Although the movie is still a week away from premiering in theaters, Wonder Woman has already become a hotbed of public discussion. Early word of mouth is overwhelmingly positive, fast-tracking it to easily be the best movie so far in the troubled DC Extended Universe. Not that that’s saying much, mind you, since all three preceding movies in the mega-franchise have been unremittingly terrible.
While superhero fans wrap themselves in the ethics of women-only screenings or how much credit Zack Snyder should receive for a movie he didn’t direct, there’s still the matter of the elephant in the room. Can this movie course-correct four-years’ worth of Warner Bros’ mistakes? Can Wonder Woman really save the DCEU?
While it may prove to be an important holding measure for the spiraling trajectory of the superhero mega-franchise, Wonder Woman, by itself, cannot save the DC movies. It has nothing to do with how good the movie is or what lessons the studio might learn from its success. With Justice League wrapping up and the next year’s slate of movies already well into production, we probably won’t see the effects of this movie on the other DC movies until at least 2019.
The problem with Wonder Woman is that it’s a prequel, and the problem with prequels is that you cannot lead from behind. The very reason why Wonder Woman stands a chance at being as good as it supposedly is is the very same reason why it can’t fix the DC movies: it is so spatially, temporally and creatively removed from the rest of the cinematic universe that there really is no comparing the two.
Wonder Woman isn’t set in DC’s grimdark present: where Superman inadvertently destroyed Gotham and Batman brands his victims to terrorize criminals into submission. Her story begins on Themyscira: a locale literally referred to as “Paradise Island.” She isn’t bathed in muted greys and grungy black. Her movie is vibrantly colorful: leaping off the screen like the best her genre has to offer.
She isn’t concerned with alien angst nor Human paranoia. She is a warrior, testing herself on the greatest battlefield in history: a literal God, or one step removed from one.
No matter what the final verdict is on the movie, it is a side-story in the greater machinations of the DC movie continuity: a point of interest only tangentially connected to franchise’s present-set films. Her character was already introduced in Batman v Superman and Justice League appears to have nothing to do with her broader mythology. Her movie can only connect dots and flesh out her backstory: adding nothing substantial to the larger franchise she is supposedly going to save.
The obvious comparison here is to Captain America: The First Avenger. Both movies are set in the recent past, with star-spangled heroes fighting mostly real-world enemies whose stories are largely removed from their company’s primary timeline of events.
The problem is, however, that The First Avenger was the first time we saw Steve Rogers: giving that film unfettered freedom to create its title character from whole cloth. Wonder Woman has to work off of the misanthropic character first shown in Batman v Superman: the one who willingly sequestered herself off from the world for nearly a century.
Despite how far-removed Cap’s first outing was from the rest of the MCU, The First Avenger introduced key concepts that became integral to the later Marvel movies: the Tesseract (the blue cube that Loki was after in The Avengers), Hydra (the Nazi splinter faction that re-defined the world’s political landscape in The Winter Soldier) and Rogers’ seven decades frozen in the Arctic (connecting him with Nick Fury and, ultimately, the Avengers). Wonder Woman seems to be concerned only with its character’s own mythology (her weapons, love interest, etc…), with no further connection to the events of Justice League and beyond.
Understand, this is not an argument against Wonder Woman. Even though inter-connectivity is the name of the game in post-Avengers Hollywood, I adamantly believe that all movies should be foremost concerned with existing on their own terms: presenting themselves as the best possible version of what they want to be and concern themselves with Easter Eggs and tie-ins only as a secondary issue.
The fact that it exists in isolation from the other DC movies is what’s giving it the best possible chance of succeeding despite the direction that Zack Snyder and Warner Bros has taken the DCEU in. But the very fact that it is so far removed from those other movies means that any actual impact it will have on them will be minimal to non-existent.
While it can flesh out a younger Diana Prince, it cannot change in any way the woman that will begrudgingly team-up with Batman and Superman against Doomsday. It cannot develop any of Justice League‘s other heroes since none of them exist in WWI-era Europe. It can’t tie together any of the disparate elements floating around the DCEU because it was conceived, from the ground up, as being its own story.
I honestly can’t wait for Wonder Woman to hit theaters. It looks great and the positive word has given me no cause to doubt that. It appears to be everything the DC movies should be: full of personality, excitement and color.
It might be a good movie — even a great one — but it’s not going to singlehandedly lift DC out of the hole it’s been digging itself into since 2013. I’m just going to accept it on its own terms and hope for the best.