How Wonder Woman Changes the DC Extended Universe

In a dark and grim cinematic universe, Wonder Woman offers a potentially franchise-changing glimpse of warmth and sincerity, Ryan writes...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

NB: The following contains spoilers for Wonder Woman and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

There’s a moment in Wonder Woman where, for this writer, what began as a good superhero movie became a great one.

Diana (Gal Gadot) is standing in a trench during the final throes of the Great War, surrounded by exhausted soldiers, mud and the muffled sound of gunfire. Moved by the pleas of a mother and her daughter, left stranded following the capture of their village, Diana resolves to wade into battle.

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Her sidekick, Steve (Chris Pine) tells her this is impossible: the entire army’s been routed for the best part of a year, dug into the trenches while German guns and bombs whizz overhead.

Diana, predictably, is having none of this. With little more than a sword, shield and her armored bracelets, she leads a full-frontal assault across No Man’s Land, dodging and deflecting bullets, flinging tanks aside, and eventually wresting the town from the enemy’s clutches. It’s a brilliant sequence, and not just because of the action: it announces the arrival of a kind of hero the DC Extended Universe has sorely lacked until now. 

Wonder Woman – to use a name coyly avoided in the movie itself – charges into battle for no other reason than to end pain and suffering. It’s here that your humble writer suddenly had an unexpected and slightly bittersweet thought: if only Wonder Woman really existed. If only there were a real hero like Diana – powerful, benevolent, who only wants to bring about peace and prevent us from destroying each other. A figure who can protect us from our worst instincts. Interestingly, this isn’t a thought we had about the other heroes we’ve so far encountered in Warner’s growing DC Extended Universe.

As envisioned by Zack Snyder, the Superman of Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman isn’t so much a saviour as an atom bomb in a cape: a character whose powers are as likely to level a city as save it. If Snyder’s Superman prevents rival nations from fighting each other, it’s because both sides are terrified that the Son of Jor-El will train his terrifying heat vision on them.

Similarly, Ben Affleck’s Batman is a vigilante roaming an endless dark night of the soul: his hobbies include scowling over gadgets in the batcave, hitting tires with a sledgehammer, or indiscriminately killing bad guys with his Batmobile. If we learned anything very much at all from Batman V Superman, it was that both of these Snyder-verse heroes are two sides of the same ugly coin: lone figures largely driven by their rage and self-interest. If Batman or Superman do any good at all in these movies, it’s because it fits their objectives and busy timetables. 

How refreshing, then, to encounter a character as idealistic and guileless as Wonder Woman. Although Gal Gadot made an immediate impression with her appearance in Batman V Superman, it was too brief to accurately gauge just where her solo film, helmed by Patty Jenkins, might take her. Yet almost from beginning to end, Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie is perfectly judged. It has moments of darkness, but thankfully, not a shred of nihilism; it has moments of lightness and humor, but without the superficial glibness that can easily creep into even the best superhero movies.

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Above all, Wonder Woman is written and directed with real sincerity and heart. Take the odd little moments that tell us who Diana is: the bit where she coos over a baby in a London street, and has to be dragged away by an impatient Steve. Better yet, the tiny scene where she stops to sample an ice-cream, and, bursting with gratitude, says to the vendor, “You should be so proud.”

They’re grace-notes, really, but they do so much to build up to the battle sequence we’ve already mentioned. If Diana encounters something she likes, she’ll say so. If there’s something that saddens her, she’ll immediately do something about it.

In today’s cynical, seen-it-all pop culture landscape, casting Wonder Woman in this light could have been something of a risk. One of the reasons why Zack Snyder reworked Superman as a scowling retired commercial fisherman who goes around frightening everyone appeared to be because he and his creative team didn’t think we’d all buy the clear-eyed, idealistic Superman of the earlier movies.

Rather than double down on the cynicism and world-weariness of Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman, Jenkins and her writers invest Wonder Woman with vulnerability and warmth. One of the darker moments in the film sees the village Diana fights so hard to save destroyed by a gas attack. Until the third act, Diana had fostered the belief that humans are basically good; that violence and cruelty are something fomented in them by the god of war, Ares.

Diana therefore experiences a loss of innocence not unlike the shock the western world experienced in the wake of the World War One; she realizes that our capacity for violence isn’t something foisted on us by an evil god, but is written into humanity’s DNA. Tellingly, though, Diana’s reaction isn’t to drift into anger and introspection – she consciously chooses hope rather than hate. 

Patty Jenkins has said herself that the time is right for a superhero movie with heart.

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“I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing,” Jenkins told the New York Times. “It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis. I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it.”

To paraphrase a well-worn quote from the Dark Knight trilogy, Gal Gadot’s incarnation of Wonder Woman is the superhero we arguably need right now. In an era of increasing real-world fear and isolationism, Wonder Woman provides a character who appeals to the inclusive, humane side of our nature. Here’s hoping Diana’s positivity proves infectious, and spreads to the DC Extended Universe movies still to come.

What Happened To Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman… by denofgeek