What Wonder Woman Represents
How Wonder Woman will change (and hopefully lead) the DCEU is definitely an important part of the story, especially when it comes to social chatter, although DC bias and its ephemera are secondary to what it means in the wider superhero genre, blockbuster cinema, and indeed film as a whole.
It barely needs stating that female-led movies are rare, more so if they're action orientated, and when you get to major tentpoles damn near impossible to get made. When we restrict it further to superheroes, the dominant genre of the day, it gets even worse. There are only half a dozen proper examples, most recently Elektra, twelve years ago, and the consistent failures have led to a long-standing reluctance for more; The Wasp takes second fiddle to Ant-Man in their shared sequel and Captain Marvel will be the MCU's 21st film.
Diana Prince climbing up into No Man's Land to take on German gunfire thus isn't just a heroic companion to Superman taking flight, "I'm Batman," Spider-Man learning to shoot his webs, or Tony Stark building an Iron Man suit in a cave with a box of scraps, but a representation of her taking on the unfounded preconception that her movie can't exist. There's not really a previous reference point for this. It's a first, ergo breaking new ground. This is a big deal for all, but especially young girls - the power of having a character on screen who they truly recognize as themselves cannot be understated.
What's so impressive, though, is that Wonder Woman is a success because of its lead, not in spite of it. If you look at previous women-led blockbusters, they're often stealth cases; in Alien, Terminator, and more recently The Force Awakens, the fact the protagonist is a girl is an emergent surprise hidden in the advertising. Here the marketing was criticized for its non-traditional approach, including just focusing on Diana and Gal Gadot over everything else, and the movie is so imbued with the character's unconditional heroism and hope that it proves the appeal.
It's, even more, a tangible success in an industry sense. Wonder Woman marks a litany of firsts for a female director: first time with a budget over $100 million; first domestic opening weekend over $100 million; and it's surely on the way to the biggest gross of all time. That it's a film that's female-led yet has cross-gender appeal (even if the usually dominant 16-24 male demographic was lower than with other genre entries) shatters a lot of preconceptions and will surely alter how projects are greenlit in the future. In this regard, the hype is totally deserved; Wonder Woman is a game-changer for female representation in blockbuster cinema both in front and behind the camera, and in decades to come will be regarded as a pivotal turning point.
All that said, within that there's a mixing and perhaps misunderstanding of film and context; a presumption of greatness not of the film itself but what it represents. It transcends the genre more by existence, not action - it's mainly following the tried-and-tested origin story formula - which is in no way a criticism, that formula works for a reason, but the distinction still needs making.
There's an element of head over heart here, which is unfortunate but necessary. Wonder Woman is more than just a must-see success - unlike, say, Avatar, a widely cited overrated "event", its impact is tangible and purpose clear - but the danger is still that as we work our way through Summer 2017 (which so far has been a mixed bag) it will become regarded as overrated for the film simply not being as artistically far-reaching as its franchise and gender implications. It is, ultimately, just a film.
The event will pass and in years to come Wonder Woman will, as an experience, have to stand on its own away from firsts and restarts. What it will do in that time is important, but let's make sure we don't lose what it actually is in the hype.
- Wonder Woman (2017) release date: Jun 02, 2017
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018