Wonder Woman has indeed been a beacon of hope, not just for moviegoers who have been enraptured with her on-screen heroics but for the men and women behind the DC Extended Universe. Since director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in 2013, Warner Bros. attempt to develop a DC shared universe from their pantheon of the world’s greatest superheroes has been perceived similarly to the way the people of Earth see Henry Cavill’s Superman in Batman v Superman. It’s not that DC’s three major releases prior to Wonder Woman – Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad – weren’t financially profitable, but compared to the adulation regularly bestowed upon rival Marvel Studio’s releases from critics and audiences alike, the DCEU’s offerings were regularly maligned.
What a difference Wonder Woman has made. Director Patty Jenkins’ origin story of Princess Diana of Themyscira, impeccably portrayed by Gal Gadot, has turned DC Films’ fortunes around in that most elusive of ways: Wonder Woman made fans feel good about the DCEU, really for the first time. This isn’t to say Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad don’t have their fans and defenders – but those prior films also attracted a legion of detractors. By the time Batman v Superman concluded, the DCEU was a world without a Superman gripped by a sense of ominous foreboding. This was followed by a jaunt with the anti-heroes and criminals of the Suicide Squad, billed as the “worst heroes ever.” The DCEU was a universe bursting with super powers but in need of genuine superheroes.
The DCEU Plan
The overall sense of malaise that surrounded the DCEU has been deflected like bullets from Wonder Woman’s gauntlets. Wonder Woman has even been cited as the cause for the biggest statistical jump in the reputation of a franchise ever. The secret to Wonder Woman‘s success isn’t so much a secret as it was a welcome and long-awaited embracing of what makes her character actually a hero. DC Films President Geoff Johns recently summed up the philosophy Wonder Woman and, it seems the guiding philosophy of the DCEU films going forward will be to “Get to the essence of the character and make the movies fun. Just make sure that the characters are the characters with heart, humor, hope, heroics, and optimism at the base.”
This isn’t to say there wasn’t a sense of optimism and hope in Man of Steel, which concluded with Amy Adam’s Lois Lane greeting Clark Kent with a warm “welcome to the planet,” but the prevalent memory audiences have of that film was the mass destruction Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon) reaped upon Metropolis before Superman committed the unthinkable act and executed his enemy. There was giddy joy to be found in Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman standing together for the first time against Doomsday, but that was followed by Superman’s somber sacrifice, and was preceded by two hours of a misguided Batman and Superman locked in a war of mutual loathing. Finding optimism in Suicide Squad‘s ending, with Amanda Waller going back on her word and putting the squad back behind bars, not to mention the Joker (Jared Leto) breaking Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) out of prison to resume their abusive relationship, is pretty dire, even if the mid credits scene teased Bruce Wayne assembling the Justice League.
Wonder Woman is the first DCEU film to vividly fulfill Johns’ stated mandate for DC’s superhero movies. Many have assumed Wonder Woman‘s tone is a form of “course correction” for the DCEU, but it seems like Patty Jenkins was allowed to make the origin story she wanted to make, with the thematic elements that mattered most to her, and it worked spectacularly. Jenkins’ vision for Wonder Woman beautifully lined up with Johns’ ideals for DC’s heroes, as well as with audiences.