. Despite the lack of water, Aquaman is still very durable while joyfully flinging his quident into Parademons. Cyborg attempts to destroy the Mother Boxes while Wonder Woman faces Steppenwolf directly.

The Flash actually does some fighting, but Superman swoops in with a colorful costume when the Justice League is overwhelmed. He beats down Steppenwolf and uses his heat vision on him. Superman is practically left out of the entire movie since the fight would be over immediately otherwise. I’m glad Henry Cavill got to play a hopeful Superman, but his CGI mouth is still distracting. Superman & the Flash compete over saving civilians including the random Russian family. When they’re done, Superman turns into a big brother fighting Steppenwolf and assisting Cyborg. Batman & Superman also share a moment that undermines the tension of the situation. Which is followed by another ridiculous scene of Superman joking around with Cyborg when they destroy the Mother Boxes. Superman finally uses his arctic breath to destroy Steppenwolf’s axe and Wonder Woman finishes it off with a sword swing.

The Parademons sense Steppenwolf’s fear and engulf his body as he’s taken away in a Boom Tube. For some reason, plant life starts to spring up in the wake of Steppenwolf’s defeat. The entire Justice League has at least one group shot that isn’t quite as satisfying as it should be. They go their separate ways, but look to the future. Arthur returns to the sea, Barry makes his dad happy by joining the police force, and Victor reconfigures his metallic body with his father. Bruce saves the Kent farm by buying the bank and establishing the Hall of Justice with Diana. Diana reconnects with the world by continuing to fight crime. Clark finally gets the signature moment of ripping open his shirt to reveal the Superman costume before taking flight. All of this is shown as Lois writes an article about looking up to the sky for heroes.

The mid-credits scene is a lighthearted one that tries to answer the question of whether or not Superman can outrun the Flash. That’s followed by an after-credits scene where Jesse Eisenberg is sadly still around as Lex Luthor escaping Arkham Asylum. At least he’s bald and actually looks like the diseased maniac while wearing a well tailored suit. He meets with Deathstroke on a yacht discussing the possibility of forming an Injustice League. A silver haired Joe Manganiello was cast as Slade Wilson years ago, but I was still shocked when he appeared on screen. Sadly Justice League never supported its ambition. A possible two parter was cancelled and the DCEU practically imploded when The Batman was completely reworked, The Flash was continually delayed, Cyborg was cancelled, and Green Lantern Corps never materialized. Warner Bros. clearly had no idea what they were doing. Justice League has a strong superhero team in place, but middle of the road wasn’t gonna cut it for such iconic characters…

10. Justice League

The Justice League unite

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is what you get when fans scream loud enough. Although I was disappointed by Joss Whedon’s Justice League, I frankly thought it was a failure from the beginning. A problem that steamed from how poorly Warner Bros. handled the DCEU. As big of a DC fan as I am, I never really understood people begging the studio to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. The same people who were disappointed by Zack Snyder’s grim take on Batman v Superman. Although Zack Snyder and writer Chris Terrio had an even darker Justice League in mind, the response to Dawn of Justice did inspire a more hopeful tone. But Warner Bros. continued to push for more jokes and a shorter runtime. When Joss Whedon eventually came on board for rewrites, they practically seized the opportunity to have him direct after Snyder left.

The less than glowing response to the movie led to a complete reworking of the DCEU. One so drastic that it’s hard to say the DC Extended Universe even exists anymore. Similar to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, fans felt the “Snyder Cut” would be way better than the movie we ended up with. Both movies had a last minute director switch that drastically altered the tone of each film. I tried to ignore the “Snyder Cut” movement, but I was constantly bombarded by crazed fans yelling as loud as they could. All that yelling finally led to a completed movie in 2021, restoring the original footage seen in trailers. Released on HBO Max, the first teaser looked good, but the aspect ratio change was a bizarre creative choice. The R rating felt unnessercery and the 4 hour runtime seemed extremely excessive. It all turned out well in the end, but that tends to happen when a movie is roughly the length of a miniseries.

SPOILER ALERT! The difference between the “Snyder Cut” and the theatrical cut is made explicitly clear right off the bat. The darker tone is reestablished by showing the death of Superman in slow motion. When Doomsday impaled the Man of Steel, he screamed so loud that it could be heard across the world. Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane witness this first hand. A sullen Cyborg, fearful Atlanteans, and battle ready Amazons all witness their respective Mother Boxes activating. Lex Luthor is still in the genesis chamber learning about Steppenwolf when he hears the Kryptonian cry. The scene of a bearded Bruce Wayne traveling to a fishing community makes a lot more sense after an opening like that. What follows is a series of parts meant to make the 4 hour experience more bearable.

Part 1: “Don’t Count on it, Batman” – Bruce Wayne meeting Arthur Curry is a lot less joke heavy with more focus on his mission to build an alliance of warriors. Aquaman is a lot more no-nonsense when speaking the Icelandic language and turning down Wayne’s money. The main difference is a group of creepily aroused Icelandic women singing a folk song when Arthur rips his sweater off and dives into the sea. It’s nothing compared to Whedon’s version, but that doesn’t mean Snyder isn’t prone to WTF moments. Bruce & Alfred have a far more straightforward conversation afterwards when Aquaman says no. Scenes of Metropolis mourning Superman are cut out with more focus on Ma Kent foreclosing the farm and Lois visiting his monument. Former Jimmy Olsen actor Marc McClure plays the friendly police officer that she brings coffee to. Wonder Woman’s introduction is still at the London bank, but everytime Diana or the Amazons appear, Junkie XL plays an operitic siren call. Every… single… time!

We still hear her epic Dawn of Justice theme during a more action-packed slow motion fight, but the other theme is just excessive. The Black Clad gentlemen terrorists are a bit more sinister with one of them dropping the first of only 3 F bombs in the entire movie. There’s no question that Wonder Woman kills the lead terrorist when she strikes her bracelets. Immediately after killing someone, Diana has time to inspire a girl who wants to be just like her. When Steppenwolf arrives to face the Amazons, he has a far better alien design with spikes, bulging muscles, and a more threatening voice still provided by Ciarán Hinds. The Amazons declare their lack of fear to Steppenwolf when his Parademons attack. Violence is really the main reason for the R rating as CGI blood splatters during every action scene. Steppenwolf is ruthless in his pursuit of the Mother Box. He tosses horses and flexes arrows out of his body. Queen Hippolyta puts up an even more desperate fight that ends exactly the same way.

Part 2: The Age of Heroes – The next section bridges the gap between the old and new age of heroes. Bruce & Alfred only discuss searching for Barry Allen while on their plane. Ben Affleck was determined to soften up Batman regardless of director, so he’s still on a path of redemption. Gal Gadot hasn’t changed much between versions either. The main difference is having Diana slowly discover the history of the New Gods in an underground cavern after her mother lights the beacon. Jason Momoa is a lot more serious with Arthur’s link to the ocean. He has another obligatory shirtless scene as water consumes him to the tune of “Icky Thump.” Willem Dafoe is fully restored with Nuidis Vulko scolding Arthur over taking up Queen Atlanna’s trident. Since Aquaman’s mentor was first seen in Aquaman, you can tell even more that Atlantis wasn’t fully developed beforehand. Especially since Vulko also does the stupid air bubble thing. Joe Morton is immediately shown to have a bigger role as Silas Stone working at S.T.A.R. Labs when a janitor is kidnapped by a Parademon.

Ryan Zheng is also restored as Ryan Choi aka the second incarnation of Atom. He speaks with a Chinese accent and works with nanotechnology by the end. Silas returns to an even more angry Victor who watches over their Mother Box. The other better change made to Steppenwolf is having his motivation be redemption for his betrayal of Darkseid. He’s forced to conquer 150,000 worlds in order to return to Apocalypse. He speaks with master torturer DeSaad voiced by Peter Guinness, but the true big bad of the DC Universe will always be Darkseid. Turns out the “Snyder Cut” was finally enough to bring the ultimate world conqueror to live-action voiced by Ray Porter. His CGI design mostly resembles the comics with his imposing grey appearance and blue helmet. The centuries old battle between man, Amazons, Atlanteans, Old Gods, and a Green Lantern is even better and bloodier with Darkseid leading the charge. Robin Wright even makes an appearance as Antiope. The battle is far more epic as the Greek gods tear into Darkseid and ununite the Mother Boxes. Diana tells Bruce about Darkseid’s defeat as he continues to work on that Flying Fox plane.

Part 3: Beloved Mother, Beloved Son – Turns out Barry Allen was supposed to make his first appearance applying to a pet shop. Although Ezra Miller had his moments before, I have no doubt now that he is the strongest comic relief in the move. Even without Whedon’s B material, Snyder manages to keep the Flash light hearted. Iris West is fully restored with Kiersey Clemons becoming the second black actress to play Barry’s love interest. Their romantic relationship is only hinted at with loving glances. Barry’s superspeed is really taken advantage of in a beautiful sequence of him saving Iris to the tune of “Song to the Siren.” As long as you ignore the cringy moment of Barry grabbing a wiener mid Speed Force. Barry visiting his father in prison isn’t changed much.

The scene of Bruce & Diana discussing recruits is shown in full as the latter mentions a war between Amazons & Atlanteans. Bruce recruits Barry roughly the same way, but thankfully there’s no mention of brunch. Declaring himself to be rich is kept in however. Alfred has his less cringy lighter moments as well, but I’m not sure we needed tea time with Diana. Creating a blast resistance bat-gauntlet is a better use of his time. Steppenwolf only finds Atlantis when he brutally interrogates an Atlantean. His fight with Mera is about the same except for her violently sucking out his blood. Aquaman shows up to the fight, but the outcome with the Mother Box is the same. One thing I definitely didn’t notice before is a British accent that Amber Heard inexplicably gives Mera.

Arthur & Mera’s bubble conversation is a bit more connected to his solo film than it was before, but the biggest change is everything involving Cyborg. Ray Fisher was the most vocal critic of Joss Whedon’s behavior while filming Justice League. It got to a point where he was practically whining over and over again. I wasn’t surprised when Fisher was fired, but his characterization is more memorable than it was before. Victor’s entire origin as a noble football star, the death of his mother Elinore played by Karen Bryson, and the resentment he feels for his father is all fully restored. Cyborg is practically turned into a tech god that can literally control the entire world. He learns to fly and gives a struggling family money. Although he is still grim while dropping a second F bomb in his encounter with Diana. Everything changes when Silas is captured and Victor buries the final Mother Box.

Part 4: “Change Machine” – Commissioner Gordon’s role is almost exactly the same as it was before. Even the rooftop scene wasn’t changed. The team arrives at Gotham Harbor where they engage in a better first fight that isn’t undermined by jokes. Steppenwolf now interrogates people using a Starro type device that sees into their mind. Victor shows that he still cares for his father when he’s threatened. Cyborg displays further abilities that include an arm cannon, talking to Bruce’s plane, and growing a third arm. He mostly helps S.T.A.R. Labs employees to safety. The Flash isn’t a wimp who uses his superspeed to fight a Parademon and quickly help civilians. Batman puts up a good fight using Alfred’s power absorbing wrist blades and commanding the Knightcrawler before Cyborg steps in. Wonder Woman is still the best fighter in both versions when she engages in an even more intense duel with Steppenwolf.

Aquaman swims in the same way, but the team coming together in the Batcave is entirely different. I have no doubt that Cyborg was meant to be the main character after he explains the origin of the last Mother Box when it was taken by Nazis, then used by Silas to fix his son. The team much more calmly decides to use the Box to revive Superman. That’s followed by a much more heartfelt scene of Martha & Lois grieving at the latter’s house. Although the nice moment is kind of undercut by the revelation that Lois was talking to Martian Manhunter the entire time. His CGI could use some work, but apparently Harry Lennix was always meant to be the shapeshifting martian. Not exactly the cinematic debut I pictured for him. Meanwhile, Darkseid finally speaks when Steppenwolf discovers the all important Anti-Life Equation that can control all life in the Multiverse. Only after “The Unity” will Steppenwolf earn his freedom.

Part 5: All the King’s Horses – The grave robbing scene is completely different with Barry & Victor discussing Superman & Wonder Woman. Diana & Arthur are also nearby discussing the significance of an Atlantean teaming up with an Amazon. Alfred has another nice moment with Bruce continuing to make breakthroughs with his trust of Superman. Silas is more directly involved when the Justice League enter the S.T.A.R. Labs Kryptonian scout ship. He allows Victor to pass without interference. The Flash charging the Mother Box to revive Superman isn’t that different apart from Aquaman objecting the idea more. Cyborg also sees a post-apocalyptic future when connected to the ship. It shows Darkseid successfully invading Earth and controlling an evil Superman.

Diana is buried by the Amazons, Arthur is killed underwater by Darkseid’s Omega Beams, and Superman holds the cowl of Batman over the body of Kilowog. Clark coming back to life and fighting the Justice League obviously hasn’t changed depending on the scenes without his CGI lip. Save for Cyborg helping a cop and the Flash running into Aquaman. Everything Wonder Woman does is the same including the infamous “Kal-El no!” line. The main difference is Clark’s encounter with Batman where he silently uses his heat vision on the Dark Knight. Lois was already in the area. We see her with a pregnancy test and walking away from the monument beforehand. Steppenwolf actually arrives to take the final Mother Box this time. It’s more tragic when Silas heroically sacrifices himself trying to destroy the Box in front of his son. DC borrows a line from Marvel when Cyborg tells the team to go get the son of b*tch.

Part 6: “Something Darker” – Although I planned to go all the way, it was at this point that I needed a bathroom break. Clark taking Lois to the Kent farm is far less childish without Whedon’s dialogue. Talking to Lois about his engagement ring and embracing his mother is better when Henry Cavill looks more optimistic. Unfortunately, I’m not crazy about his choice of wardrobe. I know black suit Superman is synonymous with his resurrection, but that’s just another problem with setting Dawn of Justice before Justice League. Superman really should have his classic red & blue suit when with the team. Otherwise both him and Batman are wearing black. Despite being more hopeful, Clark chooses the black suit as the conflicting words of his human and Kryptonian father fill his head. Superman flies into the heavens to join the fight. Meanwhile, the Justice League have a calmer discussion about how to find Steppenwolf after meeting Alfred.

Cyborg intends to disconnect the Mother Boxes while the Flash builds up a powerful electric charge. Arthur opens up a bit to Barry, but he doesn’t need a Lasso to do it. Bruce also brings up the Knightmare to Diana before they head out to Moscow. Thankfully there’s no pointless Russia family to save. The power of “The Unity” can be felt from Themyscira to Atlantis. Alfred meets Master Kent for the first time when he comes searching for the others. The final battle is rightfully restored to its original nighttime color palette. Batman still destroys the barrier, but using the Batmobile is given more weight. Most of the time Batman stays away from Steppenwolf in order to take out Parademon sharpshooters. After the team have another group shot, Cyborg, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman face Steppenwolf directly. He tries to get under Diana’s skin by reminding her of the Amazons and attempts to keep Victor from the Boxes.

Steppenwolf swings his axe on Cyborg, but Superman arrives just in time to use his arctic breath on it. Superman’s powerful display is rougher, but not much different from the theatrical edition. The suit was actually colored black in post-production. When a Parademon somehow manages to hit the Flash, it becomes too late to stop “The Unity.” Darkseid appears in a portal alongside DeSaad and a presumably digital version of Granny Goodness on Apocalypse. As the world crumbles, the Flash really shows his immense power by turning back time in a breathtaking Speed Force run. No doubt that the Justice League are in fact gods among us. Cyborg views his family when revived, but sees past the deception in order to break the Boxes. Steppenwolf won’t go down without a fight this time. Until he’s impaled by Aquaman, punched by Superman, and actually beheaded by Wonder Woman. Darkseid knows enough to retreat, but plan an old fashion invasion later on. The Justice League standing together is about the same apart from the distracting black suit.

Epilogue: “A Father Twice Over” – Rather than have Lois close out the movie with a Daily Planet article, Victor listens to the recording left by his father that he destroyed earlier. Silas Stone gives similar words of encouragement as the heroes go their separate ways. Victor embraces his role as Cyborg, Arthur talks to Vulko & Mera before leaving to see his father, Barry similarly tells his father about his forensics job, and Diana returns to her Amazonian monastery. The Hall of Justice scene is the same and so is Bruce buying the bank for Clark. The only difference with Clark is him opening up his shirt to reveal a silver ‘S’ underneath. The after-credits scene is now part of the movie with Lex escaping Arkham, but having a different conversation with Deathstroke. Now the scene has more to do with The Batman when Lex reveals Batman’s secret identity.

Although that’s a natural place to stop, there’s still an entire Knightmare to get through. The post-apocalypse is shown in more detail with trench coat Batman, weaponized Cyborg, British Mera carrying Aquaman’s trident, the Flash wearing an armored costume, Deathstroke as an ally, and even the Joker. Since all of this was brand new, Ben Affleck, Ray Fisher, Amber Heard, Ezra Miller, Joe Manganiello, and Jared Leto never look like they filmed together. After his terrible portrayal in Suicide Squad, Leto makes up for it with a more subtle tattooless Clown Prince of Crime. Not that his dialogue isn’t a little cringy and drawn out. Batman & the Joker discuss Robin, Harley Quinn, and the Caped Crusader actually drops the final F bomb. Which is followed by the evil Superman attacking. By this point I was done, but even that’s not the end when Martian Manhunter finally shows up to tell Bruce he’ll fight with them in a future we may never see.

In conclusion, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is better than the theatrical cut, but it’s not the masterpiece some fans call it. If you need 4 hours just to tell a story properly, than I wouldn’t exactly call that genius. Snyder got even more self indulgent by making a black & white version of the movie. The Leonard Cohen version of “Hallelujah” is only heard during the credits. Fans continue to press Warner Bros. for an “Ayer Cut” of the similarly botched Suicide Squad. Along with the full restoration of the Snyderverse featuring a Justice League trilogy. Although this was a good effort, I’m still not a fan of his radical vision for famous DC characters. The solo approach to the DCEU isn’t a perfect one, but I’m fine with it as long as the movies are good. In the end, Zack Snyder completed Justice League for his daughter, so I guess I can’t fault him for that.

Justice League

The Justice League unite

Preceded by: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice & Wonder Woman