Wonder Woman’s a hit, it’s official. A superhero movie’s second weekend box office performance is arguably the real measure of it’s success; on opening night, the feverish fanatics will be queuing up regardless. For example, DC’s tentpole outing, Batman v Superman, had the biggest second weekend box office drop-off of a modern superhero flick, mainly due to it being an incoherent, miserable mess; the die-hards saw it then told the casuals not to bother. Wonder Woman, however, has seen the smallest drop-off. Partly due to an impressive pre-release critic buzz (‘believe it or not there is a decent DCEU movie’); partly due to word of mouth; partly due to lacklustre competition (Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, Baywatch, The Mummy); and partly, and most importantly, because it’s a great movie.
All enthusiasm for future instalments of the current DC cinematic universe had seemingly been lost somewhere in the vacuous space their third act fight scenes take place. So when the review embargo was lifted early and it seemed Wonder Woman was not a complete shambles, the reports were met with scepticism; ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’, was the general consensus. Would this be another Ghostbusters, praised solely for being female-centric regardless of it being a bag of chips? Would it simply seem great in the aftermath of ‘Martha!’ and Jared Leto’s embarrassing turn as The Joker? Or would it actually be a real, no strings attached, good movie?
Speaking of seeming good against a backdrop of bad movies, Wonder Woman has gone virtually unopposed when it comes to audiences choosing what to watch at the cinema. Kids are key at the box office and there is currently a gap in that market. Despicable Me 3 and Transformers: The Last Knight are on the horizon but right now the latest Pirates is their only option and it seems parents would rather chance an empowering film about a princess than endure two and a half hours of Jonny Depp’s increasingly arduous shtick; of course, Pirates has made a ton of money but won’t make nearly as much as the billion per film the franchise is used to. With Baywatch attempting to be a sexy Jump Street wannabe and The Mummy (reboot) also, albeit inexplicably, boasting a 15 rating, there is only one winner. Not to steer focus from Wonder Woman’s quality but its release has been timed perfectly. Like Diana herself taking down german foot soldiers, Wonder Woman has demolished its competition with ease. One can’t help but wonder, though, if even against March’s Boss Baby, Wonder Woman may not have done nearly as well.
Regardless of how clearly Wonder Woman stands out against it’s box office competitors, in any release schedule it would be a worthy contender. It surpasses it’s predecessors in the DCEU (DC Expanded Universe) simply by having well rounded characters with clear motivations, a tangible plot and some great performances. Gal Gadot, who came across as wooden when shoehorned into Batman v Superman, is funny and endearing as a fish out of water type. Her character leaves the island paradise of Themyscira, home of the Amazons, and enters the world of men circa 1918, hoping to find and kill the god of war, Ares, in the trenches of World War One. Her naivety and optimism in the face of war makes for both humour and morality. An inspiring hero in a superhero movie should go without saying but clearly no one has said it to Zack Snyder. Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman, on the other hand, at the core of her film juxtaposes Diana’s unbudging heroism with the murky nature of war. On paper, being from a secluded island and being made out of clay, Wonder Woman is one of the most un-relatable of the major superheroes but by giving her charm and a real relationship, as opposed to the usual comparatively sterile and sexless offerings from both Marvel and DC, Jenkins has crafted a winner.
The superhero movie has been mainstream for a long time now, long enough for films like Logan and Deadpool to start subverting the usual trends. Wonder Woman is also subversive. Primarily it departs from the usual role of a female in a superhero film by putting Diana centre stage and by focussing on her backstory more than her backside. Wonder Woman also subverts most female-driven films by not, in marketing and in the film itself, beating you over the head with the fact that it’s a film about girls: Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters being the prime example of this ‘if you don’t like it you’re sexist’ mentality, because of course it is misogyny not a sub-par script that caused Ghostbusters to bomb. Since release, much has been said about Wonder Woman and girl power but as a response, not as a marketing campaign.
One trope Wonder Woman fails to avoid (alas, it’s not perfect) is the nauseating boss fight at the end of the film and a disappointing main villain. Danny Huston and Elena Anaya are fabulous as the cackling German General Ludendorff and Doctor Poison respectively, comic book villains through and through although the end result is less than satisfying. The climactic CGI-fest that ends the film is indistinguishable from other final battles in many a comic book movie, although in Wonder Woman there is enough charm preceding it to have you leaving the cinema with a smile.
Wonder Woman features hardly a single reference to the wider DCU thus stands on its own two feet without getting sidetracked by easter eggs and the need to set up future films. Its biggest strength is that it is just a movie. It has a beginning, a middle, an end and a hero. It has character arcs. It even has great music. In comics the idea of a wider universe has appeal, clearly, and it has worked so far for Marvel’s films but it is important to remember to tell one story at a time.