As much as I don’t want to put pressure on the DC extended universe in regards to its next film, I’m going to. There’s so much riding on Wonder Woman, not only as a movie that consumers will most likely pay a lot to see, but as a symbol, a product and a nerd property. Wonder Woman is one of pop culture’s most recognizable characters and what she stands for is even larger than her. The last mainstream blockbuster that was accompanied by this much pressure was The Force Awakens, which luckily worked out for Disney and the Star Wars franchise.
Wonder Woman doesn’t get to just be good. It has to be great.
It needs to fix Warner Bros’ and the DCEU’s reputation
Warner Bros.’ DC films, starting with Man of Steel, have all been successful in a monetary sense. And they’ve all had massive budgets, so good on Warner Bros. for ensuring that these bloated action spectacles turn a profit. Man of Steel was probably the least valuable of the three that’ve already been released — making $291 million domestically on a $225 million budget — but it was even more successful overseas. These films have had middling to disparaging reviews from critics, but that hasn’t seemed to stall audiences. Despite a 27 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice still made over $600 million after counting the international box office.
But among many DC fans, critics, and other movie professionals, Warner Bros. is struggling, which could result in some consumer distrust down the line. The opinions aren’t universal, but the majority of them seem to worry about this extended universe’s longevity and quality, thanks in no small part to all the drama that plagued the Suicide Squad set — which was supposed to be the movie that saved the franchise — and the final cut of the film. It’s not just that Warner Bros. has released a few mediocre films. It’s that in the news it seems like executives are struggling and making a lot of mistakes.
Of course, that’s not the narrative from inside the studio. Kevin Tsujihara, chief executive at Warner Bros., told the New York Times that the studio has been “consistent,” and that it’s been a narrative in the press that has reflected something more negative. Plus, he said that he’s seen Wonder Woman and that it’s great. I’ve heard from sources that the buzz around the DC offices is also mostly positive. Nothing to worry about, right?
Wonder Woman needs to kickstart the DC universe … again
Wonder Woman is the fourth film in this franchise, and no matter how much it stands on its own, it’ll still be related to some of the most polarizing movies of 2016. In typical circumstances, there wouldn't be a lot riding on a fourth anything, but the DCEU has been filled with disappointments.
Man of Steel is the most well-received of the DC extended universe films, but all it set up was a grim Superman living in a violent and destroyed world. It’s not very entertaining. Dawn of Justice is the first real cross-universe film in this franchise, but it struggles under the weight of introducing multiple characters — including two of the most iconic in all of comics — and also setting up Justice League. Suicide Squad was the chance for DC to show its lighter, more edgy side, but it missed the mark with a confused cut that seemed like five movies and relied too much on gross marketing when it came to Jared Leto’s Joker.
There isn’t a lot to be excited for as a movie-goer and comics fan. We get excited with the prospect of seeing Aquaman on screen with Batman, but, unfortunately, we can see that elsewhere. The CW Arrowverse is low budget compared to its movie cousins, but most of its shows — minus Arrow — rely on superhero and romantic melodrama to draw you into season-long arcs that tend to be more satisfying and more fun.
It’s partially unfair to compare it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since DC is its own entity, but the former has already fulfilled many of our collective nerd fantasies. We saw the Hulk punch Thor and team up with Captain America. Even on the CW Arrowverse, we can see many of our favorite DC characters teaming up. What does the DCEU have? Sad depictions of iconic heroes, worlds without hope, and villains without any plausible motivations. There aren’t any stakes. There isn’t anything to look forward to.
The DCEU needs its own reason to exist outside relying on the fame of its characters. All of the Marvel films are different, but they’re all tonally cohesive: colorful, full of humor, and mostly narratively safe. DC is still trying to figure out the tone of its films three movies in, and Wonder Woman can finally be the thing that sets up for the rest of the planned installments.
Wonder Woman needs to be a successful female-led superhero movie
The apparent risk of creating an action movie where a woman is in the lead has been haunting Hollywood. There have been multiple times throughout history where a slew of poorly-received woman-led superhero films have caused filmmakers to swear off the concept altogether. The triple whammy of Catwoman, Elektra, and Aeon Flux in the early 2000s shouldn’t have caused executives to shy away from female-led superhero films, but that’s what happened. Wonder Woman will be the first time in at least a decade we’ve seen a big-budget superhero film led by a woman.
Having a woman as the lead in an action movie is perceived as risky. Boys don’t buy girl action figures and casting one can alienate a huge portion of a movie’s demographic, apparently. That isn’t to say we haven’t had great female action heroes. There have been many examples in recent years, such as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, Katniss in The Hunger Games and Rey in The Force Awakens, but none have led a big-name comics property. We have Jessica Jones on Netflix, Supergirl on the CW, and we’ll have Captain Marvel in 2018, but few other prospects beyond that.
Wonder Woman needs to be a great superhero film, but also a great superhero film that stars a woman. If not, we’ll get another repeat of the 2000s. You don’t have to look further than this summer’s Ghostbusters remake, which caused an sexist online backlash and underperformed at the box office (partially because the filmmakers didn’t seem to have enough faith in the actors and material to have their own story) to see how much a risk it is. It’s too early to see what kind of effect this will have on movie producers, but if we go off past experiences, they’ll take it as an excuse to not take risks on more female-skewed casting.
It needs to be a good Wonder Woman movie
Wonder Woman has gotten some amazing stories, but mostly in comics and cartoons. In terms of other media adaptations, there hasn’t been a beloved version since Lynda Carter on TV in the 1970s. The last time we tried to get Diana of Themyscira in live action — and for a larger audience than the DC books and animated features have — was in 2011, when NBC ultimately refrained to pick up a live-action pilot. If you put her on the same level as Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman has been horribly slighted (especially compared to Batman).
Wonder Woman has been cleaning up the DC universe for 75 years and has inspired girls around the world, so the fact that we haven’t gotten an adaptation in so long is appalling. In fact, she wasn’t a part of any wide release film until her cameo in 2014's The LEGO Movie.
In this decade, when we’ve been attempting to tell stories other than ones of straight white men, Wonder Woman is a missed opportunity.
She was recently named an honorary UN ambassador, but a petition called for her removal based partially on the call for a real-life ambassador, but also because her body and sexier clothing promoted unrealistic expectations of women. The petition makes valid points about how the United Nations should be representing real women instead of fictional ones, but the emphasis on her physical appearance shows a misunderstanding of Wonder Woman as a character. She’s more than just a tight outfit. She inspires girls, and a fair and accurate depiction would do wonders for her brand.
If Warner Bros., Gal Gadot, Patty Jenkins, and everybody else involved with the film can make Wonder Woman work, then we’ll get a new franchise based around her — which means more merchandise and less hesitation when creating another story for the Amazon Princess. I think of all the people wearing Suicide Squad Harley Quinn costumes this Halloween and replace them with Wonder Woman outfits, and the world seems brighter.
Wonder Woman isn’t just a classic character whose time has come for a movie adaptation. She’s necessary. And DC, you better hope that this movie works.
Carli Velocci is the editor of her webzine Postmortem Mag, and is a culture and technology writer seen at Paste Magazine, Motherboard, the Boston Globe, and anywhere else brave enough to publish her. You can read more of her work on her website or follow her on Twitter @velocciraptor.