With the immense critical and all-but-inevitable commercial dominance of Wonder Woman, isn’t it only right for the DCEU’s future to refocus onto Diana Prince? As many commentators have noted, Wonder Woman was going up against a track-record of poorly received female-led superhero movies, with the most recent previous examples being 2004’s Catwoman and 2005’s Elektra. Both were loose spinoffs of popular male heroes (Batman and Daredevil respectively) and both are notoriously bad, which led to there being what is evidently unfounded trepidation about further female-led superhero projects.
However, when it comes to dominating legacy, the other thing working against Wonder Woman was Batman and Superman. While DC Comics’ roster is bursting at the seams with deep, varied heroes of all description (of which there’s normally several noteworthy personality variants care of the Multiverse), when it came to adapting the graphic novels Warner Bros. have focused almost entirely on the two icons that made their name. Yes, Wonder Woman was the subject of the Lynda Carter live-action series and many more have been adapted in cartoon form over the years (the 1960s version of Aquaman is partly why he’s been the butt of a joke for so long), but when it came to the big screen, Warner Bros. seemed to believe that only the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel held any collateral.
DC’s Self-Destructive Obsession with Batman and Superman
Superman quite convincingly flew into theaters in 1978 and spawned three sequels of diminishing returns (as well as a Supergirl spinoff that, fitting of the apparent curse of female superhero movies, was the worst of the run), with Batman following a similar trajectory between 1989 and 1997. In that time, the only other films based on any DC characters released were two cheapo Swamp Things and Shaq’s better-forgotten Steel. Of course, this was a time before the comic book boom, when Marvel’s single cinema release was Howard the Duck, but what’s crazy is that even when spandex became cool this attitude persisted for the next decade and a half.
To capitalize on the success of X-Men and Spider-Man, DC set about rebooting Bats and Supes, with the only respite being Catwoman (a dud that was originally intended to spinoff from Batman Returns). It was only after these two series – throwback Superman Returns and the Dark Knight trilogy – that they started to cast a wider net. Several projects, such as George Miller’s Justice League and Arrow: Escape from Super Max were floated and Green Lantern made its way to the screen, before the success of The Avengers eventually moved us to the DC Extended Universe.
All of this background is important because the approach taken with the early DCEU seemed to follow the exact same pervasive logic: the first film was a Superman reboot, the second a Batman reboot-cum-versus, and the third a standalone for Batman villain the Joker (only with all the Joker cut out). And while the plan has seemingly changed a lot going forward, the core elements are all the same – Justice League is concerned with Bruce Wayne uniting the team and the resurrection of Clark Kent (and thus completion of his Jesus arc), while the overall focus is still on Gotham; the film dependably making up the most internet ink is The Batman, and there are enough projects in development based off the Bat family that a rumor about four films set around the hive of scum and villany in the same year had a degree of plausibility.
People like Batman and Superman, so there is some business logic to this move. However, as you can’t avoid, it hasn’t gone too well so far. The DCEU’s critical reception has been dependably vicious and, while box office receipts are more reasonable, the fact Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice missed out on $1 billion is taken as a major mar. By most conventional methods, it was three strikes down. The issues here are plentiful and complex, but one prevalent reason is a misunderstanding of the heroes at the core, leading to an overall lethargy.
So thank the gods (literal Greeks or those of Lex Luthor’s endless metaphors) for Wonder Woman. In contrast to what’s come before, this is a bona fide success that would seem to lend some credence to that “director-led” methodology. Its Rotten Tomatoes score will plateau from its early all-time high and it may not make as much as BvS or even Suicide Squad, but flying in the face of the female “curse” and costing a modest $120 million it’s going to be more profitable – and worth much, much more when you consider the associated impact on the brand all this has had. And, especially in contrast to the glum feeling swirling around Dawn of Justice‘s release, it’s for this and associated reasons why she’s the perfect person to hand over the reins to.