WONDER WOMAN has been one of the summer’s biggest films, while also making a huge impact for women in film. The film became the best-received film in the DC Extended Universe. It set records as the highest grossing film by a female director. With so much history being made, ComcsVerse writers Ben Wasserman (BW), Mara Danoff (MD), Kira Stern (KS) and Aaron Young (AY) gathered to discuss the many aspects of WW’s success. Eric Nierstedt (EN) moderated the discussion.


CRITICAL OPINION: What Worked and What Didn’t In the Film?

Wonder Woman
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

EN: To begin, let’s all discuss where we stand on ‘WONDER WOMAN”. In your opinion, what was good about the film, but also what didn’t work for you?

BW: While I still stand by LOGAN being the best superhero film of the year, Wonder Woman definitely ranks at second place. It has a few flaws, primarily towards the third act. Overall this was the film that DC needed to bounce back from their current…. mixed track record.

MD: A lot of what I liked had to do with how the movie was shot/how it chose to frame the female action stars. I also liked them using the classic “fish out of water” story in a way that didn’t feel overdone. The one complaint I did have was the heterosexual B plot (THIS IS A FILM TERM AND I’M STICKING TO IT) because it felt rushed and honestly didn’t seem necessary to Diana’s character growth.

AY: After seeing the film two times, I can definitively say I love the film. It’s an amazing superhero film with some great action. It also has some awesome character moments and great dialogue. I got more emotional watching this film than I have watching a lot of superhero films. I think a lot of the credit goes to Patty Jenkins and the writers for creating a satisfying story. Diana discovered her place in the “world of men” and truly became the Wonder Woman I know from the comics.

KS: Mara, I agree with you in that I loved the movie because of the way Patty Jenkins chose to frame the female action stars. I also think something related to this is male gaze, or relative lack thereof in Jenkins movie because she is, you know, a female. A brilliant Twitter user referred to it as not being ‘filtered through a b****r lens’ and I think that’s maybe the best way to describe it I’ve seen. I’m wondering if you could elaborate a little more on your thoughts on the heterosexual b plot. For me, it was fascinating because it showed a male character confident in his sexuality yet in a relationship with a woman who is clearly stronger than he is.  Also, I would love some male-identifying thoughts on Steve Trevor and his relationship to his masculinity and how Diana fits into that

BW: I think what works best about this film’s depiction of Wonder Woman’s character is that it gradually develops her over time. We see her grow into a warrior willing to fight for others because she believes it’s the right thing to do. There’s no tragic backstory affiliated with characters like Spider-Man and Batman- she wants to be a hero for purely selfless reasons.  

MD: I know we’re going to discuss the director specifically, so I’ll save it for that section, but right now I’ll address the heterosexual b plot. My usual thoughts on these plots are: how does it help with character growth?  I guess I wouldn’t be so skeptical of them if it isn’t like a trope at this point, but realistically she just met the guy. Yes, they are in a high-stress situation that would indicate high emotions and kind of indicate they should get together. But realistically, would two comrades in arms get together in the short time span they did? It just seems a bit like “she’s a woman so yes man” kinda to me, but again I’m like very cynical when it comes to this

KS: I 100% see your point, and it’s totally valid, but I also think it’s worth viewing the relationship outside of the trope. Like yeah realistically they probably wouldn’t have gotten together, but I’m willing to give them my suspension of disbelief for like two hours. So with that said, the relationship a) presents a view of masculinity that does not include being stronger than the female partner, something that has been a part of heterosexual marriage since it became a thing  and b) in my head their relationship kind of mirrors Diana accepting the realities of man’s world/it’s cynicism

AY: you know, it’s interesting, the second time watching the film I got a lot more out of Steve Trevor. He is a male hero/love interest acting brave, kind-hearted all of the traits of a regular hero. But he also has some real problems to him. I realized how sexist he was towards Diana especially in the London section of the film. He’s always grabbing her, telling her what to do, or trying to educate her on something. He’s basically the mansplainer of the film. So I love when at the end of the second act Diana tells him that “no man tells me what to do,” I think I’m paraphrasing. But his whole talk at the end about good and evil is basically him admitting “we’re all flawed, especially me. But we try the best we can”.

MD: Aaron, yes! That’s such a good analysis of his character. But yeah that’s why I sort of found him to be annoying as a love interest in general. WONDER WOMAN is from a tough matriarchy. Why is she letting this man push her around?

KS: Aaron, I love your point about the sexism in the London sequence, I never noticed that.

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AY: Mara, I think it makes it more powerful for Diana to break off the chains from Steve’s masculine control figuratively. That’s actually why, sorry Ben Wasserman, I love the third act, and it might be my favorite part of the film.

BW: It’s true that there are moments in which Steve acts stereotypically “male,” but I also see other moments where they do show mutual respect for each other. That moment on the boat worked pretty well as it had them discuss the idea of sex and “sleeping together” when not wed. Diana clearly explained that she was not naive to the idea of sex and Steve, for the most part, was trying not to come across as womanizing.  The fish out of water moment happens when Diana and Steve are forced to confront each other’s professions and concepts of rules in their respective lands.

AY: Mara, I agree with you that she shouldn’t love him (he could love her because she is otherworldly I guess) but Steve is her window into understanding the good and bad of humanity, but at the end, they do have hope. That’s always a major theme in Wonder Woman and the DC universe, so I love its depiction within their relationship

MD: Which totally makes sense. But like, seeing as how we have a million of these super hero movies at this point, it would have been nice that the titular female super hero one could have avoided the whole “seeing a man and now being in love thing.” But that’s just me, and I definitely see your points.

The Future of DC Films: Where Do They Go Now?

Wonder Woman

EN: WONDER WOMAN is the first time where DC has a film that has both financial and critical success.  It also has somewhat different tones then BATMAN V SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD. How will that influence DC going forward?

MD: It might help taking up this lighter tone. I mean when it gets right down to it, these are movies about humans with super powers. Yeah, it’s fun doing the whole “dark and brooding” thing, but I think DC has sort of written itself into a narrative corner with that. They forgot to have fun and that these characters work too when they’re just giving hope to people. When they act as points of identification for millions of younger audience members, inspiring them to be as heroic as the people they see on the screen. I guess, in short, it’s okay to have fun guys.

KS: I completely agree, particularly in response to BATMAN V SUPERMAN/MAN OF STEEL/Zack Snyder. However, would you say that the WONDER WOMAN movie is inherently ‘fun?’ I think it was a little less dark and brooding, but it wasn’t Spider-Man, to make a comparison

BW: Also, WONDER WOMAN was a standalone film that took its time in centering around a specific character. They planned this for MOS2 before it got over expanded into a 5-film setup, plus BATMAN V SUPERMAN. JUSTICE  LEAGUE will have to introduce Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman in one film. I hope DC/WB realizes setting up characters is a necessary step to make their films critically successful.

MD: Kira, You’re completely 100% correct. I guess a better way of phrasing it is “balance.” The movie had some really poignant moments of darkness. They hit home better because of the lighter parts of it. I wouldn’t have cared one cent about the men she fought alongside if Jenkins hadn’t taken the time to get to know them.

AY: Well I’m sorry to be real nitpicker, but technically this is not DC’s first big hit. BATMAN V SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD were both huge hits for the studios financially just not critically. DC, you have great characters. Now imagine how much money you would have if you wrote those characters well? BvS easily have cracked a billion dollars. And I disagree that DC’s problem has been its tone. You can do great dark superhero movies such as LOGAN and THE DARK KNIGHT. But they have to be character based. WONDER WOMAN was totally about Wonder Woman. While it changed her origin a bit, it was still very loyally both story-wise and thematically to the comic book versions of her. The versions of The Joker, Batman, and Superman in the DCEU have not felt like those characters. When Gal Gadot came out in her Wonder Woman costume in No Man’s Land, I thought “Oh my god. That is Wonder Woman.”

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MD: Well yes, but in that vein, big hits have been every single Transformer movie  Just because they make money doesn’t mean they’re delivering on the product if that makes sense. People go to them because they’re familiar titles.  But once they get the reputation of being bad, the money will dry up. That’s why sequels make so much money.

AY: Oh absolutely. DC could not perpetually make bad movies and expect to make money still. It would have caught up with them.

BW: There IS a difference between financial and critical success. DC has not been doing well in the latter category. And you can’t run on box office success and “for the fans” lines. There are still casual moviegoers who also want to like these films. They should be able to sit down and enjoy the film even without knowing who these characters are.

KS: Aaron, I agree that they goofed with MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN, but I think the tone is part of the problem. You can make Batman a dark movie, and it works, but why would you make a dark, edgy movie about Superman, the alien who absorbs the literal sun for power and is just doing his best?

MD: Because it caters to angsty teenage boys?

KS: Ben, I also think that’s where DC is running into trouble, catering to the dedicated fans vs. the casual moviegoer, which Mara also just addressed.

AY: I don’t think MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN problems is that a Superman movie is dark but rather that Superman is a dark character. I would love to see a movie (like CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER) where the world is dark, but Superman is still honorable, good, and optimistic.

BW: There were interesting themes explored in MAN of STEEL. But the setup could have been tweaked to make this about traditional Superman dealing with Snyder Superman issues. I mean, Tyler Hoechlin in SUPERGIRL showed that the formula could be updated for a modern audience. And I do think Henry Cavill CAN be a good Superman, but he needs a more constant script.

AY: WONDER WOMAN had a dark environment around it. But Diana was always optimistic and good natured. So that’s why it works. We can’t forget that heroes are supposed to be inspiring. Yes, even you Batman.

MD: Bringing it back to WONDER WOMAN, I think it worked because, well, they knew the tone. They knew that the slightly camp yet still a heartfelt message of Wonder Woman was what people knew and loved. I know that’s what I always admired about her.

AY: Also for SUICIDE SQUAD, I think the problem is simply that the script was bad. WONDER WOMAN had a strong story. The villain made sense, there was a clear theme throughout the film, and it all pulled together. BATMAN V SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD didn’t really hold together thematically

KS: I have to agree. Something I don’t think I’ve previously considered is how perfectly Patty Jenkins constructed the tone for this movie

Sight of a Woman: Patty Jenkins’ Direction

Wonder Woman
Courtesy of Warner Bros

EN: One of the biggest aspects of WONDER WOMAN’s success has been Patty Jenkins’ direction. How did having a woman at the helm help WONDER WOMAN succeed? What did Jenkins bring to the table?

MD:  VISUAL PLEASURE AND NARRATIVE CINEMA. Also LAURA MULVEY (Okay just to make this make sense Laura Mulvey wrote an essay called “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” It’s the basis for feminist theory as we know today in film.  She argues that because of the overabundance of male directors and movie makers in Hollywood, female actresses will always be framed as more of an “object” for the male protagonist to obtain)

KS: Not a b***r lens (but also she’s incredibly talented and to diminish her work to ‘not a b***r lens’ is unfair and unrealistic.)

AY: To start I just want to say that bringing on Patty Jenkins was a smart decision because she is such a good filmmaker. She directed Charlize Theron to her only Oscar win in MONSTER. She struggled to find work in Hollywood after that. WW is actually the next time she directed a feature film. This would never happen to a male director. 

MD: The male protagonist gets shot in a powerful way, so the audience will sympathize with him. This, of course, leads to the inherently voyeuristic nature of cinema.

BW: So shooting the film in a manner that never resorted to sexualizing its female protagonist. This even applies to the design of Diana and the Amazon’s armor. It looks like actual armor, rather than some kind of Hollywood fetishwear.

MD: Patty Jenkins basically undoes this by shooting body shots of Diana in a way that implied she’s “uplifting.” She didn’t frame her in the sense of her being sexual (though that’s a component) but she’s a character who’s powerful. IE shots of her leg rising out of the trenches, her arm as she puts on her shield.

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AY: Yeah totally agree with all of what you guys were saying. I feel male directors shoot Black Widow in a more sexualized way, even though she is a great character. Diana just felt as strong as any other hero I’ve seen on screen. That’s not to say that they don’t emphasize her beauty. But it’s a beauty based on strength rather than being a dainty, overly thin damsel with a skimpy outfit

MD: The outfit didn’t bug me so much because like there’s this sort of idea that women should be allowed to wear what they want etc

BW: Would a summary of Patty Jenkin’s approach be that she knew how to emphasize Wonder Woman’s heroic persona without resorting to an exhibitionist or sexualized camera dynamic?

AY: Absolutely. She also just knew how to direct a great movie. She’s not just a great director because she has a female gaze but because she directed great action, amazing visuals, and great acting. The reason Wonder Woman works is that of Patty Jenkins.

MD: I mean you can’t really shoot a film without it being an exhibitionist. Jenkins treated her female protagonist as a character, not an object to be won.

AY: That is an amazing way of saying that! Totally agree!

Women in Film: The New Standard

Wonder Woman
Courtesy of Warner Bros

EN: WONDER WOMAN has struck a huge blow for women in film by shattering records and proving audiences want to see strong women onscreen. What do you see as the real impact of the film, and where do we go from here?

KS: This is a huge question. What does this mean for female directors? What does this mean for super hero movies in general? For female characters? This movie is going to have ripple effects

MD: Regarding female representation, there’s still a long way to go. I remember the last day of my first ever college film class the professor had us watch this movie directed by a woman and then asked us to name some directors we knew. Bare in mind; I go to a women’s college. Almost none of us could think of any off the top of our head. Hollywood is still very much a man’s field even with directors like Patty Jenkins working to push for more female representation.

AY: Disclaimer… I am not a woman, but what I have observed is that this is opening new opportunities. Sony hired a female director for their Black Cat and Silver Sable movie. Maybe someday in the future, a great female director could direct a superhero that doesn’t even star a woman. Like I would love to see Patty Jenkins take a crack at Superman.

MD: Regarding characters, I don’t hold my breath we’ll see a dramatic change soon. I know it’s fun to say that this will change everything, and it’s a start for sure. But these narrative tropes of male and female roles became highly engrained in our society. I’m surprised that WWgot made at all and that it had her as such a strong character in her own right.

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BW: WONDER WOMAN proved to Hollywood that they cannot go back on the excuse that people are not interested in female-driven film or superhero films. We’re definitely a long way from full equality in the film world, but this movie is proof that a large audience IS willing to watch these films. And with good storytelling and casting, they can be done in a way that ends up objectifying the character for a male gaze.

AY: Now imagine if WW was bad. Studios would probably learn the wrong lesson. They’d say something stupid “like oh it failed because it stars a female superhero. People don’t want to see movies about female superheroes.” Hopefully, this will shock the studios into including more females in front of and behind the camera

MD: So like every female superhero movie before this one? Hence why we didn’t get a good one until 2017?

AY: Exactly. There were a string of bad female superhero and action movies in the mid-2000s so Hollywood said: “Oh we’ll stop making those!” Thanks, Hollywood!

KS: Mara, I agree with you, things aren’t going to change overnight, but I also think that WONDER WOMAN not only does some work chipping away at sexism but in that also starts to undermine some of the pervasive heterosexual tropes in Hollywood. My point is that you can’t undermine gender roles without undermining heterosexuality even a little bit, so hopefully this will also do some work in giving screen time to people who are not straight.

MD: Hence why I did have such a huge issue with the heterosexual b plot. But you got to give a nod to the classic gender roles to not blow the minds of average movie goers I suppose.

BW: You could argue that WONDER WOMAN can be placed alongside television programs like SUPERGIRL and AGENT CARTER as proof that these types of stories are critically and commercially successful.

MD: I actually found it a bit closer to XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. Mostly because of the implied lesbianism in the beginning but hey that’s just my wishful thinking

AY: There’s also a point that WONDER WOMAN has had the strongest box office hold out of any superhero movie. It did not have the biggest opening (and I blame that on the films that came before in the DCEU), but it retained interest for such a long time. I think people really wanted this movie.Hopefully, studios learn the right lesson from that

BW: Hollywood has no excuse anymore.

MD: There’s a lot of sexism that persists within Hollywood. Fortunately, WONDER WOMAN shows a positive step forward for the medium as a whole.

Real World Conflict: Gal Gadot’s Effect

Wonder Woman

EN: One observation I made watching the film is that there’s something of an anti-diplomacy angle to it. Diana basically says, “Treaties won’t bring peace, me killing someone will.” Do you think that is a problem especially since some countries banned the film because of Gal Gadot’s service in the Israeli Army?

MD: Yeah, her history with the Israeli army can’t go unnoticed, because nothing exists in a vacuum.

AY: I don’t think the film is at all anti-diplomacy. WONDER WOMAN was against the war council of old men deciding the fate of young men. I almost interpreted this as the film’s representation of the patriarchy telling people what’s the right and wrong thing to do.

BW: I think this plot point highlights the fish out of water trope that Diana finds herself in. She is unfamiliar with the European culture and finds it hard to understand why the British don’t send troops to the Front. Diana believes WWI can be ended simply by killing Ares. She essentially views things rather black and white, yet there’s something of an ambiguous tone explored further on. I’d say that works in the context of WWI, which was more ambiguous in its causes than what people saw in WWII

MD: That’s an excellent point. But yeah once again, not really a vacuum, so I know some criticism for the movie comes from Gal Gadot’s own actions in the Israeli army

AY: Also let’s not forget this is Wonder Woman’s origin story. Diana thinks that Ares is the god of war ergo if you kill him you end the war. She learns by the end of the movie that evil does exist in the hearts of mankind. She is still going to fight that evil though. I think this movie leaves her in the perfect place to take on her “Ambassador of Peace” role in future movies

KS: Gal Gadot shows support for the people in the Israeli army, because, like her, they were conscripted, to the best of my knowledge. Yes, she is Israeli, and yes that means she was in the army. But to ask her to carry the weight of her country’s decisions is unfair. She hasn’t outright denounced them, but she hasn’t praised them either.

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BW: But there’s also an undertone of standing up to a patriarchal system. Diana basically calls the generals in London out for not fighting alongside their soldiers and instead of remaining behind in London. That definitely reminded me a bit of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory

MD: Kira, you’re right, but from what I’ve read there was that sort of irony for some of those going into this. Though no actress is ever perfect,  I also didn’t really see them dismantle the patriarchy so much as be a war hero. Because while the patriarchy is a complex concept, she wanted to be a soldier and fight with the men.  Regarding peace not being an option yeah, that appears more as a result of going all fish out of the water. And historically it makes sense given that the peace treaty did cause more war

AY: I met some people who said they would not see Wonder Woman because they did not like Gal Gadot. They did not like that she was in the Israeli army. She was conscripted, and she does have a lot of national pride. To the best of my knowledge, she does not have a huge love for Palestine. But that shouldn’t matter for seeing WONDER WOMAN. Of course, nothing exists in a vacuum, but I think this is a small issue for this overall film. WONDER WOMAN employed thousands of people to work for it and was a major step in female empowerment in Hollywood. Also a great movie. People should want to support that

MD: I agree art and artist should be separated to some extent. But it’s hard not to read into their performance based on certain politics they might have.

AY: Yeah, I think having the film in WWI is a balancing act because we can’t think of the villains as pure evil because they weren’t Nazis. That’s why I think they had the last scene of the men free from Ares’ influence and embracing peace. So I do think this film advocates peace but also just wars.

Future Implementation from WONDER WOMAN:  Where do Studios Go from Here?

Wonder Woman

EN: Marvel and DC are locked into rigid film schedules. How else can the studios (including ones beyond Marvel and DC) take advantage of this success?

MD: If they make Kamala Khan a tv show or movie I will die of happiness.

AY: CW does screw up a lot of this because some of the great female characters for DC are already on TV. I felt dissatisfaction with ARROW’s depiction of Black Canary. I would have loved a Green Arrow, and The Black Canary focused show as she’s such a good character

KS: Not to diminish the effect of WONDER WOMAN but I like to think Marvel at least was headed there anyway. They’ve had success with female protagonists (Jessica Jones, Agent Carter) that have already proved we’ll watch women on TV

MD: I would think they should try at least. They can clearly see there’s a market for female superhero movies. I do know they announced more info on Ms. Marvel after WONDER WOMAN did alright, and that Squirrel Girl is coming to whatever ABC Family is known as these days  

AY: I would also love for Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman to have central roles in their respective teams. They are both really strong, powerful characters I think they could be great leaders. Carol Danvers could be a fill-in for Cap in importance to the Avengers.

MD: I want to see the two women protagonists from the WORLD OF WAKANDA — the miniseries part that was written by Roxane Gay.

KS: I think what WONDER WOMAN did was bring slow progress that’s been happening in mediums like comics and tv shows onto the big screen and into mainstream, popular media. Now everyone knows we can do this. I think the smaller projects involving women will increase (hopefully exponentially).

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AY: I’d also like Fox to have great female characters. And I’m not talking about Mystique. Bring Jean Grey and Storm into prominence!  

KS: Agreed. The popularity and reach of this film should increase both the amount and quality of female characters in all genres. At least, I hope

AY: DC and Marvel and still busy getting through their “important” male characters. Fox is just making mistakes in my opinion

BW: I think programs like SUPERGIRL are our template for good female characters. They have the optimistic approach and lightheartedness to entrance viewers. They also delve into female driven topics that its audience and recognize

MD: Personally as long as the female characters are actual characters, then I’m all for it. I don’t even care if they delve into female topics. I don’t think that’s as important as them acting with agency in their own story.

BW: Maybe the characters of Black Panther will expand upon this, but currently their best female characters have been on Agents of Shield.

KS: The thing that gets me angry though is why do we need to stick to a template? I get baby steps forward and all that, but I wish we could just like dive in.

BW: I guess this begs the question: should female directors and writers be put in charge of female-led superhero shows and films to assure that the shows don’t veer too much into “make gaze” territory?

KS: They should be put in charge of films because they can make good movies

MD: It doesn’t matter if they focus predominantly on creating female characters, just let them do their job of making stories.

AY: Ben, I think so, but also I think female directors should be employed for every project if they are right for the job. Patty Jenkins should get whatever job she wants

EN: To take us out, what are your thoughts on the effect WONDER WOMAN has had on women in general?

AY: I cannot say the effect this film has had on a woman because I am not a woman. But I think it would have the same effect of seeing Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man from a young age. Knowing that a nerdy, white boy like me could become a hero was amazing. EVERYBODY needs to be able to have that moment when they see someone like them on screen being the hero.

BW: We do need to see more of them so that these performances become commonplace, rather than something special. Here’s hoping WW marks at least a first step in opening these gates

KS: The thing is, for me, this topic has so many aspects to it. There’s what I felt personally when I was crying in the movie theater because oh my god look a woman doing the punching but also so much more oh my god look look. There’s what I’m feeling right now when I realize that every girl born in the future is going to have this movie and not have to exist without a movie like this. And then there’s a part of me that wonders what effects this is going to have on feminism, etc. And also I get really emotional imagining old ladies who were alive when like women couldn’t own a credit card watching this movie and sobbing.

MD: When my twin brother and I were 5, he told me I couldn’t be an airline pilot. I had to be one of those people who served the snacks.  I’m not saying he was a raving misogynist at 5, but his world experience forced him to see that only men piloted planes  Contrastly, he’d only seen women serve drinks.

Representation matters. It defines what you can see yourself doing; it helps shape your self-worth.

Women of all ages will see this movie and realize that maybe they too can venture into no man’s land. They can also do these impossible flips and kicks and fight scenes — that this hero is for them. 

This discussion has ended.

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