Late last night, I snuck over to a local movie theater so I could catch Wonder Woman in IMAX 3D and I left with…well, with an odd sensation. A feeling I hadn’t experienced after seeing a DC Cinematic Universe movie in a long time.
I left without feeling disappointed. I even left feeling hopeful for the future of the franchise!
I know, right? I could hardly believe it myself.
This is simply the best DC superhero movie I’ve seen in a long while. Now that’s not saying much; I personally believe that the bar was set way too low by Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad. But it was great to finally (FINALLY!) see a DC property live up to its potential.
The story goes a little something like this: Wonder Woman starts out as Diana of the Amazons, an all woman society that lives on a hidden island called Themyscira. The Amazons were created by Zeus to be a blessing to the rest of humanity, especially by opposing the evil machinations of Ares, the god of war. So when Steve Trevor, an American spy, crashes off the coast of Themyscira and tells the Amazons about the horrors of World War I, Diana becomes convinced that she has to leave the island and go back to the war. She’s absolutely convinced that Ares is behind the war. Moreover, she’s convinced that if she can find him, she can kill him and, when she does, peace will descend upon the earth and she’ll have fulfilled her mandate as an Amazon.
So she travels back to the world of man with Steve, discovering that man doesn’t exactly have a place for an intelligent, outspoken, strong woman. Worse, she isn’t able to go right after Ares. Steve is convinced that the real threat is a German scientist nicknamed Dr. Poison who is working on creating a chemical weapon that could potentially kill millions of people. But Wonder Woman will eventually come face to face with her ancient enemy and, when she does, she learns some hard truths about herself and the nature of the humanity she’s so desperate to save.
Like I said, I really enjoyed this movie. After the three previous misfires, it feels like the DCCU is finally starting to lurch into the right direction, that they’re tapping people who actually understand the characters and can utilize them to their full potential. Over at the Norville Rogers blog, JR Foresteros posted a review for this movie and he nails a big part of why I didn’t particularly care for the DCCU thus far:
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I hate the recent incarnation of DC Comics’ cinematic universe (the one that began with Man of Steel, and including Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad). Way back when Man of Steel came out, we interviewed Mark Waid – an all-star comics writer who’s created some of the most iconic Superman stories of all time. Like us, he hated Man of Steel. In explaining why, he said,
I don’t want Superman to be more like us. I want us to be more like him.
Mark’s comment cuts to the heart of the difference between Marvel and DC characters. DC was first. Superman debuted in 1938, Batman a year later in 1939. Wonder Woman followed in 1941, and these three characters are still known today as DC’s Trinity.
Stan Lee didn’t begin to create what would become Marvel’s House of Ideas until two full decades later: he and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four in 1961. Lee and Kirby designed their heroes from the beginning to be flawed and relatable – the 4 were a dysfunctional family. Spider-man was an angsty teenager. The X-Men were another dysfunctional family who were also social outcasts. Iron Man was an alcoholic. Even Captain America, the most wholesome of the bunch, was a man out of time.
Marvel’s heroes were a direct response to the mythic icons of the DC pantheon.
The Marvel heroes were who we could relate to. The DC heroes are who we wanted to be. We wanted to be brave and strong like Superman. We wanted to be fearless like Batman. We wanted to be noble like Wonder Woman.
But of course the movies changed everything. Because Marvel cranked out hit after hit; relatable, flawed hero after relatable, flawed hero. (And yes, Nolan’s very flawed Dark Knight trilogy was a massive success while the Green Lantern film – an exercise in missing the point of a character – flopped hard).
So Warner Brothers tapped Zach Snyder, who was on record with a less-than-inspiring grasp of what makes heroes heroic. And we got two Superman movies where [he] murders people and can’t decide whether humanity is worth saving or not. He’s not inspiring at all. He’s relatable.
DC tried to make Marvel movies. They told grounded stories with mythic characters. And they were terrible.
And that’s it right there: Zach Snyder tried to force the DC superheroes to fit the wrong mold. Nolan’s Batman trilogy worked because urban and gritty fit the Batman persona. But that doesn’t fit with every superhero. DC superheroes are meant to be larger-than-life, mythic individuals and Snyder didn’t get that.
I actually read an article recently that suggested that the problem is that Snyder has drawn too much of his influence from places like The Dark Knight Returns. While those are intriguing interpretations of the DC characters, I think it’s important to remember that those are really Elseworlds titles, non-canonical explorations of “what if” scenarios that produced some fun or thought-provoking stories but that have no relation to the “true” characters. Snyder, by focusing on those fringe interpretations, missed what the characters were really all about.
Wonder Woman represent a step back toward what I feel is the right interpretation of these characters. After all, I was more of a DC fanboy than a Marvel one before the two companies launched their cinematic universes. I want the DCCU to succeed and to be good.
Now was this movie perfect? No. There are a few head-scratching moments that left me frustrated (two in particular, but one is so wrapped up in the plot that to talk about it would be to reveal major spoilers, and I don’t want to do that). But overall, this is a hopeful sign that we’re going to see some good movies coming out of the DC characters. It’ll be interesting to see how Justice League does. But after seeing this one, I’m still hopeful.