Wonder Woman Critical Analysis Part 1 of 2
So… Wonder Woman happened. The first movie of the Geoff Johns era of DC filmmaking and you can tell, but let’s back up a bit because nothing happens in a vacuum and we need to talk about where this film came from.
A little more than a decade ago, Time Warner approached DC Comics and said they wanted to do a new superhero movie. I like to imagine – and this is important guys, this is my imagination and probably has nothing to do with reality, so do not sue us because this is a fictitious retelling – that the conversation went like this:
“Cool, guys,” DC Comics said, then sane and not yet driven bad by nineties nostalgia. “Who do you have in mind?”
“Green Lantern,” Time Warner grinned.
“Cool, cool,” DC Comics said, excited by the possibilities. “Storied character, a lot of lore to draw on… are you thinking classic Hal Jordan, new Kyle Rayner, or drawing from our award-winning animated series and doing Jon Stewart? Do you have a leading man in mind?”
This is a real thing. A real thing that really almost happened, except DC Comics said…
“Excuse me?” said Time Warner.
“C’mon, Big Fat Guy with a power ring,” Time Warner said, wiping the cocaine from their upper lip. “It’s comedy gold.”
An argument ensued. Hair was pulled and punch was thrown and at the end, clothes were straightened and everyone tried to have a little bit of dignity. Time Warner was convinced that their camp-fest comedy would make a lot of money, but DC Comics wouldn’t sign over the character.
“You don’t understand how to make movies,” Time Warner argued. “You make comics, and who reads those anymore?”
“Fuck you,” DC Comics replied. “Bet you we can make a superhero movie better than anything you’ve ever seen.”
“Really? You think so?” Time Warner asked, an evil glint in their eye. “Fine. Here’s forty million dollars. I know, that’s like your annual budget, but you make your little shit show and when that fails you’re going to sign the contract and we’re going to make our Green Lantern movie, okay?”
DC Comics agreed to terms.
The movie they made was a little thing called Batman Begins and it won awards and made all the money. It launched a trilogy and is generally considered the best superhero movie made up to that point (Christian Bale’s bat-voice aside) because it was a good movie that just happened to have a superhero in it.
Marvel learned all the right lessons from this, and a few years later we got Iron Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Time Warner learned all the wrong lessons from this success and decided that what people wanted was grim and gritty, and by this point management at DC Comics was riding high on the nineties and decided to launch the nu52, so there was no dissenting voice.
The first result of this was Man of Steel, which was okay. This was followed with Batman v Superman, which was not, and Suicide Squad, which was a very stupid movie, and both of those lost a lot of money. All of them had series flaws, and their inability to succeed on a Marvel-like level woke Time Warner from their cocaine-stupor, fearing a lack of cocaine in their immediate future.
Meanwhile, on the comics end of things, DC Comics managed to lose forty percent of their readership over five years of the nu52, and only started gaining it back because of titles like Harley Quinn, Gotham Academy, and a revamped Batgirl. All of those comics had an underlying theme of hope that had been missing from DC Comics as a whole for the entirety of the nu52, and DC Comics officially relaunched with Rebirth and has been pretty great ever since.
A big part of that is a man named Geoff Johns, who is basically the biggest fan of DC Comics and its characters to ever live. The man is also an acclaimed comic book writer, so Time Warner took note and said “You! You seem to know what you’re doing! Make our movies good so we can compete with Marvel (and get more cocaine)!”
Geoff came on board to handle the movies a couple months before Suicide Squad launched, so the first movie he’s had any real input on is this one: Wonder Woman. And this is where things get interesting.
Warner Brothers wanted this movie to fail.
They did little in the way of advertising for it, nothing along the lines of Man of Steel or Batman v Superman or even Suicide Squad. I know many people that were dying to see this movie that had no idea when it was coming out, or if it was out, and even the person I went to see the movie with had no idea it was out before I suggested it.
“Really?” she said. “Wonder Woman is out?”
“Yep,” said me. “Wanna go see it?”
“Hell fuck yes.”
She didn’t really say that. It’s profanity being used to underline a point.
Wonder Woman is a female led action movie being directed by a woman, and the first woman they hired to direct it walked because of studio interference – a thing that also happened with Ben Affleck and Batman and has happened with a number of other DC Movie projects prior to Geoff coming on board. This movie is Geoff’s proof of concept, one that says that, yes, women read comics, women like superheroes, and women can tell good stories and be part of good stories and isn’t this goddamn great?
And it is.
Without studio advice and/or interference, with Geoff hiring someone to tell the story and trusting her to get it right, we ended up with the best of the DC Comics movies and one of the best superhero movies, but there’s some subtlety here that I’m thinking 49% of moviegoers might be missing, so let’s talk about that in part two.