It has taken 75 years for Wonder Woman to reach the big screen; with names ranging from the creator of Ally McBeal to geek royalty Joss Whedon – a lot have people have tried. However, in 2017, director Patty Jenkins (ironically herself once attached to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to direct Thor: The Dark World) has managed to craft a superhero origin story that has defied critics’ and audiences’ expectations alike. As we now look to the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), we ask: where do we go from here?
The DCEU So Far
The DCEU officially started with Zak Synder’s Man of Steel. While the film divided critics and audiences, it did have an impact, both in terms of the reaction and subsequent legacy. One influence that Man of Steel had was on the darker tone of the Injustice video games. Although the concept of a darker Superman had appeared in the comics before (specifically, in the 1990s after the Death of Superman run), it can be argued that the combined influence of Christopher Nolan’s producing and Zak Synder’s directing contributed to people accepting this take on the character.
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Of course, this particular final showdown, which included the destruction of a lot of Metropolis and a shocking twist at the end, raised a lot of debate online. Excitement was then raised as instead of Man of Steel 2, the next film was the hotly anticipated Batman v Superman.
As with Man of Steel, Batman v Superman received mixed reviews and this was further complicated by an extended cut that some people prefer and others do not. People broadly agreed that highlights of the film included an excellent sequence when Batman takes on a floor full of assailants (a scene that many felt was influenced by the critically acclaimed Arkham Asylum video game series), the tense matchup between Batman and Superman and the iconic entrance of Wonder Woman, complete with Hans Zimmer’s fantastic screeching guitar entrance music.
Arguably, Suicide Squad was even more divisive than Batman v Superman. For every critic that disliked it, there was an audience member that loved it – while some felt it was style over substance, others seemed to enjoy the off-kilter energy that it offered. Granted, Suicide Squad is still part of the darker world that Zak Synder has established, albeit with the silliness of Captain Boomerang, the charm of Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s fan favourite Harley Quinn.
Harley Quinn is especially interesting due to the fact she was not originally part of the comics – she was written into the 1992 Batman animated series as a one-off foil for the Joker. Now she has become iconic and one of the more popular DC female characters. In terms of the wider DCEU, Suicide Squad is unusual in that it is one of the few that has an end credit scene in which the boss of the Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller, squares up to Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, admonishing him for “working nights”.
After Suicide Squad there were concerns over how Wonder Woman could exist in this darker world. What critics and audiences didn’t realise is that this is exactly the question that DC intended to ask and answer.
Back to Basics
In many ways, Wonder Woman harks back to earlier comic book movies – not just in terms of Marvel adaptations like Captain America (hero from another time adapts to another world) but also alludes to earlier classics such as the original Superman (both in Wonder Woman’s Diana Prince guise but also in terms of her innocent character dealing with harsh reality). What elevates Wonder Woman and makes it more distinct is the melding of mythology with history.
Initially, some people were concerned about why DC chose to set the film during World War One as opposed to World War Two, which was when the comics and the first series of the Lynda Carter-starring ’70s TV show were set. However, the setting allows for a more complex view of history – albeit with some cartoony villains thrown in – and gives us a potent message about striving for a better world. Another great aspect is Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, offering a strong counter to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman – they both want to fight for what is right, albeit Steve is more aware of the reality of his world while Wonder Woman is keener to challenge that.
Wonder Woman managed to do what some considered unthinkable: audiences and critics were in agreement about the quality of the story and that Patty Jenkins managed to direct it in a very effective way. This then leads to the issue of the upcoming Justice League movie in November, which has been complicated by Joss Whedon having to take on the reshoots after Zak Synder had to pull out due to a family tragedy. What is clear is that DC now has a boost in terms of increased critical acclaim and an audience once again excited by what they could potentially have to offer. While there are pressures that come with these raised expectations, audiences should be able to enjoy this.
While some critics have talked of “superhero fatigue” this does not have to be the case: Logan proved that you can create comic book films with darker themes and depth, while Lego Batman and Deadpool showed that there was plenty of tongue in cheek fun by laughing at the tropes of the genre. In short, if DC can build on the success of Wonder Woman then the DCEU may not need saving after all!