Wonder Woman returns to the big screen in June 2017, bearing upon her shoulders the Herculean task of breathing new life to the struggling DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Granted, Warner Bros.’s premier demigoddess seems worthy of the challenge. Gal Gadot’s debut portrayal of the Themysciran princess was largely celebrated in last year’s otherwise maligned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, after all.
She’ll have a steep climb ahead of her, though. Following what has been a consistently worsening lineup of superhero movie installments, Wonder Woman faces pressure of mythic proportions to become the breakthrough hit that the DCEU now desperately needs.
One giant leap…
The upcoming solo feature caps a decades-long wait for the 1940s-born female empowerment icon to own the silver screen. A successful television run in the mid-’70s cemented Wonder Woman’s place as a pop culture icon, and the clamor for Diana Prince to don the bulletproof bracelets and wield the Lasso of Truth in the movies had been loud (and consistent) ever since.
The timing for this tent-pole film couldn’t be better. Wonder Woman is in prime position to make a statement, more than just another flashy popcorn flick, as diversity and representation in popular media have taken on a newfound appreciation and even influence.
When she finally arrives in theaters, Wonder Woman will realize her potential as a true champion in arguably the most wide-reaching format in which she could be recognized. At the forefront of her own adventure. No longer a supporting, “eye-candy” character added as fan service to please a “legion of fanboys.” No more pin-up girl treatment. A lady who can kick just as much—if not more—ass than her gentlemen counterparts.
At least, so we hope. On paper, that promise seems to be in capable hands. Aside from Gadot who had already proven that she has the chops to bring Diana Prince and her costumed alter ego to life on the big screen, behind the scenes sits director Patty Jenkins who turned heads when she turned Charlize Theron into a monster in the critically-acclaimed 2003 film of the same name.
If the film fails to deliver on this promise, then Warner Bros. will be dealing with an even bigger headache than those that last year’s BvS and Suicide Squad created. Hell hath no fury like an online comics fan community scorned. What more when unhappy social justice warriors join the fray?
Redefining the origin story
Man of Steel debuted in 2013, five years after Iron Man kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and another full year after The Avengers came together, changing the game of the summer Hollywood blockbuster as a result.
The DCEU has clearly been scrambling to catch up. Its last two entries, BvS and Suicide Squad, tried to fast-track the creation of its own superpowered movieverse by cramming too many characters and storylines in too few movies. Ultimately they became glorified, feature-length teasers for future movies (read: Justice League), rather than standalone stories. They looked great and were fun to watch, but they left moviegoers wanting more substance and, well, coherence.
Needless to say, the strategy is being widely panned by critics and audiences—maybe except only the most hardcore fans of the comics. Both ensemble pieces were considered hot messes, exposing where the DCEU has been most lacking so far: character development. You see the main narratives suffered dramatically because of this.
With Wonder Woman, the DCEU gets a chance to take a step back and recalibrate, focusing on an astounding character that deserves an icon’s spotlight.
At this point though, the superhero origin story has become formulaic. Whether Wonder Woman can bring anything new to the table is something we’ll all have to see come June.
Take That, MCU!
If it plays its cards right, the DCEU will get a rare advantage over its rival, the more established and so far more successful MCU. Its June release date will officially make Wonder Woman the first major superhero feature to have a female lead. They will be well ahead of the MCU’s Captain Marvel, which is slated for a March 2019 release.
That precedent, coupled with the strong social statement discussed earlier, could provide the boost that the DCEU needs to catch up and even assert itself in the comics movie universe arms race.
Step back, Bros.!
But for that to happen, Warner Bros. needs to exercise a great degree of restraint. The meddling of studio executives in the previous DCEU installments have been well documented in both the movie and comics news industries, exposing a crucial and recurrent reason behind the current failings of this movieverse.
Enough with the rushed, competing edits and save-it-for-the-home-video Director’s Cuts. Set up a grand franchise master plan and stick with it, instead of fixing things on the fly. Let the filmmakers and their stars do their thing. Maybe they’ll finally end up with a winner in their hands this time.
At the end of the day, the DCEU isn’t a lost cause. It’s not even all that bad to begin with. With its pantheon of pulp titans, there’s simply no way people can just dismiss its incredible potential. The DCEU is probably just going through its fair share of growing pains—perhaps just more obvious, because older sibling MCU had already come first to set a bar and basis for comparison.
To its credit, the DCEU has proven that it’s got the flash and spectacle game covered. Now it has to show that it can deliver substance, too. Wonder Woman is their best shot at it. Her mythic repute, her powerful symbolism, her storied grandeur—the audience can’t wait to see it all come together in a film worthy of a goddess’s praise.