How Warner Bros/DC Can Learn From the Success of 'Wonder Woman'
by Dan Marcus
June 12, 2017
Well, Warner Bros can breathe a sigh of relief. Wonder Woman is a resounding success. The Gal Gadot-starring, Patty Jenkins-directed film made history by making $100 million in its opening weekend, the biggest opening for any woman-directed movie. The reviews have been glowing, and audience reception seems overwhelmingly positive. Wonder Woman is a bona fide hit for the studio, a home run that Warner Bros certainly needed. With the first well-received DCEU movie under their utility belts, all masked heads are turned to the next DCEU offering, Justice League, opening in November. Let's look at how Warner Bros can learn from the success of Wonder Woman as they take the next big leap in their cinematic universe.
The road to Themyscira has been a long and arduous one for the Amazonian princess, not just for the shared universe but for the character as well. Warner Bros had been trying to get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground for over a decade. One of the first real attempts was when Joss Whedon tried to take a crack at the property in 2006, a year after Batman Begins successfully rebooted Batman. This was even before George Miller would get hired to unite the League - and bring Wonder Woman to the screen - in a film called Justice League: Mortal, when that project eventually fell apart. Whedon's movie, which would have been radically different than Patty Jenkins' effort, never materialized and fizzled out after a year of development hell.
Wonder Woman finally got another crack of the lasso when Warner Bros got into the shared universe game with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. At this point, it should go without saying the DC Extended Universe - which is what Warner Bros is calling this cinematic universe - has somewhat stumbled on its own cape coming out of the Watchtower. Man of Steel was a strong financial success, earning nearly $670 million worldwide. The reviews were mixed, but it was considered a decent start. Batman v Superman, on the other hand, may go down as one of the most polarizing comic book movies of the last several years. Even though it earned over $800 million worldwide, it received terrible reviews from critics. The reaction from fans was divisive to say the least, with some hardcore DC fans praising the film for its complex, politically-driven take on DC's biggest superheroes - while others were less than impressed. So when Wonder Woman, the first major solo DCEU movie not involving Bats or Supes, came around there was considerably more pressure for success. Wonder Woman didn't just need to be good, though. It needed to be a great movie.
Which meant Wonder Woman naturally had an incredibly difficult predicament to overcome. It needed to get certain disenfranchised fans excited about DCEU movies again, honor the character's legacy as the first live-action, big screen iteration of the popular heroine, and hopefully appease critics. The fact that the film did all of this in spades is no small achievement. It's a sweeping win not only for Warner Bros, but also for fans of the character and superhero movies in general. As Warner Bros continues its "course correction" moving forward, there are many ways Warner Bros can learn from the success of this movie.
One of the ways it appears Warner Bros is learning is by bringing on someone from the opposing team to help. There is a great sense of irony given that Joss Whedon, who directed Marvel's first big Avengers and nearly wrote and directed a Wonder Woman movie over a decade ago, is now overseeing the Justice League movie slated for release later this year. While Wonder Woman needed to be a success for the studio, there is a lot riding on Justice League. Wonder Woman may have saved the day, but Justice League needs to save the DCEU. It is introducing several core characters that haven't been properly introduced before, unless you count cameos in a video in Batman v Superman or a brief appearance by The Flash in Suicide Squad.
Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg all have major supporting roles in Justice League and they are all getting planned spin-off movies. One of those, Aquaman, is already in the middle of filming his spin-off film, being helmed by Furious 7 & The Conjuring director James Wan. If Justice League does not win over audiences, or certain characters such as Aquaman aren't well-received or liked, it doesn't bode well for their spin-off movies. Warner Bros thusly has a lot riding on Justice League to succeed. If the film doesn't, it could affect how Warner Bros handles some of the movies already in pre-production or production already.
Which is why Joss Whedon is an inspired choice to takeover from Zack Snyder on this movie. It should go without saying that it is difficult to talk about the transition process for Justice League, as it was born out of tragic circumstances. It was revealed last month that Zack Snyder had to step away from overseeing the remainder of post-production as well as additional filming on Justice League after his daughter committed suicide back in March. It's a tragedy plain and simple, and our thoughts are with the Snyder's as they mourn in what is clearly a very difficult time for their family at the moment.
With Snyder stepping down, however, it comes at a pivotal point in the movie's post-production schedule. According to Batman On Film, the studio plans to spend at least two months doing additional shooting on the film. It is not clear whether or not this will entail complete reshoots, or just add additional scenes to help clarify the film's narrative or flesh out certain character beats. If the report is true - and it could very well be false - two months is a very long period to add new material to the film. It is possible this level of supplemental filming might reshape Justice League in a world where Wonder Woman is a hit, or at the very minimum add clarification to certain aspects of the film that will hopefully only make the film better.
Even if the additional filming isn't as "substantial" as some reports claim, Whedon will oversee the rest of post-production. This is something that hasn't really been discussed publicly to any great detail yet, which is understandable given the nature of Snyder's decision to step down. However, with Whedon overseeing editing, color correction and other aspects of the film's post-production, Whedon has a chance to mold Justice League in significant ways. Toby Emmerich, an executive at Warner Bros, told Hollywood Reporter the additional filming would not change Justice League and that Whedon will "still adhere to Zack's vision for the film." This could very well be true, or just PR, but Whedon could also make some significant creative decisions in post that could alter Justice League in surprisingly subtle but noticeable ways.
As an example, editing is a major part of the post-production process. As Quentin Tarantino has said, a film usually undergoes three stages of basic story construction - the actual screenwriting process, filming and then editing. In the same way a great script could be cut to shreds in editing, post-production editing can also take a mediocre script and elevate it. As such, Snyder's films have been criticized for some questionable editorial choices in the past. Take this critical analysis of Batman v Superman from the YouTuber user The Nerdwriter, which goes into great detail explaining why some of Snyder's films have occasionally suffered from an editing standpoint. You can watch below to get a better idea of the importance of editing:
One of his larger points talks about how Snyder's scenes usually have minimal flow, cutting from one scene to another with little connectivity. Almost every scene featuring the Daily Planet in Batman v Superman is only a little over a minute long, barely giving these scenes a chance to "breathe". By comparison, Wonder Woman allows for scenes to flow with a greater sense of thematic fluidity. There's a scene early on featuring Diana and Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) on a boat that runs for several minutes. It features improvised moments between Gadot and Pine, and helps establish their relationship. I quickly realized this scene, featuring genuine rapport from Gadot and Pine, would probably not exist in a Zack Snyder film.
With Whedon overseeing additional filming and the rest of editing on Justice League, he has a chance to impart some of his own creative wisdom on the process. Whedon's own films usually have a great sense of rhythmic momentum. There's a great scene in Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron, while not a perfect film, featuring all of the characters in a farmhouse resting after a big battle. In total, it's a 16 minute-long scene that balances interactions between all of the characters, while dispensing important character information as well. It's integral as it allows the actions and consequences that happen in the end battle have the appropriate amount of dramatic heft and meaning that comes later.
It's this creative foresight that some of Snyder's films have lacked. It might also explain why Snyder felt the need to add auxiliary material to Justice League. With Whedon now on-board and steering the ship, he may be able to make sure certain moments are able to land and connect. The editing may not be as jarring and haphazard as it was in the "Theatrical Cut" of Batman v Superman. This particular instance may be less on Snyder, however, and more on Warner Bros, which ordered Snyder to make cuts to his three-hour original cut that clearly dramatically affected the movie he was trying to make.
In order for Justice League to succeed, Warner Bros needs to let Whedon finish the film without meddling interference. Wonder Woman proved how allowing a filmmaker with a singular vision to tell her own story can have tremendous results. I firmly believe, as much as I criticize Snyder, that the "Ultimate Edition" of Batman v Superman is actually a very good film. It is clear truncating this 3-hour movie to 2 hours and 20 minutes is what partially hurt it. If Warner Bros had released the Ultimate Edition as the theatrical version, it is quite possible Batman v Superman might have been received better by critics and fans alike.
With this in mind, letting scenes play out and taking a less hands-on approach in certain creative areas will certainly help Justice League as it soars toward the finish line. In a similar sense, letting James Wan adhere to his own unique vision for Aquaman will certainly help make sure Arthur Curry's first solo lap is a smash. It is important to have a clear vision, but it also important to make sure that vision remains unscathed by "filmmaking by committee" storytelling, which is very common in Hollywood. Admittedly, there are certain times when tinkering is necessary. Wonder Woman underwent additional filming and/or reshoots, and it clearly benefited from it. Insofar, there are no reports that Warner Bros ordered significant changes to Patty Jenkins' film that neutered her vision for the project, and that's one of the biggest takeaways of its success.
Besides editing and less interference, Warner Bros should also take a look at the tone of the films as well. Wonder Woman is not an overwhelmingly dark film, with moments of levity and superheroic inspiration to keep the film tonally balanced. It isn't exactly "Marvelized", either. The film shows the consequences of war and even explores the nastier facets of human nature. Diana learns and grows in this film, and that includes suffering a great deal of pain. Even with that, Wonder Woman is a joyous picture. It boasts a vibrant color palette and a hero that unabashedly believes in doing the right thing. In many ways, it is the first DCEU film to successfully juggle a grounded approach that the previous films tried to achieve with a sense of awe and optimism that some are looking for in their superhero entertainment.
By comparison, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are somewhat drab and dour affairs. Ben Affleck's Batman has lost hope for humanity until the very end, and for much of the aforementioned films Henry Cavill's Superman is adrift. He ranges from not sure if he should help people in Man of Steel to flat-out admitting to Lois Lane that "Superman was never real" in Batman v Superman. Compare that to Gadot's Wonder Woman, who starts out wanting to fight from a very young age, to wanting to save humanity from The Great War as an adult. Diana's idealistic naivety is challenged by humanity's ugliest nature in the film, but even though she experiences grief and loss, she never falters in her belief that love can conquer all.
This is one aspect I hope Warner Bros pays attention to when it comes to adapting their other heroes, including Superman. There can be conflict, but the real conflict lies when a hero's beliefs are questioned - and not when a hero loses those beliefs. As Wonder Woman shows, real heroism is looking at evil right in the face and showing compassion, as Diana shows Dr. Poison (as played by Elena Anaya) in the film. Superman ultimately sacrifices himself in Batman v Superman, proving that Superman is real. However, there is something ultimately more valiant about a hero never wavering, despite whatever obstacles and hurdles are put in the hero's way. This is what I believe audiences are responding to in Wonder Woman, and one of the many reasons why the film has resonated with so many viewers.
The DC Extended Universe was never "doomed", but Wonder Woman was the right movie that came at the right time. If Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were better received by critics and some fans, then the success of Wonder Woman may not have felt so overwhelmingly uplifting. It couldn't have happened to a better hero, too. Nonetheless, Wonder Woman was the kind of all encompassing success the DCEU needed. Warner Bros will be riding a wave of goodwill going into Justice League, and they cannot afford to squander that. Warner Bros probably realizes this, too, which explains the additional filming.
Warner Bros has a chance to ride this tidal wave of goodwill like Aquaman riding a wave to save Atlantis. In order to do so, they need to take away all the positives from Wonder Woman and learn why that film is such a huge success. One of the first steps is hiring talented filmmakers that can let scenes breathe, letting those filmmakers stick to their original vision, and balancing a tone that is right for the respective character. Batman might be dark and gloomy, but that doesn't mean Superman needs to be.
As Wonder Woman proved, audiences will happily embrace a good-natured hero willing to whip her lasso around truth, justice and the right thing. Warner Bros doesn't need to completely retool their formula, as their filmmaker-driven approach has benefited them many times before (e.g. Mad Max: Fury Road) and is currently benefiting them now. They just need to understand their heroes… or at the very least, find people (such as filmmakers like Patty Jenkins) that do. If they can do that, the results will truly be wonderful. Do you think Warner Bros can/will learn from the success of Wonder Woman moving forward?