WONDER WOMAN, The DCEU, And New Beginnings

We've all seen it. So let's talk about it.

There's going to be spoilers from here on out, obviously. You've been warned.

Let's start with this quote from Patty Jenkins, from her interview with The New York Times.

The difference between DC heroes and Marvel heroes is complicated, but simple. Marvel's are flawed humans who have the unflinching desire to do good, and prove that nothing can overcome the human spirit when they put aside their differences and work together. DC's heroes are not just inhuman, they've surpassed humanity. They're all something higher, whether they were born that way (Wonder Woman - a demigod, Superman - an alien), or made that way (Batman, who literally calls himself Batman when nobody's around).

DC's characters have always been meant to show the way for everybody else.

Allen and I saw Wonder Woman on Thursday, and to say it energized us would be an understatement. We hung out in the parking lot for over an hour, gushing over just about every detail of the movie we just watched. Things we liked. Things we loved. Problems we had. 

That's the thing; Wonder Woman isn't a perfect movie, but it doesn't have the obligation to be. The second act was a little inflated, and the third act went a little too crazy with the CGI. These are two complaints of a film that, like any other film, has problems.

And I'll stop there with those, because Wonder Woman is a great, great movie. It's exciting, it's joyful, and it's true to all the things we admire about her comic book counterpart. It takes its time, establishing Diana's world and how it relates (and doesn't relate) to ours. There are ancient, moving paintings. Did I say great already? It's great.

During this prologue, and right as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, who totally understands the movie he's in) crashes near their beach, I leaned forward. Which, to be fair, is something I haven't done with any of these new DC films before. But, this was because the movie was already succeeding in a dichotomy that's lost on a lot of modern blockbusters. And it really comes down to four words.

Simple plot. Complex characters.

You can't have simple plot and simple characters. And you can't have complex plot and complex characters. You have to have one of each; it's an unspoken rule and the key to success in any story you tell. Diana is a conflicted protagonist who is raised by two mothers, one is a queen who only wants peace for her, and the other is fucking hard as nails Robin Wright who doesn't take any shit and has a bow and arrow and swords and stuff. The point is Diana wants peace, and is willing to fight for it.

Steve is an idealist soldier and spy during World War I, but his wrinkle of complexity is that he's starting to sort of believe humanity is a bunch of monsters -- he uncovers a group of fringe scientists who are inventing a strain of "super mustard gas" that violently murders anyone who comes in contact with it. Steve and Diana meet when things are at their most dire for him, and when things are at their most hopeful for her. And together, they're driven and inspired by each other to stop the Great War.

Diana thinks it's as simple as killing Ares, the God of War; if she can accomplish this feat, then humans will "wake up" and stop fighting. Steve admires this hopeful naivete, and does his best to refute it without doing it outright; he's still willing to listen to her and hear her out. Maybe it's because he's seen that cool whip and other things she can do, but he's got an open mind.

The other hopefuls that Steve gathers soon become Diana devotees (after she breaks through No Mans Land, which may be one of the best superhero sequences period), but everybody else? Everybody else on the London side of the war has zero patience to listen to her. And we feel her frustration.

And as Diana learns too late the inhumanity of chemical warfare, as well as the inherent complication of war; it's revealed it's not as simple as "killing Ares". Ares simply provided the tools of destruction to people who were already eager to murder innocents for their cause, which turns out to be all Steve has been trying to teach her.

In the "all is lost" moment of Wonder Woman, Diana herself learns how easy it is to not listen.

Soon after, Diana realizes the importance of truly understanding one another, and after a pitch perfect dialogue exchange with Steve ("I can save today. You can save the world."), Diana achieves the balance of both of the lessons her mothers Antiope and Hippolyta taught her, of realism and idealism. She saves the world with love.

And not only does Wonder Woman do it, Steve Trevor does it too. This is what we call a narrative "synthesis", and it's the most difficult thing to organically pull off in any film, letalone one with a $300+ million budget.

Note that not a one of these themes I mentioned is "Man, it sure is TOUGH being a lady". And not that it isn't present under the surface, but Jenkins clearly preferred to go after the primal problem that's behind gender discrimination - which is just plain and simple ignorance, and all of its facets.

So, where does this leave us? Patty Jenkins has proved you can make movies in this universe, and have them mean something. Heck, she proved you can make movies in this entire genre and have them mean something. And where do we go from here? Justice League is just about finished, and there's word that Joss Whedon had been script doctoring it long before the tragedy that put him in the director's chair. Maybe this means WB is starting to make more thoughtful, script level decisions going forward.

And a $101 million opening weekend for Wonder Woman means they're on the right track.

I can't wait to see what Patty Jenkins does next. It doesn't have to even be with this character! We all know her Wonder Woman sequel is going to be good, but at the risk of putting the cart before the horse, I'd kind of love it if she became the caretaker for the entire DCEU. If the studio opts to put in similar love and care for the rest of their flagship characters, then we all win.
 

Terry Erickson is a screenwriter, lifelong film fan, and all around good guy based in Baltimore, MD. He's driven across America twice, is obsessed with Back To The Future, and loves almost everybody.