Going off the overwhelmingly positive reception given to the DC Extended Universe’s latest entry into their series, many have praised the first proper cinematic outing for Diana Prince in Wonder Woman as the savior of a cinematic shared universe that has flirted with implosion over the last 18 months. While there can be no arguing that the box office success of WW combined with the refreshingly unanimous response of positivity from audiences and critics (something of a novelty for the DCEU) to Patty Jenkin’s film has rendered the movie an unfettered triumph, it has also brought the many questions and doubts surrounding Warner Brother’s comic book franchise into sharper focus.
Wonder Woman is a fine film that you can gain our thorough opinion of in our video review but it is highly debatable as to whether it has truly improved matters for the DCEU moving forward.
CLOSING THE STABLE DOOR AFTER THE HERO HAS BOLTED
Just imagine that the three previous DCEU films didn’t exist (take your time, I know it’s a lovely thought) and Wonder Woman was the opening salvo for a new form of DC films after the decidedly uneven The Dark Knight Rises. To say its impact would be somewhere in the region of Marvel Studio’s formative debut Iron Man would likely be correct. “Such a bold choice to begin with a hero with no previous big screen experience.” they would say. “Employing a female protagonist feels so fresh after the sausage fest of Marvel’s origin films.” they would also say. And they wouldn’t be wrong but, unfortunately, our introduction to the DCEU was via a sulky Kal-El with a demolition fetish in 2013’s Man of Steel and matters only got worse over the next two chapters.
There’s a town in Pennsylvania which has been on fire for over 50 years that shouldn’t be entered by any right-thinking individual and that’s a potent metaphor for any attempt to re-evaluate Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Whereas, Suicide Squad exposed Warner’s hubris in attempting to do a team up movie before they had even got their first effort properly underway. To say the end result of David Ayer’s hive of scum and villainy was a case of DCEU trying to run before it could walk doesn’t exactly do the malformed end result justice since it was more of a case of trying to build a particle accelerator when you haven’t yet worked out what banging some rocks together can achieve.
Still, Wonder Woman has saved the day, right? While it certainly hasn’t hurt the DCEU and has done good work in assuring audiences and critics that the shared cinematic universe hasn’t been a complete waste of time, Patty Jenkins’ film alone could never have solved the problems inherent in the DCEU after three successive misfires. Indeed, that task was always going to be the responsibility of the upcoming Justice League and while Wonder Woman has momentarily taken the pressure off the DCEU, it has also paradoxically put a whole lot more on the crucial team-up movie.
A SENTIMENTAL STORY
If Wonder Woman has proved anything in its second week in theaters, it’s that audience approval counts for a lot in the comic book genre. Any idiot can generate a huge opening weekend with an established intellectual property and spending over $100m on marketing it. The real measure of success comes the following weekend in the crucial drop-off in box-office takings and Wonder Woman has shown it definitely has better legs than its DCEU predecessors.
In its second weekend, Wonder Woman dropped by only 45% in box-office gross. Not only is this well above average in terms of modern blockbuster staying power, it also massively outperformed all three of the previous DCEU films by at least 20%. It is true that the previous movies all enjoyed bigger openings but if Wonder Woman remains on the same trajectory at the box office it is tracking to become the most financially successful movie of the DCEU so far and one cannot dismiss the role that positive sentiment towards the film has played in this.
We also saw this last year when the acclaimed Deadpool outperformed the significantly less acclaimed but far better funded Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad at the box-office. That Wonder Woman has been even more positively received (93% on rottentomatoes.com) than the (mis)adventures of Wade Wilson (84%) just goes to show that the origin tale of Diana Prince hasn’t just improved sentiment towards the DCEU, it’s practically inverted it compared to the thoroughly rotten ratings handed out to previous DCEU movies. But when you fly high, it can sometimes mean you only have further to fall and if Justice League falls back into old habits then the DCEU will hit the ground that much harder in November.
A DIFFERENT LEAGUE
While Wonder Woman has steadied the DCEU ship for the time being, it’s only achieved this by bailing out the discontent pouring in from the previous entries from the shared universe by being a focused and comprehensible film. And there’s much to admire in that since Warners could have quite easily ordered the film to fill in the holes and carry the rest of the water for the mothership that is Justice League rather than allowing it to be a stand-alone film about Diana Prince. The problem with this is that there are still many holes to plug and gallons of water to carry to put us in a comfortable position for the Justice League to begin.
Of course, we all saw the mess of the DCEU trying to set an origins story in a transitional movie in Dawn of Justice with Ben Affleck’s Batman getting the short shrift there and it was a massive relief that Diana Prince’s origins weren’t so horribly mangled in the same manner. The flashback nature of Wonder Woman served the introduction of a superhuman female into the male-dominated genre extremely well but there will be little continuity between the events of Diana’s involvement in the Great War and the current events of the 21st century setting of Justice League.
Also, for a film that will feature the teaming up of six DC heroes, to only have 2 and a half of their origin stories completed doesn’t exactly feel thorough. The lack of a Nick Fury-type figure marching around tying everything together in preparation for the main event hasn’t helped either and the infamous “trailer disk” given to Diana Prince in Dawn of Justice is a poor substitute for that. In retrospect, perhaps the final entry in the DCEU before it reaches its tentpole movie should have featured the Princess of Themyscira doing some modern day recruiting rather than teaching early 20th century chauvinists a thing or two about the so-called fairer sex.
So, while the stand-alone nature of Wonder Woman may have done the film itself the world of good, it hasn’t done much to fix the shaky foundations that the DCEU stills teeters on. Likewise, the DCEU took four attempts to finally produce a decent superhero movie -and a very traditional one at that- which suggests that the more taxing task of a team-up film is still beyond them. But, in terms of quality, the DCEU has finally moved up into a different league and if it can sustain at least that aspect of its productions then perhaps the DCEU can be a contender after all.