Warning: the following contains spoilers for Wonder Woman.
There’s no two ways about it: Wonder Woman is a success by any metric you care to measure it by. The opening weekend returns are staggering, with Patty Jenkins scoring the biggest opening weekend for a female director in cinema history, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive with critics lauding the film as a fun superhero romp and a leap forward for female-led action cinema. Previous Wonder Woman herself Lynda Carter jumped on the bandwagon, calling the film “wonderful” (and if anyone has the right to such an audacious pun, it’s her!)
All of which is to say that Wonder Woman is the first unequivocal triumph of the DCEU, all but single-handedly rejuvenating hope in the whole venture in the process. After Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad and all the controversy surrounding them, DC and Warner Bros. sorely needed a victory in both box office and fan goodwill, and Wonder Woman is it. And not a moment too soon either, with the James Wan directed Aquaman coming in 2018, and The Flash and Joss Whedon’s Batgirl in development, DC and WB needed to reassure audiences (and the collective industry) that they have a working playbook for the solo superhero pictures that would populate and build out their cinematic universe between crossovers. Wonder Woman, some slight follies aside, forges a path in portraying heroism, navigating various superhero tropes, and refining the aesthetic and tone for this universe for those behind it to follow and develop for themselves.
Keep It Simple
Jenkins has gone on record about how she hates the word “cheesy” and wanted to embrace “real sincerity” with comic book heroes. The kind of idealism that comes with a character like Diana is impossible to avoid, and so Wonder Woman just goes right with it and makes it a fundamental facet of the film’s conflict. Diana (Gal Gadot), having grown up in Themyscira in a race of proud Amazonian women, is naïve to how our world works. She’s stoic and believes in good, but she has no idea how to navigate a world where everyone is both good and bad and evil is often without reason or provocation. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) brings her to London, she’s frustrated by bureaucracy and new to the bare-faced tragedy of war. Watching dead bodies and injured men be carried back home is a shocking experience for Diana, but it only strengthens her resolve.
This deluge of the cost of war eventually leads to the ‘No Man’s Land’ scene – a sequence that’s become a fan-favorite in which Diana, disheartened by the innocent lives being destroyed during WWI decides to march across No Man’s Land, a stretch of unpassable land between German and Allied forces. Using her gauntlets and her shield with her costume on full display for the first time, she marches across the battlefield, drawing enemy gunfire, allowing Steve and others to move forward. It’s a great piece of action, Diana’s strength on full display as she deflects bullets and holds her ground under intense gunfire. It’s the moment she becomes Wonder Woman and we see what she represents with crystal clarity – she wishes to save us from ourselves and show us a better, more loving and peaceful tomorrow.
This theme reverberates throughout the film as Diana becomes increasingly desperate to kill Ares, learning in the process that sometimes people are just evil, and if her quest is to end war within mankind, she’ll be fighting it forever. So she chooses to be a hero for the human capacity to love and be good, symbolically battling our urge to destroy our fellow man. As Facebook inspirational meme as that sounds, it works, because that’s the Wonder Woman people know and embracing her character as a larger-than-life icon for world-peace is poignant and narratively evergreen. Most importantly, it’s simple and makes it easy for any audience to understand her presence in any given situation.
Simplicity is something that previous DCEU films have struggled with. One of the recurring criticisms of Batman V Superman is how muddled Batman and Superman come out of the movie, neither looking quite like the symbols of justice and hope that they’re supposed to. There’s nothing wrong with exploring darker shades of these characters, but simplicity is key in establishing drama that matters and making sure you, the audience audience, are along for the ride. It makes sure all the individual parts are easy to understand and follow when various plot-lines overlap and does the legwork of explaining the conflict without directly needing to explain the conflict. Moreover, making something straightforward doesn’t mean sacrificing depth or opportunities for real darkness.