Superhero films are dominating Hollywood right now. Of all the films that are released per year, the ones based on comic book characters still make the biggest dividends and are admitted into the billion dollar club the easiest. That doesn’t necessarily match up to their critical reception, but in 2017 it seems that superhero films are faring much better with critics.
Logan and Spider-Man Homecoming both topped the 90s in the ratings charts this year. Logan was a dark, emotional film celebrating the final time that Hugh Jackman would don the claws and play Wolverine, and Spider-Man Homecoming was the beginning of a new (and hopefully long) era of Spider-Man films now set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But one of the most surprising of these films is Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins (who is an Amazonian goddess herself, worthy of all the praise she’s gotten), was a film that everyone was both excited and nervous for. It’s the fourth film to be released that takes place in the DC Extended Universe, which up until that point had a pretty bad reputation. Launch efforts Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad all had very mixed to poor reception from both critics and fans. And though those films have their defenders, they have an equally big legion of people who disliked them.
The main criticism, with particularly Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, was how dour and dark the films were, both visually and storywise. To be featuring characters like Batman and Superman, the films seemed pretty cynical and careless about hope and optimism and the morality of the world. While I personally enjoy both those films and think they had great ideas (more so Man of Steel than BvS), even I can admit they were fundamentally different from the way the characters, particularly Superman, are depicted in the comics.
But Wonder Woman was a standout from the moment she clanged her gauntlets against Doomsday in Batman v Superman. Fans thought Gal Gadot perfectly embodied the Amazonian princess, and were excited for her solo movie. All of the trailers looked spectacular, seemingly the first DCEU film that was full of color and light. And when the film was finally released, it did indeed live up to the hype. Scoring a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing over $700 million world wide, it seemed Wonder Woman was the first DCEU film that would be wholeheartedly embraced by most audiences.
Why is that? Well, that’s what I’m here to break down for you.
As a whole, superhero films have lost their way from the core, fundamental values and principles that their characters so strongly stand for. The comic book genre (and this isn’t just limited to DC, either; Marvel is guilty of this as well) has tried to go in a more serious direction, with tortured characters and deaths and suffering. And this is not to say that those films are bad. Logan is one of my top films, not just of 2017, but of all time. The Dark Knight is one of the best films ever made, in my opinion. But there needs to be balance.
Every time director Patty Jenkins was interviewed about Wonder Woman, she spoke to the fact that the character stands for love and truth, justice and mercy. She is perhaps the most hopeful character in the DC Universe, but that does not negate her power and fighting ability. She will kill when she needs to, but it’s not something she takes joy or pleasure in. Because she is a hero, and her job is to help people and bring light and goodness to the world. Jenkins went out of her way to demonstrate this in the film – not only through Gadot’s performance, which was great, but even visually. Whenever Wonder Woman saves a city or defeats evil, the sun shines beautifully over her in the scene after – because she is bringing hope and light to the world.
The DCEU needs to recognize that this is something that the world needs, particularly right now. The power of seeing a hero stand up to a great evil, not out of revenge or malice, but simply because it’s the right thing to do, is beautiful. I had chills seeing Diana deflect mortar shells and kick German ass on the battlefield. She didn’t owe the world of men anything. She wasn’t obligated to help. But she did anyway.
Some of you might be wondering: Why am I ragging on the DCEU if I enjoy their films? Well, just because their movies have some positive messages, it doesn’t mean that the rest of their characters are as full of hope and optimism as Diana of Themyscira. Now, I don’t mean that every character needs to be more like Wonder Woman; I just feel that more characters should be, and these heroes should be heroes, risking their lives to save people, just because it’s the right thing to do.
The Wonder Woman film has ushered in a new era of hope for comic book cinema. Not everything has to be so serious all the time. As I said, I’m a huge fan of serious filmmaking, so this is not to rag on serious comic book films. But as I also said, there needs to be balance. Back at these characters’ origins, they stood for something. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the whole Justice League should reflect that fundamental goodness. They might not be perfect people, but they do what needs to be done. And finally, thanks to Patty Jenkins, DC’s characters are beginning to return to the way they should be.