Wonder Woman's Part in The DCEU Narrative
Go back a year and the idea of the wider film culture being so swept along by Wonder Woman seemed unlikely. The character herself is, without any real comparison, the most famous female superhero of all time, so a big screen outing was always going to be a major event, but the one we were getting was going to be realized as a part of the thus far contreversial DCEU.
The previous films - Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad - were each seemingly more contentious than their predecessor and solid box office numbers only served to prove a fan-critic divide. Originally, Suicide Squad had been positioned as the chance to right the ship - three strikes and all that. The trailers promised something tonally different and the villains-done-good set-up gave the opportunity for something simple, rather than Snyder's far-reaching Randian musings. Of course, that film stumbled massively under reshoots, multiple edits and more, earning as violent a reputation as Dawn of Justice, only lacking the same fervent fan defense.
Hopes then went to Wonder Woman and, after initial mixed word that it was another film marred with creative troubles, the general mood shifted to something positive. Whereas Suicide Squad was a cousin to Snyder's Superman duology, with David Ayer having a similar macho approach and being dark for darkness' sake, this entry looked different. It was a prequel, so even though it shared a character with Dawn of Justice it was a few degrees removed (besides, Diana was actually an oft-cited highlight of Batman v Superman anyway). Most importantly, it had Patty Jenkins, who, from her work on Monster, had shown a singular vision and after leaving several projects (including the similarly angled Thor: The Dark World) would clearly settle for nothing less than creative freedom.
People became open to Wonder Woman in a way they hadn't been with a DCEU film since Man of Steel, at which point everything looked bright and hopeful, which gave a Wonder Woman a big pre-release advantage; whereas the critic and audience knives were sharpened for the two 2016 releases, the majority was ready to welcome 2017's summer tentpole as the franchise's savior. And, indeed, many sites chose to run with "the DCEU's best film" when publishing their reviews, which is a pretty impressive title until you consider that the same outlets had declared the previous two attempts as some of the worst of the genre; a totally average film could have still earned those write-ups per their existing scoring. Within the narrative, Wonder Woman only had to be just adequate enough to be praised as good - and good would naturally become great.
Of course, Wonder Woman is more than just good, but the power of comparison can't be ignored in this overhype, seeing a lower bar celebrated. A similar thing happened with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where the return of the series after a decade away led to a swathe of five-star reviews that missed certain problems like the strange pacing issues and repeated plot, in part because in the build up it had been established as having to be better than the maligned prequels. This takes the positivity spiral only further upwards; it's not just a good film, it's a better film.
Better than what, though? At this point it's worth citing the distinction between the DCEU and DC, seeing as the four-year-old former is now deemed to represent the whole company's film output, which was for a long time viewed superior to Marvel's. This change of view is likely where the amplified comparisons to The Dark Knight come in. Christopher Nolan's seminal superhero-cum-crime epic was at the time called the Citizen Kane of spandex, but in the nine years since release has become its own high watermark. Every great comic book film is "the best since The Dark Knight" or otherwise compared, and it's now reached the point where the statement is almost as redundant. Already this year we've seen Logan get such claims for its culmination of an aging Wolverine's journey that felt more sci-fi western than it did superhero, and now Wonder Woman joins the ranks; the statement is used to say "this is a good one" rather than being of tangible worth. After all, let's not forget that The Dark Knight wasn't just different. Nolan pulled blockbuster cinema into the self-aware post-9/11 world and introduced a moodier film language that persists to this day; it was a technical ground-breaker, so while comparisons are flavorful and get clicks, they can usually miss the full scope.
And speaking of the full scope, we'd be remiss to not take into account what Wonder Woman fully represents.
- Wonder Woman (2017) release date: Jun 02, 2017
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018