Diana’s journey reflects those that continue believing in DC.
Fans are the ingenues of media consumption. No matter the quality of previous adaptations or previous installations of adaptations, fans have pure – sometimes irrational – hope that the powers that be will do right by their beloved properties. Similarly blessed with a superhuman tolerance, Diana (Gal Gadot) in Patty Jenkins’ new Wonder Woman tells the story of fandom’s perpetually unsatisfying cycle.
Hope becomes excited anticipated becomes disillusion returning to wounded, limping hope once again. In Wonder Woman, Diana begins as an endearingly precocious and violent kid that loves training and war. She wants to shoot a bow and do sweet flips for no reason in the middle of swordfights. Her excitement for battle quickly deflates when humanity floods Themyscira’s shores with their guns, hate, and death. Seeing her comrades – her family – fall around her brings reality to the slo-mo Zack Snyder violence these films hold so dearly. And yet, she still hopes for glory in battle and believes in her ability to snuff out its causes by killing Ares, god of war, out in the world of man.
Blinded by mythology and stories told long ago (sound familiar, comic fans?), Diana discovers just how flawed people are after arriving in London and the horrors of World War I. Fighting doesn’t seem so fun and simple after seeing those soldiers crippled by explosions and disfigured by poison. However, after finding companionship in Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, Diana balances her understanding of humanity’s propensity for cruelty with its penchant for selflessness and ultimately (and slightly irrationally) still believes in our stupid, warlike race.
This is also why the movie doesn’t really make sense on a thematic level, but it’s also much easier to swallow compared to DC’s typical nihilistic fare that projects its philosophical darkness onto its characters. It certainly helps that Wonder Woman teases fans with the closest thing to a coherent film that DC’s had since Christopher Nolan’s last installation. Jokes land, poking fun at the overwhelming manliness of the universe, and the film enjoys excellent cast chemistry and pacing under the direction of Jenkins. It helps that the characters stick together (aside from a few unnecessary flashbacks and framing devices) and follow a (mostly) logically progressing plot for the middle of the movie. The film’s villain is the same kind of brazenly, cartoonishly bizarre as that time Guy Pearce became a fire-shooting deity as Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3 – and hell, even that almost works. That said, all taken, Wonder Woman is still summarily mediocre thanks to some asinine combat, sloppy effects, terrible script choices, and baffling character decisions.
The journey Diana takes – dreaming, finding harsh reality, and compromising her expectations – is the same as those watching her movie. Not to compare DC’s Synderverse to mustard gas, but these are the war crimes of superhero movies. DC movies, in particular, have seen their audience tested with a series of superhero films that can only be described as breaches of the Geneva Fun Conventions.
Since 2011, the company’s adaptations have been as follows: The Green Lantern, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and now Wonder Woman. With the exclusion of The Dark Knight Rises (which is pretty good, despite being the weakest of Nolan’s Batman films, and totally different aesthetically from the other films), these movies have all had negative critical receptions and become progressively more and more caught up in their gigantic production budgets and marketing campaigns. They are too big to fail, winning out at the box office thanks to their media saturation and the resigned acquiescence they breed in their fanbase.
When every movie in the last decade from your particular comic source has the same look, feel, and problems, you have no reason to expect anything different. Might as well see them anyways, this is all you’re getting. Despite the company’s insistence on maintaining the universe’s monotony, looking at the films’ Cinemascores shows that this tactic won’t last. After Man of Steel’s A-, they’ve only gone down to BvS’s B and Suicide Squad’s B+. That sounds pretty good, but then again, you have to take into consideration that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword got a B+ and Power Rangers earned an A. Audience hype is dampening, even if it’s only slightly.
This disappointment is the middle of Diana’s arc as she learns about the consequences of violence. People progressively sicken of the slo-mo fights, washed-out palette, tired choreography, and glorification of hypermasculinity and emotionlessness. But, despite it all, these same audiences are those holding out hope for the new DC iterations. The Flash, Justice League, Wonder Woman — fans see the potential for greatness and so, like Wonder Woman’s tentative protection of humanity, they are some of the few that defend the series’ continuation despite having every reason to be completely disenchanted. We may not understand them, but Wonder Woman at least gives them someone with a shared sense of naïveté.