To put it mildly, DC’s attempt to establish an interconnected cinematic universe has been a pretty big mess so far. A lot of that has to do with both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad simply being bad movies (I go back and forth on Man of Steel, a film that has some great ideas, but also many problems). However, one theme that runs through all three of these movies is that they fail to present their central characters as aspirational figures (to be fair, this is a rather moot point when it comes to Suicide Squad, but that film had bigger issues anyway).
While Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, is directly tied into the same DC universe as these aforementioned films, it almost feels like a rebuke of what those films were about. It’s bright, bold, heartfelt and most importantly, fun, and if it’s indicative of where DC is headed with its cinematic ventures from here on out, we’re in for a treat. Wonder Woman is the best movie DC has released since The Dark Knight and here are 10 reasons why.
10. Gal Gadot’s Performance
When it was originally announced that Israeli actress and model Gal Gadot would be playing Wonder Woman, the response was mixed to say the least. Some fans felt that Gadot was simply too slender to play the part, which is a fair criticism if you like to imagine Diana as a super buff Amazon warrior. While I’m sure there are still some out there who wish Warner Bros. had gone with a different actress, Gadot’s performance in Wonder Woman leaves no question in my mind that the studio made the right call in casting her.
Not only has Gadot buffed up considerably to better embody the look and stature of Diana, she pretty much establishes herself as the MVP of the entire DC Extended Universe up to this point. Her Diana is vulnerable and naive, but at the same time confident and fiercely idealistic and at no point does it feel like Gadot is uncomfortable in the iconic costume of one of the most popular feminist icons of the last century. Unlike Henry Cavill, who seems to have largely relied on his looks and physique to sell himself as Superman thus far, Gadot lets her performance do the talking (although it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s also stunningly gorgeous).
9. Diana and Steve’s Romance Feels Authentic and Earned
Much like its contemporaries, Wonder Woman features a romantic subplot but unlike in the majority of superhero films, the relationship between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor grows organically and doesn’t feel tacked on. Of course, this easily could have been a hollow romance designed just to titillate, as both Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are very attractive people, yet their attraction to each other is hardly based on physical appearances at all. In fact, the film essentially rejects this line of thinking early on when Diana encounters a naked Steve in the bath. Rather than swooning over seeing a man in the nude for the first time, Diana seems unimpressed and asks Steve if he’s indicative of what the average man looks like. Later on, she rejects Steve even further by casually mentioning that the Amazons long ago came to the conclusion that men are not necessary for sexual pleasure.
To his credit, Steve doesn’t let any of this tarnish his ego and proves his worth to Diana not as a man she needs around to do manly things, but rather as someone who aligns with her own deeply held morals and ethics. The film implies that they sleep together, but it’s not made into a big deal and their most important interaction doesn’t come until the end, when Steve tells Diana that he loves her right before leaving on his suicide mission. It never feels like either character needs the other to be complete, but more that they recognize their best qualities in each other, adding up to a romance that enhances rather than detracts from the film’s narrative.
8. It’s Truly Filmmaker-Driven
DC’s approach to its cinematic universe has been interesting to say the least. One way in which the studio has attempted to differentiate itself from Marvel is by touting that their movies are “filmmaker-driven” as opposed to the designed-by-committee, heavy studio oversight approach that Marvel has (somewhat unfairly) earned a reputation for. The irony is that, up until now, DC’s movies really haven’t felt filmmaker-driven, with David Ayer’s original vision for Suicide Squad being totally reworked in the editing room mere months before the film’s release.
If the DCEU has had a visionary at the top dictating how things should look and feel, it’s arguably Zack Snyder, who some fans would like to see never allowed near a DC movie again after his work on Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. The funny thing is that you can see quite a bit of Snyder’s fingerprints on Wonder Woman (he has a story credit) but at the end of the day, this is Patty Jenkins’ film. Jenkins takes the stuff that works in Snyder’s films — the slow-motion fighting, the “living comic book panel” look — and grounds it all in an emotional story centered around likable characters, the one important element that was arguably missing from Snyder’s own films. One just hope that Snyder picked up on this and applied it to Justice League.
7. It Makes Batman v Superman (A Little Bit) Better
I still firmly believe that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the worst superhero movies of the last decade, but an argument can be made that Wonder Woman retroactively makes that film make a little more sense. In fact, I have to give my friend Colin — a huge BvS fan for reasons I can’t possibly comprehend — credit for pointing this out to me. He argues that the hopeful tone of Wonder Woman justifies the grim, dark nature of Batman v Superman as it reflects Diana’s worst fears come to life. As Wonder Woman illustrates, Diana is practically a hopeless romantic when it comes to her belief in mankind’s inherent goodness, but the horrors of the First World War — not to mention the escalating world violence she witnesses firsthand over the next century — have soured her on humanity by the time we meet her in BvS.
However, Superman’s heroic sacrifice (which still felt totally contrived, but I digress) proves to her that there are still heroes in the world and that humanity might be redeemable after all. As I said, I don’t think we should all suddenly look back at Batman v Superman and start heralding it as some underappreciated classic, but I suspect that if I watched it today, it would be a little bit more tolerable after having seen Wonder Woman.
6. Wonder Woman is a True Hero
One of the main criticisms leveled at DC’s slate of superhero films so far is that their heroes come off more like thugs than heroes. Ben Affleck’s Batman is basically a rich murderer and Henry Cavill’s Superman acts like saving people is a big chore for him and that he’d rather just hang out alone, away from the rest of the world. By contrast, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman puts others before herself and legitimately cares about the injustice she encounters. Take for instance the scene where she’s making her way to the front and attempts to stop to help every person she sees in need; so concerned is she with wanting to save everyone that she has to be told that she can’t and must learn to see the bigger picture.
Sure, these actions show off how naive Diana is at the start of her hero arc, but the film makes a point of establishing her not only as someone who strives to do the right thing in all aspects of her life, but someone who is legitimately superior to pretty much everyone she encounters. The DC heroes have always had a reputation for being god-like beings humanity should strive to emulate and Wonder Woman — not Superman or Batman — is the first hero in the DCEU to actually demonstrate this quality.
5. Well-Balanced Tone
Another criticism that pops up repeatedly when it comes to films like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman is that they’re serious to a fault when it comes to tone, and function more as deconstruction pieces on whether the world needs heroes like Superman or Batman. While there is certainly a place for these kinds of superhero stories, it’s off-putting to see a blockbuster franchise start things off by taking a heavy-handed examination of the nature of heroism. Wonder Woman certainly has its share of dark, violent moments but it’s balanced by legitimately funny dialogue and scenes that make you want to jump up and cheer. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t cheering when Batman was beating Superman to death and wanting to stab him through the heart, but I did enjoy seeing Wonder Woman punch some German soldiers who were holding civilians prisoner.
Admittedly, there are times when the tonal shifts in Wonder Woman feel a bit clunky, but it strikes a good balance between humor, action, and drama, and feels like a Silver Age comic brought to life. Maybe this isn’t what every fan wants out of their comic book movies but if future DC films are going to be more like Wonder Woman and less like Batman v Superman, I’m all in.
4. It Establishes Wonder Woman As The Central Hero of the DCEU
The DCEU may have kicked off with a Superman movie, but Wonder Woman confirms that it’s the Princess of Themyscira who really should be considered the shared universe’s central hero. I’ve already touched on why Wonder Woman is a superior hero to the likes of Batman and Superman, but Patty Jenkins’ film makes the case that Diana needs to be the face of the franchise going forward … or at least until the rest of franchise catches up in terms of quality.
Although her mission to stop Ares and put an end to the Great War has nothing to do with the events of the upcoming Justice League, Diana’s skills as a leader are on full display. From what’s been shown so far, it looks like Wonder Woman will be sharing leadership duties with Batman when they finally get the team together in Zack Snyder’s film this fall, but it really should be Diana who takes the reins and runs with the whole thing.
3. It’s Something DC Can Hold Over Marvel
Marvel is basically running laps around DC at this point when it comes to just how far ahead they are in establishing a shared movie universe, but with the release of Wonder Woman, DC has beat Marvel to the punch in one important category: releasing a solo film with a female lead. Although Marvel has featured a number of strong female superheroes up to this point — most notably Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch — not a single one of them has received a film with their name in the title yet. In fact, Marvel won’t have a film with a female lead on the market until 2019 when Captain Marvel comes out, 11 years after the original Iron Man kicked everything off.
To be fair, DC still hasn’t established many prominent female characters outside of Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn (and the latter isn’t exactly a role model for young girls), but having a film like Wonder Woman come out a full two years before Marvel takes a similar step is a pretty significant achievement and hopefully indicative of a push for more female-driven content for both studios going forward.
2. Character Motivations Are Easy To Understand And Actually Make Sense
While no one wants to see a movie where every little thing is spelled out for them (well, most people anyway), it’s certainly beneficial when a character’s actions and the motivations behind said actions make logical sense. This was one of the main issues people had with Batman v Superman, a film in which character motivations sometimes changed from scene-to-scene depending on what the script called for (Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, I’m looking at you). Fortunately, Wonder Woman doesn’t really suffer from these problems as it does the necessary leg work to first establish who its characters are as people and then having them do things that are consistent with what we know about them.
For instance, Diana is motivated by a need to save the world from Ares and every action she takes is, at its core, driven by this motivation. Likewise, Diana’s companion/guide to the outside world, Steve Trevor, states early on that he’s a man who wants to do the right thing, so his sacrifice at the end of the film doesn’t feel contrived. Sure, every movie is going to have plot holes if you look hard enough, but whichever ones Wonder Woman has, at the very least they’re nowhere near as easy to spot as the ones that helped derail films like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, which is a win in and of itself.
1. It Gives Hope For The Future
The DCEU would have soldiered on no matter how Wonder Woman turned out, but the fact that it turned out to be a legitimately great movie is a win that DC really needed after the poor reception to previous films like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman is not only living proof that DC has been listening to that criticism, but that it understands its characters and why people love them so much. As things stand, Zack Snyder’s Justice League could very well be just as bad as those aforementioned movies but even if it is, that doesn’t mean the rest of DC’s upcoming slate of films (and there are a lot of them) will be.
If anything, the success of Wonder Woman has given Warner Bros. and DC some leeway with Justice League, as even if it stinks, people will still have Wonder Woman to point to as a legitimately good film in an otherwise mediocre franchise. Of course, we should be hoping that Justice League and every DC film that follows it are as good or even better than Wonder Woman and now we actually have good reason to believe that is possible.