DC Cinematic Universe's Wonder Woman fails to reach full potential
The 2016 film, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, contained a scene wherein the future members of the upcoming Justice League were introduced through the contents of a flash drive.
Rushed and clunky as the scene seemed, it did provide a glimpse at the new DC superheroes and a hint at the origins of the recently introduced Diana Prince through a decades-old photo of the costumed Prince in World War I.
The newly released Wonder Woman effectively acts as a prequel to that photograph and as an origin story for Prince’s never-named, super-heroine identity, Wonder Woman.
The brief and tenuous feelings of connections that led to this movie are noticeable. DC Comics is playing catchup to Marvel, with a cinematic universe that was begun five years and seven films after the latter. Wonder Woman is the first time DC finds itself on solid footing, following three flops with a good movie.
The movie enters the world of Greek mythology on the island of Themyscira, rid of men and full of women training in battle in order to kill Ares, the god of war.
The protagonist, Prince, played by Gal Gadot, is something of an outsider on this island. She is brought into the human world when Chris Pine’s character, Steve Trevor, crashes and lands off the coast of Themyscira. With the combination of godly origins and a story set during a world war, Wonder Woman’s plot is somewhat a combination of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.
Thematically, the film capitalizes on the fact that it is the first female-led superhero movie in the DC Cinematic Universe, something Marvel has not yet created. Prince is an outcast from her own world and is like a downright alien in Trevor’s world. The fact that she is a woman in the early 20th century only contributes to the exclusion she faces.
Along with Trevor, she goes into battle with Sameer, Charlie and “The Chief,” two of whom are people of color with a similar feeling of being outsiders. Though the characters are not exceedingly fleshed out, there is real camaraderie and the ideas are strong.
The visuals of the DC Universe have tended toward immortalizing heroes. Slow-motion and kinetic cinematography are used to emphasize the legendary status of the super-powered protagonists.
Of all the superheroes so far in the DC Universe, Wonder Woman is the most deserving of this godlike visual rendering, especially as she belongs in a pantheon, being related to Zeus and Hippolyta.
Director Patty Jenkins creates this cinematic effect, in a way which feels more apt than the fetishizing treatment by Zach Snyder in Man of Steel or Dawn of Justice.
Jenkins utilizes color to distinguish place in Wonder Woman. Themyscira is an island of bright and summer-like colors that emphasize the ideal nature of the land. Off island, the world is in dark blues, moody and dark.
The visual highlight of the film is the contrast between the dark night and the bright, glowing yellow of Wonder Woman’s lasso. As beautiful as the colors are, it is disappointing to have yet another superhero movie shying away from bright, positive colors.
As much as the look may play well with the World War I setting, Wonder Woman is still reckoning with its predecessors, besides being its own movie.
Building off Dawn of Justice, the film has some wonderful music. Hans Zimmer wrote themes for each superhero in the preceding film, and Wonder Woman’s music is anthem-like.
It has power and edge to it, syncing up perfectly with Gadot’s unscripted smirk in Dawn of Justice’s climactic battle. Here, Rupert Gregson-Williams takes the pre-existing musical theme and develops it, playing with Eastern tonality and speed, among other factors.
The music and the visuals all contribute to a feeling of something epic at work. Prince is powerful, fighting with sexist generals in a boardroom and combatting enemy soldiers on the battlefield.
When the film has a rating that was kept down to PG-13 for young girls to enjoy, it is clear that there is something important happening here with representation. Wonder Woman has the agency and inspirational quality to be a powerful symbol, the film using its medium to create something iconic.
As powerful as the symbol of Wonder Woman feels, the movie is good, but not great. It is the best entry of the DC Cinematic Universe so far, but its character sketches, redone plot and elements that have been seen too many times weigh it down from reaching its fullest potential. Origin stories have become far too prevalent and superhero movies are generally supposed to be fun. There is a sense of humor to this film, more so than in the previous films, but to a degree, it is still a glum film.
Wonder Woman is an important film because of its use of a great female lead and a move forward from DC’s recent past. Though the film is just explains the plot in a mediocre movie, it still is good.
Gadot dazzles and an icon is reborn. While men get outraged over an all-female screening of the film, Wonder Woman shows a complex reality, where men and women have equal potential—for evil, or to be something wonderful.