'Wonder Woman' shows DC can still battle Marvel

After the dark and messy "Dawn of Justice" and "Suicide Squad", we were wondering if DC had more to offer. Wonder no more...

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
4 min read
Clay Enos

DC has struggled to challenge Marvel 's dominion over the big screen -- but thanks to "Wonder Woman", things are looking up.

DC's hurried attempts have built a cinematic universe with a lot of fans and even a few strengths, but it isn't as all-conquering as Marvel's. "Man of Steel" was a disappointing start to the DC universe; "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" divided opinion; and "Suicide Squad" was just a big ol' ridiculous mess. Up to now, things weren't looking good for DC's forthcoming team-up "Justice League".

But all is not lost. "Wonder Woman" shows DC is still in the game. Here are a few (spoiler-free) reasons why...

It's good

"Wonder Woman" is DC's most critically acclaimed movie since Christopher Nolan took on the Dark Knight. It's easily the best of the DC movies of the last few years, far more coherent and compelling than the prior two particularly.

Both the human and superhuman stories are engaging, and it's anchored by a charismatic turn from Gal Gadot. It's far from perfect, but "Wonder Woman" is fun, funny and thrilling, and adds light and shade to the DC universe. 

It's different

The World War I setting uncomfortably presents a cartoonish view of a complex and tragic conflict ill-suited to such stylised treatment. But it does at least stand out from other superhero movies, even WWII-set "Captain America: The First Avenger".

And most of all, it's good to see a superhero movie that isn't built around a digital mock-up of the heroes punching their way through faceless CGI hordes while a city crumbles into rubble around them.

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Not to mention of course that "Wonder Woman" is both directed by a woman and features a female lead done properly. Exorcising the horrific treatment meted out to Supergirl, Catwoman and other female characters on the big screen, "Wonder Woman" paves the way for flicks starring Batgirl, Captain Marvel -- and, basically, any hero who isn't played by a blonde guy called Chris. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

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"Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot.

Clay Enos

It's a hit

DC's films have all been hits. But "Wonder Woman" hits theatres hard on the heels of the lowest-earning Memorial Day weekend this century. Aside from "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", this summer's expected blockbusters "Baywatch", "Alien: Covenant" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" have underperformed. But with DC's heroine forecasted to pull in well over $100 million at the box office, Variety speculates that "Wonder Woman" could save the industry's summer.

It's full of hope

The vision set out by producer and director Zack Snyder for the DC universe is a pretty brutal one. Heavily influenced by the gritty comic "The Dark Knight Returns", the previous DC movies conjure a grim, dark world in which the protagonists are tortured, morally ambiguous characters who aren't above killing. It's an interesting take on the characters, to be sure, but the relentless bleakness alienates parts of the audience.

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Diana, the compassionate (and kick-ass) heroine of "Wonder Woman".

Alex Bailey

Diana, the heroine of "Wonder Woman", is by contrast a compassionate, noble and genuine hero, who fights only to bring an end to war. The film is still uncompromisingly gritty in all the right places, but it also shines some much-needed sunlight into the DC movie universe. Those lighter strokes open up DC up to a wider audience -- and provide contrast that actually makes the darker stories work better. 

It honours the comics

As groundbreaking, influential and thrilling as "The Dark Knight Returns" was, it's an extreme view of Batman and his world. In Snyder's movies, Superman is also treated in a way that feels very different from his comic book roots, presented as a brooding and reluctant god rather than a shining beacon of hope. Again, it's an interesting take on the character, but for many viewers it isn't the Superman they want to see.

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Wonder Woman sets Steve Trevor straight.

DC Comics

"Wonder Woman" gives us a Diana that reflects at least some of the timeless attributes of the original character. She feels more like a definitive version of the character that fans can get behind.

It doesn't try too hard to link to other movies

Marvel spent years introducing its cast of characters before uniting them in the Avengers movies. DC is desperate to catch up with Marvel's head start, but has done so in a breathless rush: "Batman v Superman" clumsily shoehorned in an assortment of characters and stories we hadn't seen yet, muddling the film's story with loose ends and confusing tangents.

Apart from a brief prologue, "Wonder Woman" doesn't concern itself with forced continuity. It tells its own story, allowing us to bond with Diana rather than jumping about to different characters. It's good to know DC can make a movie that stands on its own merits.

Yes, DC is still in the game. Roll on "Justice League" in November.

"Wonder Woman" is in theatres in the US, UK and Australia this weekend.

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