Wonder Woman has just unlocked the achievement of losing less than 50 per cent of its opening weekend gross on its just completed second weekend of release, so there’s really no denying that this is the critical, commercial, and cultural turning point that Warner Bros and DC Entertainment have been looking for. With many questions lingering about the fate and future of the DCEU, let’s look at five things to consider going forward as to how Wonder Woman may impact the future of this shared universe.
Wonder Woman is the Face of the DCEU Now
Done. While it remains to be seen if Wonder Woman will end up making as much money as either Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad, the key difference is that the audience left Wonder Woman markedly more excited about future adventures than either of those other films. Combined with the fact that many people cite Wonder Woman’s appearance in the fight against Doomsday as one of the best parts of BvS, there’s no doubt who the leader of this universe is now, and it’s the only female member of the Justice League.
The big question is how this might reflect on Justice League. Reshoots are beginning shortly under the supervision of Joss Whedon, and while there are probably a number of pick-up shots and other things he *has* to get done, one must wonder if the studio might push Whedon to put Wonder Woman more to the front of the film. Of course, she’s pretty much already there as seen from the early clips and trailers, it’s her and Batman putting the League together, but if there’s a chance to have more shots of Wonder Woman being awesome, it will assuredly be taken.
Batgirl is Basically Greenlit!
Warners/DC is probably disappointed now that Joss Whedon is finishing Justice League for Zack Snyder because they’d probably like to put him to work on Batgirl tomorrow. News that The Avengers helmer was going to tell the origin story of Barbara Gordon becoming Batgirl was greeted with cheers earlier this year, and with Wonder Woman seeming to have broken the proverbial glass ceiling, it would be standard Hollywood thinking to get another major film featuring a lead female hero into production immediately. How long was it after Deadpool that Logan was confirmed as having an R-rating?
The success of Wonder Woman may also serve to sharpen Warners/DC focus. Although Aquaman is presently in production, the studio has announced about 17 other projects from The Batman to The Flash to a Nightwing movie and the Gotham City Sirens flick… With Man of Steel 2, Justice League 2, Justice League Dark, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps, the Black Adam/Shazam duet, a Suicide Squad sequel, and now, likely, a Wonder Woman sequel all in the offing, Warners/DC is going to have to consider where their strengths have been so far, and what the best way to exploit them would be. Speaking of which…
Talent Will Speak Louder Than Producers
What was the X factor in Wonder Woman’s success? In terms of its creative direction, the production was overseen by Charles Roven and Zack Snyder, the two people connected with all the other DCEU movies so far whether you liked them or not. So the X factor has to be Patty Jenkins, right? It was her leadership as director that made Wonder Woman able to break box office records and restore excitement to the DC Extended Universe. She seized the moment to do something that was both unique to the genre and paid homage to it at the same time.
So the lesson here for the studio may be to get out of your creators’ way. Marvel’s success, for the most part, is predicated on a uniformity between their films. With notable exceptions, primarily Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel films, be they in style or formula, have benefited from a branding that says “This is a Marvel film!” which DC tried to replicate by making Snyder the creative force of their efforts so far, and front loading all the world-building in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But if you’re going to hire accomplished and successful filmmakers like Jenkins, Whedon, David Ayer, James Wan, Matt Reeves, et al, then shouldn’t the studio get out of their way and let them do what they do best?
Not So Much With the Marvel Envy Anymore
It’s been clear since Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment started putting together their extended universe that it was done with a kind of Marvel envy, or at the very least, they tied to do in two years what Marvel Studios did in five. After Man of Steel, the studio confidently announced a production slate of nine films, half of which have since been shelved for various reasons including The Flash’s inability to hold on to a director and the uncertainty that fans want to see one Justice League films let alone two. As a result, it seems like behind the scenes, Warners is throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks. (See above.)
But now DC has one up on Marvel: they were able to get a female lead superhero to movie screens first, and more than that, they did it with the director who left Thor: The Dark World over creative differences. In the process, Patty Jenkins hopefully reminded the studio heads to have faith in their own properties, because while DC was trying to replicate the mechanics of Marvel’s shared universe concept, they’ve been unable to capture its spirit, because they’ve been running away from the core ideas of their characters in order to create something supposedly more grim and realistic. But people don’t like unrelenting depression, and they don’t just love superhero movies because of the fantasy, they also love the aspiration, which brings us to…
A Kinder, Gentler DCEU
No matter what people may feel about Wonder Woman, whether they liked it uniformly or they liked it with reservations, everyone agreed that on the subject of tone, it very much improved on what DC’s series of films had done before. In other words, it had humour, it had lightness, it had positivity, and it had colour. Despite the fact that it takes place during World Ward I, a conflict that killed 10 million soldiers, 3 million civilians, and injured another 25 million people while decimating a continent for over four years, it’s still the most light-hearted of the DC films.
Of course, Warners was immediately aware of this after fans left Batman V. Superman looking like they’d just watched Schindler’s List. Immediate steps were taken to inject more humour and lightness into Justice League, and they brought movie writers to the set of that film to show them that the lesson had be learned. Since Justice League is still a Zack Snyder film, it remains to be seen just how light he can get, but jokes and one-liners have been highlights of the promotions so far. (“What’s your super power?” “I’m rich.”) However there’s more to putting forth a positive front than jokes, it’s also about the spirit the heroes project, and having Superman cracking wise while causing disaster on par with 75 9/11s sends precisely the wrong sorta message.