Reflecting on the DCEU before “Justice League”
This weekend sees the release of “Justice League,” the latest film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), based on the classic DC Comics, where classic characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Superman all hail. I’ve seen all the entries in the franchise so far, and in my mind they have ranged from surprisingly moving (“Wonder Woman”) to downright awful (“Suicide Squad). But I don’t think I’ll ever fully give myself over to enjoying the DCEU, and the reason for this has to do with one experience I had over four years ago.
In 2013, I turned 16, and as a present my mother whisked me away to Los Angeles, where we attended studio tours, walked on the Sunset Strip and even had a celebrity encounter, literally bumping into Ron “Hellboy” Perlman at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. It was a movie lover’s paradise, and I embraced all it had to offer.
A few days into our trip, my mom and I decided to watch a film at the world’s most famous picture house: Grauman’s Chinese Theater, also known as the place where celebrities put their handprints in cement. We checked the showtimes, hoping to find some arthouse foreign piece or romantic film. Much to our surprise, all that was playing was “Man of Steel.”
I’d heard through the grapevine that the latest entry in the Superman story was not a great movie, but this was Grauman’s, I was in Hollywood, and would be leaving in three days. It was either now, or never for the foreseeable future.
So we bought tickets and entered the lobby. It really was breathtaking – the art-deco design that ran throughout the interior, the illuminated posters of the innumerable classics that had premiered there, the knowledge I was walking in the same path Meryl Streep probably had at one point. Even the fresh popcorn tasted a little better.
One of the employees tore our tickets and pointed down a dark hallway. “It’s that way. Please enjoy the show, ladies.”
We nodded and entered the legendary theater, breathing in the history embedded in the walls, carpet and the majestic screen perched in the front. As we settled into our seats, I sighed with satisfaction. Grauman’s was all I thought it would be and more. But this was all about to change.
After a few dozen trailers and previews, “Man of Steel” finally began.
I should clarify I have never had a special connection with Superman. I didn’t read the comics and only saw the first of the Christopher Reeve movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s. My knowledge only extended to his origin story, that he fought for truth, justice and the American way, and that he hardly ever killed his enemies.
But I knew enough to realize “Man of Steel” was wretched.
Who goes into a Superman movie expecting to see sorrow, death and wide-scale destruction? What was with the “Memento”-style editing? How was it possible for the filmmakers to waste Amy Adams so badly? And the most pressing of all: Why did Superman kill his enemy at the end when there was no good reason for it?
I ranted about this to my mother later that night at dinner. As she sympathized with me, I realized something awful: the movie not only wasted two hours of my time, but also had ruined my experience at what should have been a Mecca for this movie lover.
By total chance, I haven’t enjoyed a DC movie until this year’s “Wonder Woman.” The two DCEU successors, “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” weren’t great either, but at least for those I wasn’t in Hollywood itself at the most famous theater on Earth.