How Wonder Woman Pays Homage to Richard Donner's Superman

The latest trailer for Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman contains strong echoes of Richard Donner's Superman, suggesting a new direction for the DCEU.

Wonder Woman Movie Glowing Vambraces

All the world is waiting for Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster), to finally arrive in theaters on June 2nd, 2017. The latest Wonder Woman trailer, titled "Origin," for the first DC Extended Universe feature film about the world's most famous superheroine has arrived, showcasing all-new footage and giving the clearest picture yet of what Princess Diana's inaugural cinematic adventure will entail.

The new trailer offers a more expansive glimpse into Diana's youth, her rigorous training as an Amazon warrior under the auspices of her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and even a mystery about Diana's true origin - "But she must never know the truth about what she is." There are more scenes of Diana with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) on the Amazons' Paradise Island Themyscira and in London. Finally, Diana is plunged into the horrors of the First World War, shining her golden light as Wonder Woman.

Watching the new trailer, it seems like Wonder Woman, which is set a century in the past during the years of World War I, is reaching to the past of DC's superhero films for inspiration and a recipe that will hopefully lead to a crowd-pleasing global box office success. The model for Wonder Woman doesn't seem to be Batman V Superman, its predecessor Man of Steel, or any of the blockbuster Batman films by Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton. Rather, the vibe Wonder Woman seems to be reaching for is Richard Donner's 1978 blockbuster, Superman. The first true mega-successful superhero film - and still a beloved gold standard for the genre - Superman captured the imagination of a generation and continues to inspire fans and filmmakers alike. (Over a decade ago, Bryan Singer famously abandoned his own X-Men franchise for the chance to make Superman Returns, his reboot of Superman, a film he loved dearly growing up.)

What draws the comparison between Wonder Woman and Superman are the parallels visible in both films' tones. Specifically, their three tones.

Wonder Woman Trailer Themyscira Ocean

When discussing writing Superman in the excellent DVD commentary with Richard Donner, the late screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (Mario Puzo is the credited writer for being a famous novelist hired to deliver a first draft, but in actuality Mankiewicz wrote every word of the movie that was made) details how he designed Superman to have three distinct tones - as if Superman was actually three movies in one. The first is the antiseptic, crystal world of Krypton, the second is the Norman Rockwell all-American farm life of Smallville, and the third is the contemporary urban setting of Metropolis - filled with rat-a-tat quips, constant calamities requiring the attention of Superman (Christopher Reeve), and the showdown with the villainous Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman).

From what's apparent in the new trailer, Wonder Woman seems to have taken that three-toned structure to heart. While being as different as it can be from the shimmering white alien environs of Krypton, the first section of Wonder Woman full-on delves into the fantastical Greek mythology of the Amazons and their isolated island existence, ancient culture, and warrior traditions. The Themyscira scenes look positively like a different Warner Bros. sword and sandals epic from the previous decade, director Wolfgang Petersen's Troy, which starred a golden-maned Brad Pitt as the near-invincible warrior Achilles. Gal Gadot's Amazon training and her demigoddess feats of power and grace like diving hundreds of feet off a cliff into the ocean waters below invoke the kind of sweeping Greek mega-myth Troy presented.

After Steve Trevor arrives on Themyscira, Diana agrees to return with him to experience and defend Man's world. "It is our sacred duty to defend the world," Diana declares. "If no one else will defend the world, then I must!" In a way, this echos the second tone of Superman, when Clark Kent is growing up with his burgeoning superpowers and feels isolated from his classmates in Smallville. Jonathan Kent tells his adopted son, "You are here for a reason. And it's not to play football." Two important mission statements to help define our superheroes.

Once Diana arrives in London and declares it "hideous," Wonder Woman enters its second tone, where she is a fish out of water, which is mined for comedy. Suddenly, there are jokes in Wonder Woman, welcome doses of humor and fun that Batman V Superman took a shellacking for due to its sore lack of same. Diana humorously trying to adjust to the cultural differences between Themyscira and London is very much akin to how Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent would purposely pratfall around the Daily Planet to ensure no one could possibly suspect such a bumbling fool could secretly be the Man of Steel. What's more, Wonder Woman seems to directly homage a famous Superman scene where Lois and Clark are mugged at gunpoint in an alley and Clark catches a bullet in midair while pretending to faint. In Wonder Woman, we see Steve and Diana shot at in an alley, with Diana deflecting the bullet with her forearm bracer.

Wonder Woman Steve and Diana Alley

Both Wonder Woman and Superman's third acts place our superheroes squarely in the reality of the modern day of their respective eras. For Superman, it's the bustling New York City of the late 1970's standing in for Metropolis, with Superman foiling Lex Luthor's plan to detonate a nuclear missile at the San Andreas Fault and sink California into the sea. Wonder Woman's modern day reality is more arduous: she charges into the front lines of World War I and experiences the most horrific war in human history (up to that point), while seeking out the root of this darkness and evil, the Greek god of war Ares (David Thewlis).

It's no wonder there are tonal similarities between Wonder Woman and Donner's Superman given that Patty Jenkins cited the 1978 Superman as being massively influential during a recent Q&A attended by Screen Rant.

"I'm here because of Superman. I'm here because when I saw Superman 1 as a kid, it rocked my world, you know, and I was Superman. I was that little boy. And I took that ride and that journey... What Star Wars did for some people, Superman did for me."

Jenkins' passion for Superman must have been music to Geoff Johns' ears. The President of DC Films is also one of the credited writers of Wonder Woman. What's more, before he was a DC Comics superstar writer, Johns was the assistant to Superman director Richard Donner. Johns and Donner even collaborated on a Superman comic book project together, Superman: Last Son. Johns has more intimate knowledge than anyone of Donner's creative process for Superman (apart from Donner himself, of course).

Wonder Woman Trailer Diana Jump

Despite a relatively strong box office performance, the poor critical reception and dissatisfaction from general audiences that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice received last year places the DC Extended Universe in a defensive position. Damage control and the desire for positive spin have prompted director Zack Snyder to promise that his Justice League film in November of this year will feature a decidedly lighter tone. The unevenly ribald Suicide Squad fared no better with critics, though the Batman side of the DC Extended Universe is being heavily invested in with in-development projects like The Batman, Nightwing, and Gotham City Sirens.

With those films still years away and Snyder's Justice League hoping for a warmer reception come November, a great deal of expectation and pressure is riding on Wonder Woman's shoulders. The film needs to not only make substantial money at the box office in order to definitively prove movies headlined by female superheroes can be profitable, it also needs to be an entertaining and crowd-pleasing action-adventure that launches the most prominent female superhero of all into a viable feature film franchise of her own, while simultaneously acting as a palette cleanser for those who aren't enamored with the DCEU's previous entries.

Fortunately, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman was near-universally acknowledged as one of the bright spots of Batman V Superman. With any luck, Wonder Woman will achieve everything Patty Jenkins, Gadot, and DC Films will need it to achieve, Wonder Woman will finally be a movie star all her own, and we'll all look back in wonder at how we could have ever thought otherwise?

Next: Wonder Woman Origin Trailer: Breakdown & Analysis

Key Release Dates
  • Wonder Woman (2017) release date: Jun 02, 2017
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