As of this writing, the legacy of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) — a shared superhero movie world designed to rival Marvel’s intergalactic cross-media juggernaut — looks murky, which is nuts.
We can see a pile of announced DCEU projects on the horizon: "The Flash" starring Ezra Miller as Barry Allen and Michael Keaton as an alternate-reality Batman; the third Wonder Woman movie with Gal Gadot in the title role; "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" with an evidently blond Jason Momoa once again wielding the trident; this year’s "The Suicide Squad" via director James Gunn; "Black Adam" starring The Rock; and "Shazam! Fury of the Gods." Typically, suggesting a failed franchise with six upcoming installments makes you sound crazy.
However, 2019’s "Joker" takes place outside of DC’s shared universe and made more money than every DCEU film except for "Aquaman" (2018) with a significantly lower budget. Meanwhile, DC’s flagship character will undergo an onscreen reboot when director Matt Reeves’s "The Batman" hits screens in 2022. Neither of these facts support the idea of DC’s indefinite commitment to locking all their superhero films into one continuity. The circumstances could always change, but at the moment, Marvel appears to have won the cinematic universe war.
Y’know what else makes fewer interconnected movies seem like a good idea? All the cringe in the DCEU. Granted, cringe exists across essentially all areas of existence, but the DCEU oozes cringe in its own special way. Here are the worst offenders.
Wonder Woman begs Superman, ‘Kal-El, No!’
At this point in her career, Gal Gadot is not recognized as one of her generation’s masters of the dramaturgical arts. Some might argue that’s mostly okay — her iteration of Wonder Woman relies on physicality and charisma much more than suspending the audience’s disbelief. The DCEU’s Princess Diana of Themyscira doesn’t share Peter Parker’s neurosis and relatability; if she comes off as a little disconnected, that actually helps her project a sense of otherworldliness.
But every once in a while, Gadot does bad acting and it just looks silly. Her infamous overwrought reprimand of a rampaging, recently resurrected Superman (Henry Cavill) in both the 2017 and the 2021 versions of "Justice League" serves as a case in point. Of course, Wonder Woman’s decision to call Superman by his Kryptonian birth name at this point seems very odd, seeing as how he’s much more accustomed to people he barely knows addressing him as "Clark," "Superman," or even "Mr. Kent."
As the Cosmonaut Variety Hour points out, both "Justice League" movies include different takes of Wonder Woman wailing "Kal-El, no!" even though both of the takes are buckets of goofballs. This indicates that the writers might share some of the blame for this cringeworthy moment, along with Gadot’s crummy acting.
Batman finds out Superman’s mom has the same name as his mom
In a scene that’ll be talked about for decades, but not for the reasons DC once hoped, Batman (Ben Affleck) is about to impale Superman (Henry Cavill) on a kryptonite spear in 2016’s "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Superman groans, "You’re letting him kill Martha!" and "Find him! Save Martha!" and Batman flips the heck out.
"Him" refers to Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who has taken Martha Kent (Diane Lane) hostage. Martha as an abstract concept provides a basis for thoughtful analysis of gender in director Zack Snyder’s films; but even though her kidnapping is Superman’s motivation at this point, Martha barely seems like she’s in this movie until Batman screams, "Why did you say that name?!" as though he is Cookie Monster, and his nemesis has whispered… "cookie"…
We can easily imagine a version of this scene that doesn’t land on a list of cringeworthy moments. Assuming he’s about to die, Superman utters, "You have to save my mom." Batman says, "Huh?" Superman says, "Martha Kent. Save Martha (cough, cough) Kent." Batman keeps his cool, but the maternal coincidence forces him to pause for just long enough for Lois Lane (Amy Adams) to arrive and explain Luthor’s plot.
But since Snyder must push every moment of every movie as far over the top as it can go — which, ironically, is basically why he’s popular — "BvS" has no room for quiet contemplation under any circumstances.
Batman quotes Dick Cheney
If we absolutely had to guess whether Batman votes Democrat or a Republican, we’d say he’s usually too busy doing Batman stuff to worry about current events unless they pertain directly to public safety.
So let’s set politics aside and just focus on popularity for a second. When Vice President Dick Cheney left office in 2009, his administration’s approval rating had sunk into the low 20s, according to CBS News. Should a beloved hero like Batman parrot a largely disliked and retired politician? "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" seems to think so.
"If we believe there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, then we have to take it as an absolute certainty," says Batman in a scene DC opted to feature in the trailer. Folks who remember post-9/11 American politics might notice Batman borrowing an infamous Cheney quote, partly verbatim.
"If there’s a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response," says the veep who, in 2003, thought invading Iraq was an essential step towards global safety, and not an inevitably costly and tragic blunder of historic proportions.
Here, "BvS" puts a wildly unpopular man’s words in the mouth of a hero who’s among the most popular characters in all of fiction. Whatever the intent for the purpose of the story, it’s very cringe.
Somebody switches out Senator Finch’s glass of water for a jar of urine
Though it’s never stated outright, it appears Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) pees in a jar and leaves it on a podium as a final "Screw You!" to Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) before a suicide bomber kills her along with an entire courtroom of people in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."
Unexpected pee in the middle of a movie is gross enough to be cringe all on its own, but doesn’t it also seem a little juvenile and crass, even for Eisenberg’s take on Luthor? Based on his mannerisms, personality and aspects of his background — whether it’s deliberate or incidental — the DCEU’s iteration of Luthor scans like a combination of Eisenberg’s performance of Mark Zuckerberg from "The Social Network" (2010) and a since-disgraced mid-level screenwriter who once made a popular YouTube fan film about Superman.
We aren’t sure about the latter half of this Luthor’s inspirational DNA, but the movie version of Zuckerberg definitely could’ve come up with a more elegant and sophisticated way to mess with Sen. Finch’s brain before blasting her to smithereens. He did invent Facebook, after all.
Every time Superman screams after letting someone die or killing someone
The version of Jonathan "Pa" Kent portrayed by Kevin Costner in "Man of Steel" (2013) loves farming and hates rescuing people when they’re in trouble. This makes him a somewhat nontraditional interpretation of Clark Kent’s foundational male role model who, in other takes on the Superman myth, tends to gently push Clark in a more pro-saving people direction.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The moment when famously invincible Clark stands by and watches his adopted dad run into a raging tornado to rescue the family dog only to predictably die horribly is intensely cringe. Obviously, Superman could rescue his Pa and the pooch very quickly and with minimal effort, but instead, he just stands there and screeches "DAAAAAAAAAD!!!" like a chump.
But is it as wince-inducing as Superman’s cry of exhausted anguish immediately after offing Zod at the end of the movie? Granted, Superman gets pretty stressed out when he realizes Zod can’t be reasoned with, and he’s definitely got to murder one of the only remaining Kryptonians in the galaxy. Still, it makes us think about how much time Zack Snyder spends telling actors to scream in rage and/or despair, and that definitely makes us cringe.
Wonder Woman gives the world a pep talk
Towards the conclusion of "Wonder Woman 1984" (2020), Diana reaches out to all 7.8 billion people in the world simultaneously and asks them to voluntarily undo the magic wishes that everybody recently made and, in many cases, are enjoying due to successful fulfillment. One-by-one, everyone does what Wonder Woman asks, which prevents the greed of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) from destroying all of reality. Or something generally like that. It’s a confusing movie.
In of itself, this isn’t the worst scene in "WW84." But it becomes the pinnacle of cringe when we realize that it could very well be where Gal Gadot got the idea to reach out to everyone in the world herself, with the help of several of her wealthy celebrity buddies, to sing John Lennon’s "Imagine" in an Instagram video. In theory, this would make the folks of Earth feel better about the COVID-19 pandemic and its potentially catastrophic implications for countless lives. Or something generally like that.
This plan, when executed, panned out as one of the most embarrassing things to come out of 2020 — a year in which some folks drank bleach, under the impression that doing so would make them immune to a virus. So when we say Gadot is the mastermind behind some of 2020’s most cringeworthy behavior, let’s note she’s holding her own against some truly fierce competition.
Barbara Minerva and Diana’s adorkable early relationship
The presentation of Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) resonates as one of the most glaring missed opportunities in "WW84." There’ve been a few different versions of Minerva, aka Cheetah, in the comics, but the baseline of Barbara can be summarized as the answer to the question, "What if Indiana Jones was a woman, evil, and could turn into a magic flesh-eating jungle cat?"
But instead of a big bad who’s a physical and mental match for an immortal Amazon Princess, "WW84" coughs up an awkward nerd who turns psycho when she gets powers, in the mold of Joel Schumacher Batman villains like The Riddler (Jim Carrey) in "Batman Forever" (1995) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) in "Batman and Robin" (1997). When Barbara and Diana meet, Barbara’s deeply envious of Diana because…Diana has more self-confidence? Even though Barbara is also a conventionally attractive woman with a fancy archaeology career that presumably pays handsomely and, as far as she knows at the beginning of the film, a life very similar to Diana’s?
Did director Patty Jenkins and writer Geoff Johns watch Jim Carrey and Val Kilmer in "Batman Forever" and say to themselves, "The hero/villain dynamic from this old movie that people mostly only like ironically is exactly what we need for our ‘Wonder Woman’ sequel?"
Martha Kent turns into Martian Manhunter, then turns into Harry Lennix?
The general consensus on the two versions of "Justice League" is Zack Snyder’s revamped version of the movie released on HBO Max in 2021 is a step up from the 2017 theatrical cut. But that doesn’t make the so-called "Snyder Cut" free of cringe.
Take, for instance, the whole deal with Martha Kent and Lois Lane. After "Ma" Kent finishes telling Lois Lane that she can’t grieve over Superman’s death in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" forever, Martha leaves the apartment, transforms into J’onn J’onzz, aka The Martian Manhunter (making his DCEU debut), then transforms again into General Calvin Swanwick (Harry Lennix), who we may remember from "Man of Steel," and says, "The world needs you too, Lois." Yeesh.
Martian Manhunter never interacts directly with any Justice League members until well after the major events and conflicts of the film have wrapped up. He comes across as totally unconnected to the plot and shoehorned in for the purpose of showing the audience yet another familiar intellectual property. Furthermore, he raises some befuddling questions the film never addresses. Was Lennix playing J’onn J’onzz all the way back in "Man of Steel?" Did J’onn replace that guy at some point?
Also, setting aside whether we accept the idea that Lois would completely fall apart after Superman’s demise, the kind of serious, clinical depression we see her suffering from isn’t the sort of thing that gets resolved by a pep talk from your almost mother-in-law.
Joker asks Batman, ‘Who’s gonna give you the reach-around?’
In one of the most talked-about additions to "Justice League" conjured up by original director Zack Snyder for his 2020 version, the film flashes forward to a potential future where Batman and a cohort of costumed folks wander through a "Mad Max"-style wasteland. Soon, we see this gang includes The Joker, played by Jared Leto reprising his "Suicide Squad" (2016) role. A subsequent conversation between Batman and The Joker dumps the exposition of their relationship — Batman can never kill The Joker because they complete each other, or some such hogwash intended to sound nihilistic and profound.
"You won’t kill me. I’m your best friend," says The Joker. "Besides…who’s going to give you a reach-around?"
Whoa! They went there! This ain’t your grandpa’s Joker! This one is sort of homophobic! Sure, some folks like the Joker stuff in "Zack Snyder’s Justice League." Other folks think it plays like a much-stupider than average 13-year-old read 1988’s "Batman: The Killing Joke," watched "The Dark Knight" (2008), and decided to write a Batman-Joker scene that was the edgiest thing to ever have an edgy night in edgy-ville.
Of course, the scene makes no sense and adds nothing to the larger context of the movie, but it is noteworthy for its vindication of Joel Schumacher. The "Batman and Robin" director is no longer responsible for the worst Batman stuff to ever appear in a live action feature.
Joker’s humiliating tattoos
If the folks behind "The Suicide Squad" (2021) get their way, the David Ayer-directed "Suicide Squad" will not be the best-known Suicide Squad movie for very much longer. For now, let us reminisce upon early promotional stills for the film that set Jared Leto up to fail miserably as a successor to Heath Ledger less than a decade removed from Ledger’s monumental turn as the Clown Prince of Crime in "The Dark Knight."
Before we all realized what we were looking at, some of us saw Leto’s Joker and thought something like, "Hey, it’s that guy who got kicked out of the mall for taking his shirt off in Spencer’s. He was trying to impress some high school girls with his abs and tatts. It was creepy." Or perhaps we thought something like, "Hey, it’s the drummer from that metalcore band who played that rager we threw at Timbob’s house when his parents left town for the weekend."
And then it finally dawned on us, "Oh, wait…Jeez. Is that supposed to be The Joker?" And cringe, we sure did.
Enchantress summons the apocalypse with belly dancing
Belly dancing is not intimidating. If you’ve ever been to a belly dancing demonstration, you understand that the performers in no way intend to frighten the audience. So when the minds behind "Suicide Squad" needed something for Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) to do to indicate that evil-as-heck magic was taking place, why did their thinking land on belly dancing?
We suppose, if given the option, we would prefer to see a runway model dance in her underwear rather than eat babies with huge fangs that grow out of her nose while her eyeballs pop out of her skull and explode and send eye goop flying everywhere. But if she’s supposed to be a big bad reality-destroying supervillain, shouldn’t she do anything more disturbing than shake her hips while surrounded by medium-quality CG effects?
Enchantress’ whole deal in "Suicide Squad" slaps like somebody in charge was working overtime to appeal to the teenage male segment of the audience. Trying really hard to convince teenagers to like you is always cringe.
Superman’s profoundly disturbing upper lip
Thanks to the advancement of science and technology, it is more-or-less common amongst human beings to carry what’s essentially a computer in their pockets. And yet, Hollywood is still, apparently, completely useless when the time comes to edit a mustache off a guy for a movie.
As has been extensively covered, a family emergency caused original director Zack Snyder to leave the production of what became the theatrical cut of "Justice League," and Joss Whedon took over from there. By the time the Whedon-helmed reshoots began, Henry Cavill had grown a mustache for his part in "Mission: Impossible – Fallout" (2018). This forced the "Justice League" special effects team to digitally erase Cavill’s facial hair in post-production.
To their credit, it’s hard to say if we’d all notice the change if we weren’t looking for it, because by the time "Justice League" hit theaters, the extensive reshoots and digital edits had been widely reported in the media. However, it happens to be the case that we were, in fact, looking for a digitally altered upper lip from Bizzaro World, which means we noticed it easily, and winced in vicarious embarrassment for everyone involved.