Wonder Woman captivated audiences. Her charm, charisma, and unyielding hope throughout the film breathed new life into the DCEU. Some say this was a course correction for the DCEU after what I would say the unjust critical failure of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; that this was a “Marvelization” of the DCEU by Warner Brothers to capitalize on the type of films Marvel is known for. They would be wrong. Wonder Woman is a great film in its own right. But what helped make her hope burn so bright in the film was not only because it was a well-crafted work of Patty Jenkins – because it was; Jenkins is a skilled director as this film shows – but also the theme of her hope lost and restored in the previous films in the DCEU.
Wonder Woman stands so tall because she is standing on the shoulders of giants that are Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Before we see her full of naivety and hope at the beginning of her titular film, we see a melancholy woman, jaded from living during a century of war and famine, and genocide disguised as “progress” and the cleansing of races. Mankind has broken her will and her hope. We meet a Wonder Woman who has given up hope, who has seen the worst of mankind and turned her back on it. She has even left the world at times and “killed things from other worlds” between World War I and the events of BvS.
The previous films in the DCEU have all been directly or indirectly influenced by Superman. Whether directly in Man of Steel, bringing hope into a hopeless world, or BvS where his hope is tested and he ultimately prevails through his triumphant sacrifice, restoring hope to his two fellow heroes without it, or indirectly through the shockwave of his death causing Amanda Waller to do something drastic and form the Suicide Squad, the Man of Steel is centerfold in this universe.
And even Wonder Woman is affected by Superman. At the end of BvS, both Batman and Wonder Woman have their hope restored by the sacrifice of Superman, and Wonder Woman is book-ended by her reflecting on his sacrifice, reminding her of the parallels between Kal-El’s sacrifice for a world not worthy and Steve Trevor’s own sacrifice.
What makes her film so moving is knowing who she was in most of BvS, seeing her when she lost hope. Wonder Woman reveals who she is with her hope, and the person she is now that her hope has been restored after the events of BvS. The century of living in this world has taken its toll on her. The death, the wars, the famines she has seen and fought against drove her to a life no longer spent protecting the world, but merely art collecting and information gathering. That is – until she notices a wealthy businessman who took a certain photo from her.
Diana is more suave now than she was in her titular film; no longer naïve, no longer more than willing to walk up and stab a man to death at a gala because she thinks he’s Ares, the god of war. No, now subterfuge is her game. Rather than killing Lex Luthor to retrieve her photograph, she seizes an opportunity to lift Bruce Wayne’s hard drive after he steals information from Lex’s mansion. She has learned from her brashness and bluntness of her early days in WWI. But the war also left a mark on her, as it did most who fought in that war: a pessimism of humanity that has lead her to distrust all of mankind, and no longer being the woman who was sent from Themyscira to save it. Now she lives in the shadows, and observes as humanity turns against a beacon of hope who came to save.
Wonder Woman showed us a warrior princess, crafted by Zeus to protect mankind. But she was raised in a protected environment by her mother, sheltered from the outside world. All she knew was the goodness of the Amazonians around her. She was not prepared to face the challenges which lay ahead. She naively thought that if Ares was dealt a death blow, humanity would return to being good. She did not understand that Ares was not just an outside influence of evil on mankind and was, for the most part, merely drawing out the evil that lay within the human heart.
When she learned of the devastation and destruction mankind had wrought on each other, she withdrew from mankind, only to have Superman’s sacrifice remind her of Steve Trevor’s sacrifice to save not only her but also the world from destroying itself. Both Superman and Steve remind her it’s not that mankind is worthy of saving, it’s that they are heroes, the good guys; they are the ones who save the world, whether it deserves to be saved or not.
So far we have seen two sides of Wonder Woman in both films she has been in – her at her most naïve, and her most jaded. In Justice League, we will see her for who she really is, no longer wide-eyed and naïve, but also no longer jaded and hopeless. A beautiful blend of a warrior full of wisdom and hope. We will see her as Wonder Woman.