The DC Extended Universe began with a planet exploding in 2013's Man of Steel, and things haven’t been much calmer for the embattled franchise since. DC's attempts to both differentiate itself from and keep up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe have resulted in what can charitably be described as “a bit of a mess,” and not everyone is happy with the results.
The series’ casting, characters, plots, and general quality are constantly a point of contention — especially online — and, as a result, it’s become one of the most controversial franchises of all time.
Here are the 10 biggest dust-ups in the history of the DCEU.
The dark tone
It’s hard not to compare the DCEU to the MCU. For a while, DC movies made a big effort to differentiate themselves by having a much darker and grittier tone than their rival cinematic superhero universe.
Zack Snyder’s vision for the franchise was washed-out and overcast, a contrast to Marvel’s more family-friend “fun” vibe. If Marvel’s aesthetic was bright, old superhero comic books, then the DCU wanted to be a "serious" graphic novel, though the execution left something to be desired.
However, the future of the DCEU is getting brighter — literally. DC's chief creative officer Geoff Johns wants it to become lighter and more fun to win back the fans it initially lost. Next year’s Shazam! looks especially colorful.
Unpopular casting decisions
The DCEU has had its fair share of casting controversies – enough to fill a list like this, quite frankly – so we’ve bundled them up into one tidy little entry.
The most obvious — and the one that undoubtedly caused the most fuss — was Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman. Affleck had played a superhero before, yes, but it was in the terrible 2003 Daredevil movie, and fans simply weren’t convinced he was the right man to portray the Dark Knight, especially after Christian Bale made such a deep-voiced impression in the Christopher Nolan films. Objecting fans launched online petitions protesting the casting to no avail, though Affleck’s take on Bruce Wayne and Batman ended up being fine, for the most part.
Batfleck was far from the only DC casting decision to face heavy backlash. Some fans also objected to Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (she was derided for being too slim), Laurence Fishburne as Perry White (the character is traditionally white in the comics, so the usual tiresome race debate ensued), and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor (he seemed too young and unimposing).
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor
As we mentioned, Eisenberg’s casting as Lex Luthor raised eyebrows, but often times an actor’s actual performance in the final movie can prove the haters wrong. In Eisenberg’s case, that didn’t happen, and his twitchy, Mark Zuckerberg-esque take on Superman’s greatest foe is still divisive among fans to this day.
When Eisenberg’s Lex made his debut in the Batman v Superman trailer, many comic book fans felt he wasn’t right for the role. The film made some pretty substantial changes to the traditional comic character, and it’s not clear if they were good changes. He had hair; he was too young; he didn’t seem threatening enough. To be perfectly honest, he was far more like the Joker than he was any previous version of Superman’s arch-nemesis. Why make Lex Luthor into a Joker rip-off, when he could have just been the iconic Lex Luthor?
Jared Leto's Joker
Meanwhile, Jared Leto’s casting as the Joker in Suicide Squad wasn’t met with backlash — at least initially. Leto is, after all, a noted method actor who throws everything into his roles, meaning he could truly mimic the right amount of crazy to portray the iconic villain.
However, anticipation turned to ridicule and dismay when the design of his Joker iteration was first revealed. His dirtbag appearance — that “damaged” forehead tattoo and those teeth grills — was a very unexpected deviation from the character’s classic appearance, one that seemed to be trying way too hard. His creepy on-set behavior also generated a lot of negative press (though Leto says he did not actually give his co-stars used condoms).
But perhaps the biggest issue with his Joker was how forced his appearance in Suicide Squad felt. Many of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, which might’ve made things better or worse. It’s really hard to say.
Superman breaks Zod's neck
Man of Steel, the DCEU’s first entry and the grand debut of Henry Cavill's Superman, would set the tone for the rest of the franchise. While fans were optimistic, the movie is not.
Perhaps because it tried too hard to dodge criticisms that Superman is an uninteresting Boy Scout, the movie didn’t have the feel-good factor most other Superman iterations have had. It certainly reflected the bleakness that Snyder was going for in the franchise — but there was one particularly dark element of the movie that caused widespread outrage.
In the movie’s climactic battle — when the titular hero went up against Michael Shannon’s General Zod and his minions — Superman snapped Zod’s neck to save a family from the villain’s heat vision. Supes has been forced to kill before, but usually as an absolute last resort, so breaking the principles of his character so early on was a highly criticized move, especially since this was his first appearance.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a disappointment for a variety of reasons, but something happened in the movie’s titular battle that threw fans into a furious stupor.
When the Dark Knight stood over the Man of Steel, ready to end the fight, the Kryptonian pleaded with him to save his mother, Martha Kent. The plea came in the form of the word "Martha," which made Batman go a little crazy since that was also the name of his late mother (what a coincidence).
It was supposed to be a moving and poignant moment, one that brought the heroes together and ended their fight, but instead it came across as awkward, contrived, and unintentionally comedic as Batman screamed "WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!" several times before Lois Lane gave him an explanation.
“Martha” became the target of countless jokes, parodies, and memes, naturally.
Justice League reshoots
In May 2017, Zack Snyder stepped down from directorial duties during Justice League's post-production period to deal with the tragic death of his daughter, Autumn.
Joss Whedon took over for Snyder and, in July of that year, news broke that the movie was undergoing two months of reshoots in London and Los Angeles, at a cost of around $25 million.
Whedon — who was known for his light take on the first two Avengers movies — was rumored to have changed Snyder’s original ending. DCEU loyalists then started to voice concerns that Whedon was breaking Snyder’s vision and trying to make a movie like those in the MCU. He didn’t quite pull it off, but it’s easy to see the seams between the two directors’ visions in the final film. This has prompted a passionate group of fans to demand that Warner Bros. release a #SnyderCut of the movie, which may not even exist in the first place.
And we can’t talk about Justice League reshoots without talking about Henry Cavill’s mustache. The Superman actor was filming Mission: Impossible – Fallout at the time and was rocking a 'stache that had to be digitally erased for his Justice League scenes, and it looked ridiculous.
Rushing the whole thing
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time and most of its movies are well-reviewed — and there’s a good reason for that. Everything was methodically set up, starting with five solo movies before the Avengers came together in 2012's The Avengers — but DC and Warner Bros. decided to bypass all the set-up in their movie universe and rush everything.
Man of Steel wasn’t enough to prime audiences for Batman v Superman only three years later, as its Superman wasn’t fully fledged and an already over-the-hill Batman didn’t have a backstory at all. That’s not all that was jammed into this Man of Steel sequel/Justice League prequel, as it also threw Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and Doomsday at audiences before killing off Superman.
His death, too, was rushed, as the following year’s Justice League added the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg and had them team up with Batman and Wonder Woman. They resurrected Superman in short order to help fend off an alien invasion led by a roughly humanoid collection of pixels named Steppenwolf. The whole thing was haphazard and convoluted, and the reviews have certainly reflected that.
The Rotten Tomatoes "conspiracy"
Perhaps the most farcical controversy in DCEU history is the impotent rage misguided fans direct toward the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
When both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad earned poor scores on the site (they’re currently sitting at a 27 and 28 percent, respectively), irate DC fans argued that the site's reviews were biased towards Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, as no MCU offering has been certified “rotten” on the site to date. Angry DC fans started petitions and threatening to sabotage the rating for 2018’s Black Panther, which currently enjoys a 97 percent fresh rating and a 79 percent audience score.
What the 22,000+ people who signed angry petitions failed to realize was that Warner Bros. bought Rotten Tomatoes back in 2011. If there was any bias, you’d expect it to lean the other way. Plus, Rotten Tomatoes is primarily a review aggregator, so all those negative reviews came from outside critics who disliked the DC movies, independently.
Henry Cavill's exit
On September 12, reports circulated that Henry Cavill was departing the DCEU and leaving the role of Superman behind. Weeks later, it’s still not clear whether those reports were true or not.
On the day the news hit the internet, Cavill posted a bizarre, cryptic video on his Instagram account, a video in which he could be seen wearing a "Krypton Lifting Team" T-shirt, staring at the camera solemnly, and holding a Superman action figure (all while a dog barking version of "The Blue Danube" played in the background).
The uncertainty of the whole situation has caused quite a stir, with some fans happy to potentially see Cavill’s exit while others are devastated because he’ll never live up to his potential as Superman.
These are just 10 of the DCEU’s biggest controversies, but with more movies on the way — especially a Joker origin story — you can be sure there will be another crisis.