In the wake of most reactions to Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad ranging from terrible to tepid, the fate of the DC Extended Universe now falls upon one person’s shoulders. But who is it that can save this franchise from collapsing under a bevy of misfires? The individual in question isn’t director Zack Snyder, who is spearheading the bulk of the cinematic DC slate. It’s also not the Last Son of Krypton, whose presence was somehow reduced to that of a supporting character in a movie with Superman in the title. And much to the chagrin of Warner Bros., it’s not their usual centerpiece, Batman, either. The savior at this crucial stage for the once-promising film series is the remaining third of DC’s Trinity: Wonder Woman.
Diana Prince must be the selling point of this universe in the way that Tony Stark became Marvel’s forerunner. The Amazonian warrior is an ace that Warner Bros. can potentially pull from their sleeve – the studio heads just need to portray the character accordingly. They need to understand what made this character great enough to endure decades populated with men barely seeing women as equals, let alone heroes.
Wonder Woman made her first appearance in All-Star Comics No. 8, but perhaps the most important moment of her development came in The Brave and the Bold No. 28. That issue marked the first appearance of the Justice League, and was released in 1960, a time that was brutal for women’s equality, particularly in the workplace. Comics at this stage were looked down on as nothing more than cheap entertainment for boys, so no one would have batted an eye if the roster of founding Justice League members consisted entirely of founding fathers.
Yet, as DC put together their flagship team that would stick around long enough to become a multi-million-dollar film series, Wonder Woman made the cut. From the beginning she was one of the most respected members of a team staffed with the DC universe’s most powerful characters. Diana Prince wasn’t relegated to a separate group comprised of the most notable female characters; she was front and center, alongside the men and just as vital to the team as Superman, Batman, or the Flash. To her League-mates and to readers, she was seen as a true equal. This is what made Wonder Woman into the icon that could withstand many decades marred by unfair social climates. Within those brightly-colored panels, nobody’s worth was determined by gender.
This is also what leads to her being an invaluable asset to Warner Bros. as they try to construct the DCEU. It is obvious that the studio is in full desperation mode, throwing as many projects and characters at the screen as quickly as possible, praying that something sticks during the chaos. They are trying to catch up to Marvel too fast, and in doing so are totally missing the mark on what made the MCU special to begin with. But with Wonder Woman, they have something that Marvel doesn’t.
Strong female leads are the current lifeblood of fiction, be it movies, television, or video games. Star Wars now has a female main character, and the driving force behind Mad Max: Fury Road wasn’t Max at all, but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. The most popular show on TV, Game of Thrones, is filled to the brim with fantastic actresses portraying powerful women. Marvel has made a point of incorporating female Avengers along the way (Black Widow and Scarlet Witch), and they released a female-led television series (Jessica Jones), but the studio has yet to have a stand-alone film with a female as the leading role. Captain Marvel is on the docket, but her movie is in the early stages of development, and remains at least a couple years out.
Meanwhile, Wonder Woman hits theaters this June. For the first time, DC will beat Marvel to the punch. It’s a milestone that they need to capitalize on if the studio is going to have any chance at saving this series, but it isn’t the only aspect of note.
Cinematic versions of Batman and Superman will always follow in the footsteps of actors from yesteryear; fans can’t help but compare Affleck to Keaton and Bale, and Cavill will always be juxtaposed against Christopher Reeve. With Wonder Woman, however, Gal Gadot has a clean slate. Yes, we have Lynda Carter’s television show from the ‘70s, but Batman v Superman marked the first-time Diana Prince lit up the big screen. Fans weren’t taken out of the movie as they mentally compared Gadot to previous actresses who wielded the lasso; they simply saw Wonder Woman.
With the world clamoring for strong female characters, Justice League can be paramount for the development of on-screen heroines. After seeing Wonder Woman stand tall with Batman and Superman, perhaps studios will follow suit and move away from spinning off female characters into gender-specific films (Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight). Rather, they can show that women are just as powerful as men by displaying them fighting alongside one another on a team, where merits aren’t based on a member’s sex. Instead of segregating them into an entirely different movie, present them in the way female characters deserve to be treated: not separate, but equal.
It’s been a rocky start, but the DCEU has a chance if they develop Wonder Woman and Justice League with as much foresight as their comic-publishing counterpart. Maybe Warner Bros. can become a studio known for setting trends instead of just following them.