How to Solve the DC Movies Villain Problem

The DC Extended Universe is far from universally loved - critics know this, haters know this - the Warner Bros. executives apparently know it - and even hardcore DC fans should be able to admit that some improvements can be made.

The old saying that a movie is only as good as its villain holds doubly true for comic book superhero movies, where the villain is often half of the entire equation to the story.

DCEU villains Alex Ross
(Photo: Alex Ross)

In the tradition of DC comics, the relationship between heroes and their primary foes is deep, with Superman/Lex Luthor and Batman/Joker forming some of the best comic book rivalries of all time. It's a real shame then, that these villains and their relationships to major DC superheroes have been such a muted and/or disappointing part of the DC Movies. And that needs to change, soon.

Here's how to do it.

Get the Basics Before Reinventing

Directors like David Ayer and Zack Snyder have attempted to "reinvent" major DC villains like Joker and Lex Luthor for the modern age of DC movies, and to say the results have been divisive would be a gross understatement. From the casting, to the visual presentation, to the actual performances, many fans have been unhappy (or downright angry) about how these characters have been adapted to the screen.

Solution: The filmmakers at DC/WB and their shared universe creative team need to sit down with the list of villains set to appear in upcoming DCEU movies and makes sure they are all being created for the screen with their core essences intact, and (more importantly) that they are recognizable to the fanbase. So if you're going to make Joker into something that looks like an LA gangster, you need to make sure that he's still the riveting force of chaos we know and love (instead of just a lovesick stalker boyfriend); If you're going to make Lex Luthor a nerdy tech mogul, we shouldn't be confused about his ability to be a brilliant and maniacal evil mastermind.

There are basics natures to these characters that have been maintained through over half a century of changes. The DCEU needs to walk before it can run - no point in reinventing great DC villains into something unrecognizable.

Give Them A Bigger Spotlight

Jared Leto Joker in DCEU
(Photo: Warner Bros. )

Again: DC Comics villains are pretty big icons in their own right, with many of them having ascended past the comic book page to become legitimate pop-culture figures (like Joker). Thanks to modern comic book reboots and ventures like Suicide Squad and the DC TV universe, even second-tier DC villains like Deadshot, Deathstroke, Boomerang and Reverse-Flash have become much bigger players than they used to be.

With the DC Villains having earned their place in the spotlight, the DCEU needs to do a better job of letting them shine.

Michael Shannon and Antje Traue were two of the more favored parts of Man of Steel - a film that let them both have ample room to establish themselves as villains General Zod and Faora. Since then, however, there hasn't been enough focus on the villains of the DCEU; Batman v Superman's theatrical cut made a mess of Lex Luthor's scheming - while even Suicide Squad managed to short-change Joker, the biggest villain in the DCEU.

Going forward, DCEU films like Justice League and the various solo movie that come afterward need to do a better job making the villains as big a part of the equation as the heroes.

More Crossover Scheming

The DC TV Universe has had an advantage in building its villains: TV's long-form format allows for a villain to be sketched a line at a time, building them up into a complicated and multi-dimensional character. It's worked for the DCTV Universe, the Marvel TV Universe - but movies are an entirely different beast. DC and Warner Bros. have chosen an especially hard route in this regard, by keeping their TV and film sides completely separated. That means that DCEU villains only have the space of movie runtimes in order to establish themselves and develop. With such a crowded universe, one film appearance every few years is never going to be enough. DC villains need to appear in several places to keep their sagas unfolding.

batmandeadshot

It's already supposedly happening: rumor is that Will Smith's Deadshot could pop up in Ben Affleck's solo movie - and the same is expected of Leto's Joker. Harley Quinn is getting a spinoff movie; Lex Luthor is going to be in Justice League; and the rumors of more characters being traded between films goes on.

Hopefully, DC/WB understands the need to develop these villain characters, and is making the proper steps to fit into logical places all across the cinematic universe. They put big stars in the roles, might as well make the most of them. At least more than they have so far...

NEXT: How to Solve the Marvel Movie Villain Problem

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The DCEU continues with Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017, followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Batman solo movie, Dark Universe and Man of Steel 2 are also in development.