Gal Gadot

How Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman Almost Rescued the DCEU

Looking back, the DCEU struggled in many aspects, even with some its highs. But amid the struggle, it was Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman that stood out.

SUMMARY

  •  The DC Extended Universe initially struggled with its cold, unheroic versions of Superman and Batman.
  •  Patty Jenkins featured an inspiring Amazon heroine who embodied the optimism of DC’s characters.
  •  The DCEU ended because few of its other films could match Diana Prince’s compelling origin.

The 2017 Wonder Woman film was a noteworthy accomplishment for both the DC Extended Universe and the character herself. While Superman and Batman have made numerous appearances on the silver screen, Wonder Woman’s live-action filmography was more limited in comparison. Lynda Carter played the heroine in the beloved 1970s TV series, which significantly boosted Diana’s worldwide popularity. But the character had never truly starred in her own theatrical film prior to the DCEU. That all changed when the DCEU introduced Diana Prince in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The iconic DC trinity of Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman were finally united in a live-action movie. However, Diana ultimately surpassed her two colleagues in her subsequent solo film.

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman featured the DCEU origin of Diana Prince, a superpowered Amazon warrior who lived on the secluded island of Themyscira. But when U.S. pilot Steve Trevor crashed on the island with news of World War I, Diana left Themyscira to stop the devastating conflict. Diana’s origin was a breath of fresh air, considering the DCEU’s previous misfires.

The DCEU’s Initial Films Weren’t Critically Successful

The 2017 Wonder Woman film arrived at a difficult time for the DCEU. The franchise was still in the early stages of establishing a vast cinematic world for DC’s multitude of characters. Batman v Superman included appearances by Wonder Woman and other iconic Justice League characters to tease their team-up film. Suicide Squad similarly featured the dark knight’s legendary rogues gallery, showing that the DCEU’s seasoned Batman had already encountered his most diabolical adversaries. However, these creative choices severely damaged audiences’ interest in DC’s characters.

The unnatural cameo scenes and confusing flashbacks in DC’s 2016 films made it difficult for audiences to understand or even care about these heroes’ backstories. The DCEU’s rushed, haphazard worldbuilding was a far cry from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which organically expanded its in-universe narrative with solo character films. Yet the DCEU chased the same critical success without making the same storytelling efforts as its main competitor. Its only exception prior to Wonder Woman‘s release was Man of Steel, which debuted to mixed critical reception at best. The future of the DCEU appeared particularly bleak by the time Wonder Woman’s film premiered.

Diana Prince Brought the Optimism That the Franchise Needed

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Patty Jenkins’ first DCEU movie addressed the franchise’s most glaring narrative problem. The issue occurred at the end of Man of Steel after Superman had saved Earth from an alien invasion. His friendly reunion with Lois Lane at the Daily Planet hinted at a brighter, more hopeful characterization for Superman in the DCEU’s future. However, Batman v Superman discarded that narrative opportunity and made the franchise’s heroes dark and edgy. Both Batman and Superman became almost nihilistic superheroes who reluctantly helped humanity, and they doubted the benefits of their altruism.

Yet Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman delivered on the DCEU’s unfulfilled narrative promise. Her film characterized Diana Prince as an idealistic heroine who wanted to stop the destruction of World War I. When Steve Trevor argued that they couldn’t protect every person affected by the war, she still bravely crossed No Man’s Land and helped save a village. Jenkins’ Wonder Woman remembered that DC’s characters have always been aspirational heroes. Diana’s optimistic fight for a safer world brought these classic DC themes which the DCEU’s characters had sorely lacked.

Wonder Woman Had a Bleak Origin, but It Made Her a Better Hero

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Diana Prince’s DCEU origin understood how to best portray a mature and realistic superhero story. The DCEU had previously tried to emulate the tone of Christopher Nolan’s grounded Dark Knight trilogy for its heroes. But these attempts were largely unfruitful, transforming icons like Superman into emotionally one-dimensional characters who constantly brooded over their powers. Jenkins’ film took a different approach and applied such darkness to Diana’s world instead. The threat of death and suffering enshrouded the World War I setting in which Diana found herself.

The mass casualties of the Great War threatened Diana’s desire to protect mankind. Nonetheless, the character’s selfless optimism persevered against the desolation that surrounded her and turned her into a beacon of hope. Diana’s unyielding hope thus possessed a dark gravitas, thanks to the film’s war-torn environment. Jenkins’ film proved that the DCEU could feature mature narratives without having to undermine the heroism of its protagonists.

Patty Jenkins’ Grounded Storytelling Improved on the DCEU’s Weakest Tropes

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The DCEU’s Suicide Squad made a narrative misstep that Wonder Woman successfully avoided. The 2016 film about DC’s supervillain team had the challenging task of introducing so many rogues when the DCEU had barely developed beyond its two initial films. Suicide Squad had to use a rowdy montage of the different villains’ origins to establish their backgrounds. But with multiple unique villains to cover — Harley Quinn, Deadshot, etc. — the film couldn’t spare more than two minutes of exposition per character. As a result, the Suicide Squad lineup became a shallow ensemble of protagonists who relied on their gimmick powers and their Batman connections to be remotely interesting.

In contrast, Wonder Woman didn’t need to rely on comic book tropes for Diana’s allies. The film’s supporting cast didn’t have special superpowers or origin stories — Steve Trevor was a pilot, Etta Candy was a secretary, and the rest were soldiers of fortune. Wonder Woman’s friends were mostly ordinary humans caught in extraordinary times, who felt her same conviction of stopping the Great War. Jenkins’ film committed to grounded character work rather than the DCEU’s comic book gimmicks.

Diana Prince Was the DCEU’s Most Relatable Protagonist

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Patty Jenkins brought out a humanity in Diana’s character that simply wasn’t present in the franchise’s previous characters. Superman presented the biggest example of this dilemma, given that he was the DCEU’s first and most well-known superhero. Superman’s romance with Lois Lane in Man of Steel could’ve revealed the hero’s compelling vulnerability. Instead, the film shortened the characters’ dialogue scenes in favor of extended action sequences. Clark and Lois’ relationship felt poorly developed, and did little to enhance Superman’s uncostumed identity. However, Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gave DC’s heroes the human side that they needed.

The film’s multiple conversation scenes between Diana and Steve enriched their character traits and demonstrated how they slowly fell in love with each other over time. Diana’s bittersweet relationship with Steve, who sacrificed his life at the film’s end, became one of the DCEU’s most tragic romance stories. Moreover, their believable relationship made Diana a more human character instead of a perfect hero. Her arc with Steve showed that her passion for protecting Earth came from the intimate connections she had made with regular humans. The fragility of those bonds made her both a deeply relatable protagonist and a superhero that the DCEU needed.

Wonder Woman Showed the DCEU’s Potential Before It Crumbled

wonder woman 2017
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Although Diana Prince’s origin was a highlight of the DCEU, it wasn’t perfect. The film couldn’t escape criticism of its CGI-heavy 3rd act and its questionably motivated villain, Ares. Nevertheless, the core plotline — Diana’s romance and her recognition of humanity’s virtues — produced one of the shared universe’s best superhero tales. Yet the film’s quality and critical praise weren’t enough to revive interest in the DCEU. The 2017 Justice League film quickly dampened enthusiasm for the franchise with its derivative script. Even Wonder Woman 1984 couldn’t recapture the magic of the first film, and the struggling franchise was eventually scrapped for the DCU reboot. However, Patty Jenkins’ first Wonder Woman will always be a captivating reminder of what the DCEU could have become if its other creatives had applied the same thematic tact.

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman delivered the character-driven heroism that DCEU’s protagonists lacked. In the long run, the franchise’s other heroes couldn’t quite match the storytelling quality of Diana’s origin. Nonetheless, Jenkins’ film embodied a sense of optimism that was perfect for any DC universe.

Gal Gadot in the Wonder Woman 2017 movie poster
Wonder Woman
9 / 10

When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, Diana, an Amazonian warrior in training, leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

Release DateMay 26, 2017
DirectorPatty Jenkins
CastGal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis
RatingPG13
Runtime141 minutes
GenresSuperhero, Action-Adventure
StudioWarner Bros.

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