Three things you need to know before I begin:
1) I loved Wonder Woman.
2) I feel Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad are all so bad they can only be enjoyed if you’re Mystery Science Theater 3000ing them.
3) It’s okay if you don’t agree with either of these statements (you’ll get more side-eye from me for the first than the second, but still it’s okay).
Oh, I guess there’s one more thing you better know before I start. In order to discuss why Wonder Woman stands sword and shield above the other movies I’m going to have to spoil the crap out of these flicks. If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman, please don’t read until you have. As I said, I couldn’t stand the other three so I don’t care if I blow them, but you might.
So why did Wonder Woman work for me more than the other three.
THEY TRUSTED THE CHARACTER
Diana in the comics is a warrior. She’s royalty. She stands up for herself and she stands up for those who can’t. Her very existence inspires courage from those around her. That is Diana in the movie pure and simple.
In my opinion it’s what I should see from Superman and Batman, as well. We speak of DC’s Trinity for a reason. They may not always agree, but each inspires and leads the heroes of that Universe not by their power set, but by their example.
I can forgive Clark for not being inspiring in Man of Steel. When given his moments to save people he does. But then Pa Kent (PA KENT!!!), lectures him about not letting school children drown!
Did I mention that was Pa Kent?!? Basically telling Superman, “You know those kids. Fuck ’em.”
Batman isn’t much better. He starts right. Bruce Wayne running into the cloud of the crumbling building when everyone else runs away is great cinema. It’s also rousing. It’s the last time we see Batman until the final ten minutes. For the rest of the movie we see The Punisher. Batman hurts criminals in the act of stopping them. The Punisher brands them after they’ve been captured. Batman keeps an eye on Superman and prepares in case he ever has to stop him. The Punisher plans an elaborate murder of the being he thinks is evil. Batman would try to get the Kryptonite from Lex Luthor. The Punisher would allow random truck drivers to die in a fiery explosion during the chase without batting (pun not intended this time, but by golly it will be next time!) an eye.
HUMOR EXISTED, AND IT WASN’T FORCED
As a big fan of The MCU I check out a lot of the criticism of it. Much of it attacks them for being too reliant on comedy. This is a chicken/egg scenario.
Is Marvel too reliant on quips, or did DC make a tactical error by trying to differentiate themselves by darkness?
I know where I stand, and where MCU haters stand. But after seeing Wonder Woman, I think I see where DC stands.
But what Wonder Woman did very well is to break tension using comedic beats without becoming a comedy. The “sleeping together” conversation on the boat is funny, but more importantly it both defines and strengthens Diana and Steven’s relationship in the audience’s eyes.
Diana as a fish out of water both in “modern” ( at the time) society, as well as a woman who wasn’t going to take any paternalistic bullshit was comedy gold. Gadot played it perfectly and the movie is better for it.
(Full disclosure: Doctor Strange was my least favorite Marvel movie because the humor felt forced and flat. See, I can be fair).
There is zero humor in Man of Steel, unless you, like my wife and I, think it’s hilarious that everything from Krypton looks like a colon, vagina or dildo. Then, it’s pretty darn funny.
BvS has the “I thought she was with you line” which is pretty darn good.
Suicide Squad thankfully let Will Smith be Will Smith. I don’t know Deadshot well enough to know if that’s in character, but when you get The Fresh Prince you let him do Some Fresh Price stuff.
But most importantly…
THERE WERE CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS BEYOND HAVING SEEN THE NEXT TEN PAGES OF THE SCRIPT
After seeing Wonder Woman, my buddy Jason Clark of The Elegant Weapon Podcast, asked why people could love WW without loving the other DC movies. In his defense, he says he loves them all and missed what made this one different.
What made this one different is I didn’t start bleeding from the ears and nose whenever a character made a choice.
Queen Hyppolyta forbids Diana’s training because she knows Ares will find her when she’s strong.
Antiope trains Diana in secret because she knows Ares will find her either way and when he does, she must be strong.
These are too good, loving characters at odds with each other for noble reasons. That’s good writing.
The Amazons do not want any part of Man’s mess. They’ve been there before and realize it isn’t worth it.
Diana as never seen real war and wants to save Man as her Amazonian duty.
Both motivations are understandable. As well as Diana pulling the total teenager thing and running away because her Mom doesn’t understand her.
Steve imploring Diana to walk through the trenches because he knows death lies in No Man’s Land for anyone who enters.
Diana ignoring him because there is someone to save right there and she can’t just leave them.
Not only are they both right, but it’s the most inspiring moment of the film. A moment Patty Jenkins apparently had to fight to shoot. A moment that makes the film.
I can go on. The plot is informed by the characters and their choices. Every other DCU film so far has been the opposite.
In Man of Steel, Zod successfully convinces Superman to come onto his spaceship (I don’t remember how, but I do remember the colon-like corridors!). He then asks Lois Lane onto the ship.
Because Zod had read ten pages forward into the script and realized Lois needed to break Superman free. It’s bad writing and it knocks me out of the film. (PS – what I don’t criticize about MOS is Clark breaking Zod’s neck. Whether the comic character would or would not kill, this was the only moment in the film where the character’s actions were informed by the story instead of crudely forced upon them by the storyteller).
In BvS Supes shows up to convince Batman to help him and turns into a rage monster after about five seconds of gun fire. My god that moment could have been inspiring if he’d gone through every trap Bruce set trying desperately not to fight. And only after the Kryptonite weakened him and facing death fought, but still fought defensively.
And Suicide Squad. Oh my Suicide Squad. It’s so crazy I even invented a hashtag #SuicideSquadLogic. My buddy Gene Hoyle posted this Cracked.com image this morning so I thought I’d use it to illustrate my point:
There are so many more I’d have to put together an entire post to show how many actions within Suicide Squad make zero actual sense other than the characters having read the next ten pages of the script.
What does this mean for the future of DC movies? It depends on if they see the little things Patty Jenkins did right, or just assume the Wonder Woman character sells.
I’ll tell you this. DC did not earn my trust with Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins did. I’ll be at her next film opening weekend. I’ll be waiting to hear about Justice League from multiple people before DC gets more of my money.