The DCEU has finally caught a break. In the wake of the financially successful but critically ravaged Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, it seemed like an inhuman amount of pressure was being put on the shoulders of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman to satisfy fans.
It turns out there was no reason to worry. Wonder Woman is the best DCEU film by a mile and is currently smashing records at the box office. Patty Jenkins has immediately skyrocketed to the vaunted superhero director ranks of Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon, and Gal Gadot has permanently silenced any detractors who were unsure she could carry a movie.
In many ways, Wonder Woman feels like a direct, blunt rejoinder to the many missteps suffered by Batman v Superman. Zack Snyder’s dark, bombastic sequel to Man of Steel was so desperate to say everything it ended up saying almost nothing; Wonder Woman has a lightness and clarity of purpose that makes Batman v Superman’s flaws glare even brighter.
These are the 15 Ways Wonder Woman Is Better Than Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
15. Fleshed Out Supporting Characters
There was an army of minor players in Batman v Superman, yet you’d be hard pressed to remember many details about them. Ringers like Holly Hunter and Scoot McNairy were wasted on dead end subplots that did nothing but nudge Batman and Superman closer to their confrontation (never forget how much time in a $250 million superhero movie was dedicated to Holly Hunter staring at a jar of urine). Perhaps most galling of all, fan favorites like Jimmy Olsen and Mercy Graves were introduced only to die pointless, violent deaths.
Wonder Woman, on the other hand, lets its supporting cast shine. Robin Wright’s Antiope gets a relatively small amount of screen time, yet she’s a crucial, fully realized character who helps shape Diana’s worldview in important ways. Etta Candy could have been reduced to a one-note joke, but was given warmth and purpose as Steve Trevor’s underappreciated assistant. Giving that kind of care to small roles is what makes films like Wonder Woman enduring.
14. A Cohesive, Emotional Score
Man of Steel is probably the least polarizing of the pre-Wonder Woman DCEU movies, and even that movie’s detractors would likely concede that Hans Zimmer’s understated, piano driven score is lovely and did an admirable job of establishing a new sound for Superman without mimicking the feel of John Williams’ classic theme. It makes Batman v Superman’s inconsistent score all the more frustrating.
Zimmer returned for Batman v Superman, but having already scored Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, he was reluctant to try to conjure a new theme for the Dark Knight. Enter Junkie XL, a longtime Zimmer collaborator and accomplished film composer in his own right, having scored such recent hits Mad Max: Fury Road and Deadpool.
One of the highlights of the BvS score was Zimmer’s propulsive, jungle rock theme for Diana, which Wonder Woman composer Rupert Gregson-Williams managed to weave into an elegant, emotional score that never feels intrusive and hits all the right emotional beats.
13. Villains With Clear Motivations
You could make a fair argument that Wonder Woman’s weakest aspect are its villains. Nobody’s really buying tickets because they’re interested in what General Ludendorff and Dr. Poison are up to. And yet the fact that their motives are clear makes them effective for what they are to the narrative; they’re damaged, rage-fueled psychopaths who use the trappings of war to indulge in their darkest pleasures. Ares’ motives are even clearer; the god off war wishes to nudge mankind toward self-destruction to prove to Zeus they’re fundamentally corrupt.
If only Lex Luthor’s motives could have been this clear. Though played with an admirable weirdness by Jesse Eisenberg, the talented actor couldn’t really salvage his version of Superman’s arch-nemesis from some murky writing. Why exactly did Lex spend so much time and effort in an attempt to bring down Superman? Did he genuinely fear Superman would turn rogue and enslave mankind? Was he an unwitting tool of Darkseid? Was it really all a bizarre manifestation of his daddy issues? The movie never seems to be able to decide, and it just comes off as confusing.
12. A Sense Of Humor
This is an issue that often gets misconstrued. The idea that all superhero movies need to wield the snarky self-awareness of Iron Man or Thor is preposterous. Green Lantern is a textbook example of how marrying that brand of humor to a character when it doesn’t fit can backfire spectacularly.
But these movies do need some levity, and Batman v Superman was nearly bereft of it. A superhero movie that dark and serious with essentially no laughs is bound to leave moviegoers depressed after watching
Conversely, Wonder Woman never shies away from the fact that it’s a war movie with real moments of sacrifice, and yet it can take time to let Diana marvel at her first taste of ice cream, or marinate in Steve’s hilarious awkwardness as he tries to form a relationship with a woman who’s never met a man. They’re light, human moments that make you want to root for these characters.
11. Plot Coherence
There are many things that can be debated about Batman v Superman: Batman’s lethal methods, Superman’s lingering self-doubt, the “Martha” resolution to the pair’s confrontation. One thing, however, is difficult to contest: the theatrical cut of the movie just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
This was somewhat rectified when the Ultimate Edition of the film was released on home video, adding an additional half hour of material that proved rather crucial to understanding the movie’s plot, most notably the segment early on that revolved around Lois Lane’s misadventures in Africa. This is, however, not really a valid excuse; two and a half hours should be plenty of time for a movie to make basic, logistical sense.
Wonder Woman’s plot, on the other hand, could not be much clearer. “Simple” feels like something of an insult when you’re talking about a story, but the straightforward plotting gives Wonder Woman room to breathe. Patty Jenkins is able fully explore this world and its characters, and ruminate on the high-minded ideals the Diana is attempting to bring to man’s world.
10. Proper Pacing
There are times when Batman v Superman feels like chunks of several different, very good movies spliced together in haphazard fashion,. It’s a frustrating movie because it’s easy to see how it could have come together in a more satisfying way, but there are long stretches of time where seemingly nothing of importance or interest happens. One wonders if a better edit of the movie could have salvaged it.
Wonder Woman is a master class in pacing. It does a beautiful job of telling Diana’s origin story with grace and wit, without lingering too long on the minutiae of life on Themyscira. It’s a testament to Jenkins’ talent that the movie can indulge in moments of cinematic beauty and yet the story never feels like it’s slowing down. Indeed, by the time Diana reaches the front, the movie is galloping along at a breathless, exhilarating clip that doesn’t let up until the movie’s emotional climax.
9. A Clear Moral Compass
Look, nobody should really be expecting morally righteous behavior from Batman, certainly not from a version who’s been fighting crime for two decades and whose battle scars are starting to take their toll. No, Batman v Superman’s moral lapse comes in the form of Superman’s constant, crippling self-doubt.
It really doesn’t even make sense within the world of this version of the character. Man of Steel saw a Clark Kent who, despite his father’s wish that he remain hidden, was still quietly helping mankind whenever he could, and finally made his existence public to literally save the entire planet, triumphantly reconciling his overprotective father’s love with his own moral compass. Batman v Superman’s sidestepping of that character growth is genuinely baffling.
Diana never endures such confusion. She sees the world in morally simplistic terms, eventually to her own detriment. Even when she finally must face the horrors mankind are capable of, she chooses to see their potential for nobility, and vows to protect them in spite of their shortcomings. She turns out to be the virtuous, altruistic hero Superman is supposed to be.
8. A Sense Of Adventure
None of the DCEU films are exactly lacking for action, but prior to Wonder Woman, it had tended to be more violent vengeance. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but there are other avenues to be explored. Batman v Superman’s climactic battle between the Dark Knight and Man of Steel feels heavy, even if it’s well-shot and viscerally thrilling. It’s really just two guys wailing on each other when they could end their disagreement with a 20 second conversation.
Wonder Woman revels in some good old fashioned adventure movie tropes. Steve Trevor, after all, is a spy, and he and his ragtag team of mercenaries indulge in plenty of Indiana Jones style shenanigans while Diana takes her decidedly more direct approach. It’s fun watching Steve trying to elude German soldiers and Sameer pretending to be a boneheaded driver to gain access to a key location.
7. No Needless Plugs For Other DC Movies
This is not a crime exclusive to DC movies. Marvel really got the ball rolling on the idea of shared universe films serving partially as promos for future movies featuring other characters. But really, never has this practice been more shameless than in Batman v Superman. In a scene that brings the entire movie to a screeching halt, Diana essentially watches trailers for upcoming Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg movies on her laptop. It is hilariously blatant, and the kind of cynical move that gives superhero movies a bad reputation.
How refreshing it is that, aside from the framing device at the movie’s beginning and end, Wonder Woman is essentially a self-contained story. The movie doesn’t feel the compulsion to drop Green Lantern’s grandfather into World War I or reference some sort of Apokolips related artifact the Germans stumbled upon. It’s content to tell its own story for its own purposes, which is downright refreshing in the current superhero movie climate.
6. A Great Romance
Superman’s driving motivation in all things in Batman v Superman is his undying, all-encompassing devotion to Lois Lane. That’s a commendable motivation, yet it’s problematic for a few reasons. Superman’s traditional devotion to humanity has been reimagined as being laser-focused on Lois, and it sometimes feels like if Lois wasn’t around Clark would go live on top of a mountain talking to his dead dad for the rest of his days.
Also, while BvS constantly tells us that Clark and Lois love each other, it never really shows us why that is. The movie is so busy building up its labyrinthine plot that it never takes more than one scene to show these two iconic characters just happily living their lives together.
Diana and Steve’s romance makes much more sense. The chemistry between the two is undeniable, and they better each other in ways they could have never expected. Steve rediscovers hope through Diana in the midst of an unending war, and Diana discovers the best humanity has to offer in Steve.
5. A Hero Who’s Heroic
For a movie ostensibly about superheroes, very little of Batman v Superman is spent on acts of heroism. Batman is introduced in a scene where he’s liberating a group of women from a human trafficker (who he brutally tortures for good measure) and there is a brief montage of Superman saving several different people (overlayed with television talking heads discussing whether or not he’s to be trusted), but other than that the movie largely revolves around the personal vendetta between the two men, as Lex Luthor manipulates them into conflict.
Wonder Woman wears its heroism on its sleeve. Diana doesn’t need to articulate a heroic ethos, she’s shouting it from the rooftops with almost every action she takes. While on a highly important mission with Steve and his crew at the front, she’s physically incapable of letting an innocent village suffer the ravages of war, launching herself into action to save lives. It’s a choice that will ultimately cause her great sorrow, but she’d do it over again the exact same way if she could.
4. Real, Tangible Sacrifice
Apologies if this startling revelation rocks any readers to their core: Superman is probably not dead. Indeed, comic book readers know Batman v Superman’s third act CGI monstrosity, Doomsday, is noted for exactly one thing in the comics: he kills Superman in an epic, destructive battle… and then Superman gets better. It’s actually a pretty good story, and plays into the messianic themes Superman sometimes touches on. How the DCEU pays this off will likely be revealed in this year’s Justice League.
On the other hand, Steve Trevor’s noble sacrifice is genuinely heartbreaking. When he realizes what he has to do to save lives, he tells Diana he loves her and willingly gives his life in service of a higher cause. It’s an emotionally devastating moment, and it shapes Diana’s world in permanent, crucial ways.
3. Effects Work
Even Zack Snyder’s detractors will usually admit he has a preternatural talent for shooting action sequences. He cut his teeth on films like 300 and Watchmen, honing his signature, highly-stylized aesthetic. Man of Steel was something of a departure, as Snyder attempted to marry his style with Christopher Nolan’s grittier, more real-world approach, to mostly successful results. However, the styles began to clash in Batman v Superman, and the third act chaos simply did not look like it existed on the same planet as the rest of the movie.
Wonder Woman’s effects work is not perfect (the third act is a little heavy on CGI calamity), but for the most part, it’s subtle, elegant stuff, shying away from overly stylized, unrealistic looks. Jenkins favors a more classic, adventure film aesthetic that lends itself well to the period piece setting. When a movie is firing on all cylinders like this, endless coats of CGI paint aren’t necessary.
2. Thematic Imagery
One of the weirdest, most unexplainable aspects of Batman v Superman is how dull the visual palette is. Zack Snyder is not exactly known as a subtle, conservative filmmaker, yet the film is largely a murky, grey haze. It’s hard to imagine why the guy who made some of the most visually striking films of the 21st century would let a movie starring the two most iconic superheroes of all time come off so… grey. It feels like Snyder’s attempt to marry his style to Nolan’s simply breaking under too much pressure (thankfully, previews for Justice League indicate Snyder is not making this mistake twice).
With Wonder Woman, Jenkins goes out of her way to tell a story through imagery alone. Themyscira is almost overwhelmingly beautiful; the vibrant blue seas surrounding the picturesque island paradise are some of the most striking images ever seen in a superhero film. Contrasting that with the smoggy, grey scuzz of early 20th century London is an inspired choice, an early indicator that Diana is very literally entering a whole new world, where few things are as clear cut as she’d like to believe.
1. Hope And Optimism
When Geoff Johns took over DC’s film wing, he was very careful not to criticize the DCEU movies that came before he was in charge. He’s often spoken glowingly of Snyder, and was a cheerleader for Batman v Superman when it was released. But he was also candid about what he perceived as the franchise’s missteps, espousing the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to explore the dark corners of the DC Universe, but the heroes of that universe should not be consumed by the darkness.
Darkness consumed far too much of Snyder’s Batman v Superman. It’s a movie where fear, misunderstanding, and paranoia lead to tragedy. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is in many ways the exact opposite, the story of an altruistic woman who believes she can make the world a better place, even in the face of unspeakable evil. It’s the course correction Johns promised, a shift toward a world where hope and optimism are what drives our heroes forward. Sincerity and clarity of purpose are things we should value in our heroes, and Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins are leading the charge.
Did you prefer Wonder Woman or Batman v Superman? Sound off in the comments!