Wednesday, June 14, 2017

JLU Scene-by-Scene: Wonder Woman Scene 1

This episode of the Justice League Universe podcast focuses on scene 1 (Opening at the Louvre) of Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.

  • Diana's opening narration (the world, lessons learned, and facing the truth)
  • Antiques dealer in the Louvre
  • Delivery from Wayne Enterprises
  • Connections to Batman v Superman
  • Connections to the DCEU overall
  • Why was Wonder Woman better received than BvS?
  • Text about the Mona Lisa from
Contributors: @ottensam @raveryn @derbykid @wondersyd


DC TV Podcasts fundraiser for WWF:

Themes in the DCEU:
BvS by the formula:

<Transcript below>

Welcome, fans of the Justice League Universe. My name is Sam. This podcast focuses on the Warner Brothers films that are part of the DCEU. We love the depth and complexity of these movies and so we take the time to go through them scene by scene. This episode focuses on the first scene of Wonder Woman, and the analysis was written by myself, Alessandro Maniscalco who is @raveryn on twitter, Rebecca Johnson @derbykid, and Sydney @wondersyd.

And before we even get into the first scene, we have the company logos. So first of all, of course, we get the Warner Brothers WB crest. I have to say I was slightly disappointed here because I really like it when WB personalizes their logo to each movie, like they did with Man of Steel with the Kryptonian-inspired texture, BvS with the falling leaf, Suicide Squad with the neon color scheme, and they’ve also done it with other film series like The Matrix and Harry Potter. But WB went with the standard logo for Wonder Woman. My disappointment was quickly swept away, though, when I heard the first hints of a groaning cello playing the Wonder Woman notes in E minor.

Next is the RatPac logo, which is for RatPac-Dune Entertainment company, founded by Brett Ratner, of X-Men Last Stand fame, and billionaire James Packer. They’ve been co-producing the DC Films since Batman v Superman and will be doing so for the foreseeable future. The other main production companies are Atlas Entertainment, which is Charles Roven’s company, and Cruel and Unusual Films, which is Zack Snyder and Deborah Snyder’s company. But they did not get featured logos at the beginning of the film.

The most exciting piece of business before the movie actually gets underway is of course the new DC Films animated logo. This new logo shows a clear connection to the comic book roots of these characters, and the way each of the main Justice League characters are highlighted -- Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, the Flash, and Green Lantern -- with backlighting and a blast of their main color, is very reminiscent of the opening titles of the animated TV series Justice League. It’s an iconic opening sequence that has also been referenced elsewhere, such as in some of the Justice League film marketing and also in the LEGO Justice League movie Cosmic Clash.

But the new DC animation then pulls out into a wide shot of more than 50 comic book characters, kind of like the follow-up TV series Justice League Unlimited. We can’t name all the characters, but we’ll post a link to a screencap of it in case you want to try to figure them all out.

Opening narration:
“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place.
But I knew so little then. It’s a land of magic and wonder, worth cherishing in every way.
But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness simmering within.
And mankind? Mankind is another story altogether.
What one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you think.
I learned this the hard way, a long long time ago.
And now, I will never be the same.”

Alright, now let’s get into the actual contents of Scene 1. It starts with Diana’s narration. “I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But I knew so little then.” This is an intriguing opening because we usually assume our heroes will always want to save the world, but Diana’s phrasing implies that she no longer wants to save it. So right from the start, this is preparing us to hear the story of Diana becoming a hero and we can tell that it will be a sort of coming-of-age story where she starts out very pure of heart, wanting to save the world, but then she will realize her naivete and will learn some lessons that change her perspective on the world. If she does, in fact, end up backing off her desire to save the world, this would connect with how we saw her in Batman v Superman, and we’ll talk quite a bit about that later in the episode. And we should say, too, that it might just be the nature of how she tries to save the world has changed from the past to the present. Perhaps she used to want to save the world by simply saving it, but now she comes to realize that it’s not so simple -- people often have to choose to save themselves because they are often the causes of their own hardships. Maybe this is part of what Diana didn’t know at first, but she does come to know throughout the movie.

But overall, right from the first line, we can tell that Diana’s relationship with the world is going to be a fairly complex one. But she also calls it a “beautiful place,” and the beautiful description that she uses seems to apply now. So it was then that she wanted to save the world, but it’s now that she recognizes it as beautiful. And as we’ll see, she always saw her land of the Amazons as beautiful, but she wasn’t initially impressed with Man’s world, calling it hideous. But she obviously came to see its beauty, because she now calls it beautiful. The beauty is also reinforced by the opening shot. We see the Earth from the perspective of out in space, and it is beautiful and eye-catching. They chose to show the texture of the clouds to really show how dynamic the planet is, and yet how fragile it is in the blackness of space.

It’s pretty fitting that the movie opens up on the world because we have a movie set during a world war, and the marketing for the movie played up the idea that Wonder Woman is a hero for the world. There was a TV spot, for example, that said Metropolis has Superman, Gotham has Batman, and now the world has Wonder Woman. Now, of course, we realize that Superman has already saved the world multiple times in the DCEU, but he is associated with Metropolis and it does make sense from a marketing perspective to associate Wonder Woman with the world. This is also reinforced in the movie itself at the end when Steve Trevor tells her that she can save the world.

So we see the world and the camera pushes into the clouds. That leads us to a God’s Eye shot of Paris, France. We really like this God’s Eye view early on because the film will feature Greek gods and even Diana herself with have a direct connection as a demigod herself. Martin Scorsese has talked about this kind of shot as a moral reminder, and not only does Diana’s opening narration deal with issues of morality, but throughout the film we will see her as an embodiment of morality, especially compassionate love and an optimism in mankind.

Alright, let’s continue on with the narration. As the shot gradually pushes down toward the city and then the Louvre, Diana says, “It’s a land of magic and wonder, worth cherishing in every way. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness simmering within.”

So again we’re getting some clear previews of the story that is about to unfold. We are going to see some positive sides of the world -- the magic and wonder - things worth cherishing. But we are also going to see the negative sides, the “darkness simmering within.” Indeed, this is exactly the tension that Diana is going to have to face with Ares at the end.

Magic, by the way, not only connects to the Wonder Woman character and her magical origins and weapons, but it will also connect in this film to the snowfall in Veld that Diana calls “magical.” And the word “wonder” of course was chosen purposefully, even though she is never actually called Wonder Woman in the movie. And by the way, in the official novelization the wording here is slightly different -- it says a land of “beauty and wonder,” but in the film it is “magic and wonder.” Probably the novel was based on an earlier draft of the monologue, and if so, I think the change to magic and wonder was a good revision, because she had already called the world a beautiful place, so using beauty again would’ve been redundant. And magic is better because of the connections we just mentioned.

Finishing off the narration, she moves from the world itself to the people occupying the world. She says, “And mankind? Mankind is another story altogether. What one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you think. I learned this the hard way, a long long time ago. And now, I will never be the same.”

So again we hear Diana talking about learning a lesson, so it is setting us up to watch the story unfold from her point of view, tracing the lessons that she is learning about mankind and about the world. And she explicitly tells us that she experiences a change -- she “will never be the same.” As we’ll come to find out, she indeed changes in several ways -- briefly, she leaves Themyscira and joins the world of men, she makes new friends and finds love, she sheds her naivete about the world and takes a stand for humanity, and (spoiler alert) she fulfills hers destiny in destroying the God of War.

But probably the most important line in this latter part of the opening narration is “what one does when faced with the truth is more difficult than you think.” The truth refers to that earlier tension between the beauty of the world and also the darkness that lies within. At its core, this movie will be the story of Diana learning of this truth and then having to make a decision about what she’s going to do -- having seen the ugliness and cruelty of Man’s world, will she still defend it? And when she learns the truth about herself and her godly heritage, will she join her brother or will she stand on the side of love? It is often more difficult to show compassion and easier to give in to violence. Having learned those truths, she gained maturity and could become a truly wonderous woman. And by the way, phrasing this in terms of facing “truth” is very fitting because truth has long been a theme for the Wonder Woman character, emphasized by her lasso of truth.

So anyway, that’s the opening narration, and we’ll touch on how it parallels Bruce’s opening narration in Batman v Superman, but first we have to talk about some of the other things that are established here in Scene 1. We see Diana walking to work at the Louvre. If you look closely, you can actually see that they have Diana as a little moving dot in the God’s Eye shot and then they actually cut with continuity to her walking left to right across the screen. It’s some great attention to detail by the filmmakers right from the start. And she’s wearing a dark red shawl that kind of gives the impression of a cape, which the character has been known to wear in the comics and in the TV series. Diana is also very stylish, as we already saw in Batman v Superman, and this sets up a nice bit of growth for later when we see her first trying on some outfits with Etta Candy.

Here in Scene 1, when we first see Diana walking outside and then walking inside, we start with shots from behind and from down low. Patty Jenkins is setting us up for some emphasis when we first get to see her from the front. That shot comes soon enough when Diana is walking in the hallway straight toward camera. This is her character introduction and the shot lingers for awhile so that we can take it in fully. She not only has the style that we just mentioned from BvS, but she also has the sophistication and confidence. All of this will contrast effectively with the idealism and naivete of the Diana that we will see throughout Act 1.

Diana goes to her office and it becomes clear that she is still an antiques dealer, as she was in Batman v Superman. Her title is curator for the department of antiquities. This occupation has probably allowed her to travel the world and to see the beauty of our art and creativity as well as the deep history of our cultures, which is beautiful in a way, even though the history is always tinged with cruelty. Through her work with antiques, she is probably constantly reminded of both the beauty and the simmering darkness of mankind that she first learned about back in World War 1. These aspects of her job were also noticed by the author of the Wonder Woman novelization, Nancy Holder. In Chapter 1, referring to some of the artifacts, Holder writes, “fragments of the history of a three-thousand-year-old civilization: its great cultural accomplishments, but also the pitched battles it had won, the taking of prisoners, mass deportations of conquered peoples, and the fall of competing empires.” So again, we have Diana’s awareness of the positive sides and the negative sides of humanity.

At this point, a person comes in to deliver a briefcase to Diana. And so we should back up a few seconds and point out the armored van outside. It is clearly marked “Wayne Enterprises,” delivering a special package from Bruce Wayne himself. Quite a few people have noticed the license plate on that van. It is marked, JL-828-VZM. So the JL immediately makes DC fans think about Justice League. But do the 828-VZM have any significance? Some people have wondered if the 828 is a reference to Superman issue 82, which is when Superman returns to life after the death of Superman in the comics, and of course we’re expecting Superman to come back in the DCEU during Justice League. But this seems kind of like a stretch, because that only explains the 8 and the 2, not the next 8 or the VZM. Plus that’s Superman issue 82, not Justice League issue 82, and the license plate is marked JL, not S or SM. So we think the JL is on purpose, but we’re still awaiting a more compelling explanation for the 828-VZM. Maybe something happened on August 28th? We’re not sure. And maybe VZM refers to the brand of VZM imaging systems, since the truck is delivering an image to Diana, but we don’t really believe that one either.

Anyway, Diana receives the briefcase and thanks the delivery person in French. This is the first of many different languages we will witness from her in the film. She opens the briefcase and sees the photo along with a note from Bruce Wayne. His ability to track down the original photo is kind of like his superpower, and it continues their friendly rivalry from BvS when she was able to upstage him in getting the data leash at Lex’s party, but he was the one who was able to decrypt Lex’s files. Now, he is the one who’s able to actually retrieve the original photograph. And as he was using his detective skills to find it, he may have also been trying to discover as much as he could about Diana’s history and her powers. We’ll see a lot more of their interactions in Justice League, and we’ll also see Bruce’s detective skills applied to other meta-humans. But for right now, the key thing is that Bruce indicates that he wants to hear more about Diana’s story from her. There is clearly a story behind this photograph, and given her abilities, she obviously has an intriguing origin story that Bruce and we, the audience, want to hear about. Now that she has the photograph, Diana is transported back in her mind to the war a century earlier, and the camera pushes in on her face, which is a nice narrative device to usher us in and out of the flashback. They even dissolve into a match cut with Diana’s face and young Diana running in Themyscira.

So that will get us into Scene 2, but in this episode we want to talk more about some of the connections between Wonder Woman and the rest of the DCEU, especially Batman v Superman.

Connections to BvS/DCEU

The photograph, of course, is the most obvious connection. It’s inclusion in BvS not only gave Diana a purpose for entering the events of that movie and showed that Lex was busy tapping into all the meta-humans he could, but the photograph also piqued our interest about her backstory. We got the exhilarating introduction to her character in BvS and we also got a compelling visual, complete with characters and an interesting setting, that we naturally want to know more about. Thus the Wonder Woman movie can come along to provide answers to those questions. It clearly worked given the overwhelmingly positive reaction to her presence in BvS and subsequently the massive buzz leading up to Wonder Woman’s release and now its very strong box office performance.

There are also some other tangible connections between Wonder Woman and BvS. In BvS, we saw Bruce looking at security camera footage of Diana that was taken in Paris. And now we see that, yes, Diana does work in Paris. This is fitting because it’s considered the city of love, and as we’ll see by the end of the movie, love ends up being a central element to Diana’s story and her power. In BvS we also heard Diana say that she killed things from other worlds before, and now we get to see at least one instance of that, with her taking out Ares, who is from Mount Olympus.

In BvS, we saw a subtly developing relationship between Bruce and Diana, and Bruce especially seemed very intrigued and impressed by Diana. She really stood out from the one-night-stands he seemed to be having. And now, in Wonder Woman, we can see from his note and his efforts in retrieving the photo that Bruce wants to continue building that relationship. He acknowledges that they aren’t yet very close, because she has not yet told him her story. And Bruce realizes that he can’t expect Diana to blindly call him a friend. But he is willing to take steps forward to try to gain her trust and affection, and we’ll certainly see this play out further in Justice League.

Another connection is the monologue we were talking about earlier. Fans of BvS will immediately recognize the narrative technique of having a main character give a voiceover at the beginning and end of the film. It was Bruce in BvS and now it is, of course, Diana. Both monologues suggest the idea that “knowledge is power” in that we are all born into this world and start off naive, until we learn through education and experience. And in doing so we mature and face a harsh reality, that our initial optimism is a symptom of naivete. Both monologues begin with a “before”. For Bruce it’s a time before when there were perfect things and absolute truths he could rely on. And Diana refers to when she “used” to want to save the world. A “then” when she knew so little.  However, both Bruce and Diana wised up and finally saw the darkness, where thing fall and fall to. Bruce dwells on the past and how it was a “beautiful lie”.  Diana, the optimist, talks about the future, and rather than focus on the lie refers to the encountered truth. With Bruce, what falls is fallen, and he will forever be the Batman. While for Diana, her change was not a “fall”, but nevertheless she “will never be the same.”

Part of Diana’s lesson that she learns is she comes to recognize “the great darkness simmering within” mankind, the bad within the good. This idea was also played up with Lex Luthor’s dichotomy in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. He seems like a jovial benefactor on the outside, but inside, he was vengeful and disturbed. Bruce Wayne also had his good sides, yet he was harboring a lot of pain and even vengeance inside. And both of these men projected their issues onto Superman. Bruce, especially, feared what would happen if Superman had a dark side that might get unleashed onto a humanity that wouldn’t be able to stop him. But as they all got to witness by the end, Superman sacrificed himself to save the world and to stop an overt monstrosity, so he never fell victim to the dark urges that plague mankind. And Diana got to see this heroic act from Superman, which was certainly inspirational to her because Superman was an embodiment of the good triumphing over the dark, but of course this was also a profoundly sad moment, because Superman’s sacrifice parallels Steve Trevor’s sacrifice at the end of Wonder Woman. This provides another great connection between the two films. Now, if you rewatch BvS and see the sadness on Diana’s face and the sympathy with which she looks at Lois Lane, it hits even harder now because Diana knows exactly what Lois is going through in that situation. We can also see the brief moment where Diana turns her head toward the sky as a connection to her moments from Wonder Woman when she peacefully looks up as if in prayer.

We should also say that Bruce’s final narration in BvS connects with the final narration from Diana at the end of Wonder Woman. In BvS, Bruce is actually talking to Diana and we see his redemption as a character when he says that “Men are still good. We fight, we kill, we betray one another, but we can do better.” This notion that men do bad things but that they still have goodness inside them, the potential to make things better, fits very well with the themes of Wonder Woman, and it may even be a basis for connection between Diana and Bruce as characters. They both see the good and the bad side, but by the end of BvS, they both agree to keep fighting for the good. As Diana says in her own movie, responding to Ares, “You’re wrong about them. They’re everything you say, but so much more.” And then at the end, she says, “I stay, I fight, and I give for the world I know can be. This is my mission now, forever.”

Overall, you could trace both Diana and Bruce along similar character arcs. They both start with some naivete -- Diana thought she could save the world by simply killing Ares, and Bruce had his beautiful lie that he was successfully dealing with his demons as Batman. Then both of them had to proceed through a cynical phase -- for Diana, it was glimpsing the darkness that live within their light, and for Bruce it was his 20 years in Gotham in which no good guys were left. But then both of them eventually came to a point of enlightenment -- for Diana, it was her choice to see the good in people and to commit to the power of love, and for Bruce, it was the realization that men are still good and that it is still possible to make the world better.

We can also broaden out to the entire trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and we can see their character arcs in a slightly different way. Batman begins as a pessimist, entranced by the beautiful lie, and becomes a realist when he sees the error of his ways and the potential for good in others. Wonder Woman begins as an optimist, with her hopeful naivete, and she too becomes a realist when she sees the complexities of Man and how impressionable they are. Superman begins as a realist as taught by Jonathan Kent, but he learns both optimism and pessimism when faced with love and the cruelty of men.

And beyond the trinity, we have Lex Luthor from BvS. He dealt with gods and their perceived influence, just as Diana does in Wonder Woman. Lex said, “What we call God depends upon our tribe… ‘cause God is tribal. God takes sides.” Indeed, in Hippolyta’s history lesson to young Diana and then with Ares at the end, it is confirmed that gods take sides, either with men or against men, and sometimes with the Amazons and against the men who enslaved them. Lex also said, “I figured out way back if God is all powerful, he cannot be all good.  If he is all good, he cannot be all powerful.”  Diana, by the end of her movie, comes to a similar realization. For all the good she wants to do, she realizes that she is not all powerful, and that she cannot change Man from doing evil. And she IS a god. So after the conclusion of this movie, she’ll have to decide how much she is willing to interfere in the free will of mankind now that Ares’s influence has been removed. We know from history that wars continued, and the pollution of the environment continued, and the hatred toward one another continued, even after Ares was gone. So even though Diana has great physical power, and even though the movie makes the case that love and compassion are forces that can save the world, Diana still has to grapple with the fact that she is not all powerful and that humanity still has free will and they still have their negative tendencies.

So that leads us to a big question between Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman. How do the events of this movie line up with the fact that, in BvS, Diana had grown weary of mankind and the “century of horrors”? She seemed to be withdrawn because men had made it impossible to stand together. So going into Wonder Woman for the first time, we were thinking two things: (A) that Diana had been disgusted by the behavior of mankind, and (B) that this, plus possibly a specific inciting incident, had given Diana a reason to withdraw into obscurity. The first part is pretty easy to connect to the Wonder Woman film. By the end of Wonder Woman, she has defeated Ares. And even though she eventually came to realize that killing Ares wouldn’t instantaneously make the world a perfect place, she did still think that with Ares out of the way, mankind should gradually arc toward more compassionate and just behavior. She knew that mankind shared the blame with Ares up to the point that Ares died, but after that, without Ares’ negative influence, mankind should’ve started to get better. So from Diana’s perspective, it must have been extremely frustrating and disappointing to see that the post-World War 1 era involved a lot of greedy and boastful moves by the victors of World War 1, followed by the rise of fascism in Germany and then all the horrible atrocities and deaths in World War 2. And then the rise of nuclear weapons and international tensions in the Cold War. Then Vietnam, genocides in various parts of the world, and famine and disease because of inequitable resource allocation and pollution from fossil fuels, and so on throughout the “century of horrors.” So Diana not only saw all the horrors of World War 1, but she must have been heartbroken over all the negativity that followed. Thus her mindset in BvS makes sense.

What we’re basically talking about here is Diana coming in to help out in World War 1, which leads to a peaceful resolution in the short term, but then a big disappointment afterward as World War 2 and all the rest happens. This is kind of like a larger scale version of what happened in Veld -- Diana led the way and there was a brief moment of joy in saving the village, and then there was the disappointment and grief when they all got gassed anyway.

Now, with regard to the second part of what we took from BvS -- Diana having withdrawn from mankind -- there are a couple ways we could look at this. First of all, you might view the Wonder Woman film as Diana taking care of her responsibility, which is explicitly Ares. Once she has defeated Ares, her job is done and she can step back to the side because the rest of mankind is no longer her concern. Yes, she made some personal connections and extended her compassionate love to humanity, but this doesn’t mean she has to be a superhero on their behalf every day. Unless another god comes out of the woodwork to influence mankind, she can basically step off to the side -- not interfering in the self determination of men’s lives.

Another way to look at this is that, looking closely at BvS, she doesn’t actually say that she’s completely withdrawn during the century of horrors. Admittedly, she isn’t publicly known as Wonder Woman, but she could’ve been doing subtle things without drawing attention to herself. Perhaps she has been off to the side, observing things or trying to affect changes diplomatically rather than using force as Wonder Woman. Thinking about her as basically sidelined between 1918 and 2016, then that makes it even more special at the end of Wonder Woman, in modern day Paris, when she has her newly cleaned costume and jumps out into action. She was inspired to action in the crisis of Batman v Superman, and now, having reconnected with her origin story and her commitment to love and compassion, she’s ready to take on a fully active role in the world once more.

Speaking of the newly cleaned costume, the brighter colors in Wonder Woman make sense because they represent her pristine entry into Man’s World and on the gray battlefield, they represent the color of Themyscira. And then the more muted colors in BvS also make sense because they represent the sort of idea of dust having gathered because of her decades out of the costume. And now, at the end of Wonder Woman, we can see that she is taking back up her original mindset and she brings the colors back.

It’s also pretty convenient that the black-and-white photo managed to hide the discrepancy in colors. We couldn’t tell that the two suits were substantially different because the black-and-white hid the difference. And by the way, we should just say again, like we did in our BvS analysis, that the photo itself was great. You can really see this interesting group of Oddfellows with their unique faces and different body shapes -- one tall, one short, one wearing a kilt. It’s great that they have Diana in the center, and after seeing the battle for Veld, it totally makes sense that they would defer that prominent location to her. Before that, the men were clearly leading Diana and trying to tell her what to do. But after she asserts leadership in rescuing Veld, they recognize what’s what.

The photo, we know now, also has Zack Snyder’s cameo as a soldier in the distant background.

Another quick thing to mention is that, when Diana looks at the photo in Scene 1, we get one of the new musical themes by Rupert Gregson-Williams. It’s a sad, contemplative descending sixth -- from D to F-sharp -- and then a descending fifth -- from D to G. We’ll mention more later on when these new themes are used throughout the movie, especially the love theme that is used really well to tie together Diana and Steve’s scenes.

Alright, a couple more connections between Wonder Woman and the DCEU. Because this is an origin story, many people online have been comparing it to Batman Begins and especially Man of Steel. These comparisons are very appropriate, and we’ll focus on Man of Steel and also on Batman’s origin within the DCEU in BvS. Obviously Man of Steel showed us Superman’s origin, when Kal-El was born on Krypton and then when Superman was born on Earth. Wonder Woman serves to show us Diana’s origin, where and how she grew up and then the process of her discovering her true identity. And BvS largely serves to show us Batman’s origin, the moment Batman was created and the nightmares which define him. BvS however also serves to show us all three characters’ “rebirths”: Superman’s reaffirmation and embracing of Earth and subsequent acceptance by the planet in death; Batman’s redemption and renewed purpose following his downward spiral; and Wonder Woman’s return to heroism in the world of Man and her refocused vision of the Good in them.  So these three movies do a great job of setting up the trinity and eventually putting them in a place where they’re ready for the Justice League. True, Superman’s dead, but I have a feeling that’s going to work out just fine for Justice League, with Geoff Johns teasing that we’re all going to need to be ready to put a new entry on our Favorite Superman Moments list.

There are also a lot more connections between Wonder Woman and Man of Steel that we could go through, and we’ll probably bring them up as they arise in our scene-by-scene analysis, but for right now we’ll just say that there are clear parallels between the opening Krypton scene in Man of Steel and then the opening Themyscira scene in Wonder Woman. Both give a sense of culture and a unique world that informs the character, and both have direct connections to the villain of the movie, and neither one is returned to after the beginning of the movie. In Man of Steel there is the history lesson from Jor-El to Clark, father to son, and in Wonder Woman there is the history lesson from Hippolyta to Diana, mother to daughter. Both movies involve the hero forming a strong, well-developed romantic relationship with a human and that human becomes an important connection between the hero and the world of men. Both movies involve the villain showing a vision to the hero and trying to entice them to join the villain’s side. Both movies have rising action that, in Act 3, involve the supporting characters helping out and even sacrificing themselves by flying a plane into purposeful destruction, and both climaxes end up being the hero ultimately having to square off with and kill the villain. And both Man of Steel and Wonder Woman involve an outsider character who sees both the good and the bad sides of humanity -- with Clark, he sees the bullying and the fear and the prejudices, and he sees that mankind might not be very gracious in accepting a super-powered alien who will throw their worldviews into disarray, but he also feels the love of his parents and the acceptance of Lois and he sees that people can come around, like Pete Ross. So Clark decides to become Superman and side with humanity. For Diana, she sees the violence and the inequity but she also sees the love and joy that can exist if war didn’t get in the way. So she rejects Ares and also sides with humanity, accepting the good and the bad together and declaring it worth saving.

There are some differences, of course, between Clark and Diana. For one, Clark in Man of Steel has to work through many doubts, but he always does have an instinctual desire to help. Diana has the same instinctual desire to help -- in her case, it’s really driven by a deep compassion for people -- but with Diana, she doesn’t have doubts that must be overcome, she has naivete. Jonathan Kent helped Clark avoid naivete about the world from an early age. Diana had to work through that naivete and come out the other side throughout her film. For Clark, he wants to do the right thing but he isn’t always sure how to do it. This tension becomes especially clear in BvS. But with Diana, she knows how to do it and basically just needs the opportunity to do so without others like her mother or Steve getting in her way.

We could go on, but we’ll finish up with a few more thoughts about the connections between Wonder Woman and the DCEU overall. It definitely fits with the overarching theme that we had already identified -- the question of whether humanity is worth saving, even with all its flaws? Like all three of the previous movies, Wonder Woman also answers this question in the affirmative. There was also a recent article in the Toronto Sun about how all of the DCEU movies take a serious look at how humanity would react to the discovery that gods and goddesses walk amongst us. We’ll put a link in the show notes to that article:

There are also a few lines that jumped out to us as being connected to other films in the DCEU. For example, Hippolyta told Diana, “They do not deserve you.” This reminded us of Martha Kent telling Superman, “Be their hero, or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing.” In both cases, the mothers kind of sound harsh, but they’re actually both right. As we talked about in our themes and characters episode for Wonder Woman, mankind doesn’t deserve Diana, but she is going to save mankind anyway. And Martha is right that Superman does not have an obligation to be a hero, but he is going to do it anyway and sacrifice himself to save others. That’s what makes someone a hero -- doing something by choice rather than obligation. If someone only helps out because it was a requirement to do so, then that’s just someone following orders or doing the bare minimum, it is not a hero. And furthermore, as Diana says, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe, and I believe in love.”

Which brings us to another connection. In Wonder Woman, it’s love that ends up saving the day, and in Suicide Squad, it was a commitment to friendship that ended up turning the tide against Enchantress. We also had the gun barrel in Suicide Squad literally turning from hate toward love.

A very different sort of connection that a lot of people have brought up is the comparison between Diana’s battle for Veld and Batman’s Martha rescue scene in BvS. Both involve the hero busting in through a window and then taking out a roomful of enemies in hand-to-hand combat. In terms of emotional resonance, I’d personally give the edge to Wonder Woman, but in terms of directing and fight choreography, I’d still have to go with Batman.

One final connection that we’ll mention is that we’ve gotten a chance to see all the major heroes as young children -- young Clark, young Bruce, and now young Diana. This brings a lot of depth and personal history to the characters, which is nice in terms of supporting the richness of the universe. It also looks like we’ll be getting a young Arthur Curry next year in Aquaman, so that will be interesting to see, as well.

We’re sure there are many more connections, but we’re going to call it good for now. We’ll touch on many more as we go through the Wonder Woman scene-by-scene analysis, and if you have some connections that you especially like, feel free to mention them in the comments.

End of Episode

So that’s our analysis of the opening scene of Wonder Woman. Because we were talking about some of the connections to Batman v Superman, we also wanted to take a moment to step back and address the different sorts of receptions that each movie had. Boy were they different, not just from critics but also from fans. It has been interesting to see how very different the reception has been, especially considering that Wonder Woman has a similar commitment to themes as BvS did and both take a serious approach to the material rather than tongue-in-cheek. Both have heroes killing people. Both have a huge battle at the end, set at night, with an over-the-top villain, and both end with death and at the same time a very optimistic conclusion. Both had Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, and Chuck Roven very involved in leadership positions, and they even shared quite a few crew members such as Damon Caro, the second unit director, and the fight coordinators.

But even with these similarities, there are several differences in Wonder Woman that we suspect explain a substantial portion of the reception. First of all, although both movies have a commitment to important themes about the human condition, Wonder Woman takes the extra step of making them very explicit in the third act of the film. Steve Trevor and Diana have an explicit conversation about the lessons they are learning, and then Ares and Diana have very explicit dialogue at the end about where their commitments are. And the visual symbolism of Themyscira contrasted with Man’s World would be very hard to miss. In Batman v Superman, on the other hand, the themes are woven throughout more subtle visual motifs and into the unspoken character mindsets. Superman was not always telling you exactly what he was thinking, and Bruce would actually say out loud a rationalization that clouded what it was that he was actually going through psychologically. Lex was a character who often maintained a facade, so you had to know how to dig beneath and pick up clues about his true intentions and mindset. All of this together made it so that many people missed the themes of BvS, but if you were able to trace them, they were just as profound as Wonder Woman’s themes, and perhaps more so because in reality we actually do lie to ourselves and put up facades. BvS authentically explored those flaws in the human condition and our relationships to power and powerlessness, our inability to deal with feelings of failure.

So in our view, BvS and Wonder Woman both have coherent themes that guided the writing and filming of the movie, which already sets them above many other action movies or superhero movies, but Wonder Woman went the extra step of making them very explicit in the dialogue of the film, so this assures that more of the critics and the audience will get on board.

Similarly, Wonder Woman involved much more straightforward storytelling than BvS. It was always clear what was going to happen next because we basically followed one through-line, with occasional cutaways to Luddendorf. But overall, they had to protect Themyscira, then they had to go to London, then they had to go to the front, then they had to find Ares, and so forth. It’s a clear narrative line, easy to follow. And many of the scene transitions were very clear -- for example, Steve would say that they needed reinforcements, and then we’d go right to a scene where they’re picking up Sameer and Charlie. There were lots of direct transitions like this, which differs from BvS where there were multiple storylines being woven together but they had thematic transitions, such as Bruce becoming enraged in Metropolis and then a cut to the object that would be the focal point of his vengeance. Or Lex Luthor getting the Senator to eat out of the palm of his hand, and then intercutting this with the fruits of Lex’s manipulations, his access to the scout ship. The BvS transitions work really well at a more abstract level, but the Wonder Woman transitions are much more digestible and lead to people thinking that the editing is better executed, even though the majority of an editor’s job takes place within scenes, not between scenes.

So the flow, in terms of general audience appeal, favors Wonder Woman. And it also pretty much followed the blockbuster formula that has been laid out in books like Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder (no relation to Zack Snyder). What we mean by this is that the main character is introduced, we then spend about 15 minutes getting to know their setting and surroundings with one bit of action thrown in to keeps things energetic. After about 15 minutes, there is an inciting incident which forces the main character to leave the comforts of home and set out into the main plot. There are fun and games along the way, then at the end there is an all-is-lost moment before the big finish when the main character learns the lesson that had been set up earlier. Then the movie finishes with a new status quo being established. That’s obviously just a really quick overview, but you can look at Save the Cat and you’ll start to see that many, many blockbusters --- not just action movies or superhero movies but also animated films and others -- follow this general outline. Wonder Woman certainly follows much of it by the book, and that makes it very palatable to critics and audiences. They can subconsciously get on board and feel very satisfied with what they’re seeing because it fits a mold that they’re accustomed to. And don’t get us wrong --- we are not in anyway saying that this is a bad thing to follow a general formula. In fact, as the reception for Wonder Woman shows, it is in many ways a very good thing because it’s great to have so many people with a favorable opinion toward the movie. And a formula does not limit creativity or determine execution, it just structures it. So Wonder Woman still deserves lots of credit for its execution of the story that it wanted to tell within that structure.

Batman v Superman, on the other hand, moved away from the formula altogether and structured its story in a different way. Because of this, it lost a lot of the audience, but we think it really worked for the story they wanted to tell and the character exploration they wanted to undertake. If you’re curious about what Batman v Superman might have been like if it had followed the Save-the-Cat formula, you can actually hear me describe it in the Scenes 17-18 episode of the BvS analysis. It’s in the last few minutes of that episode, and I’ll put a link in the show notes.

Speaking of character exploration, another difference that helped Wonder Woman’s reception is that they were constructing her character and her guiding philosophy of love, rather than deconstructing the characters as was happening in BvS. In BvS, they wanted to explore the psyche and the no-kill rule of Batman by taking him down to his darkest place, pushing him to the edge, so that we can see him come out of it and emerge on the other side. With Superman, they wanted to explore the idea that a perfectly good hero is kind of impossible in the complexities of our world; no one can really be seen as purely good because every action has unintended consequences and right and wrong are not always clear, and also our modern society loves stirring up controversy and ripping down our prominent figures. So they told a story where Superman had to deal with all of that complexity, and then we get to see him come out the other side as a selfless hero who still finds a way to save the world and inspire its people. So Batman v Superman had worthwhile and profound character development, but it is more challenging than just establishing the character in the first place. And again, don’t get us wrong --- Wonder Woman made the right call in taking a constructive approach to the character because she has not yet had her own live-action film, whereas Batman and Superman have had many, so they were more primed for deconstruction.

Another advantage that Wonder Woman has in terms of audience appeal is that the average scene length was longer -- 2.5 minutes per scene rather than BvS’s 1.8 minutes per scene. So this gave the audience a bit more time to breathe and take in the information before moving on to the next thing. In other words, BvS was very dense, whereas Wonder Woman was easier to follow along and process everything as you go. The extended scenes in Wonder Woman also featured more natural character interactions and relationship growth through dialogue, whereas BvS was primarily about internal struggles, so they’re not as visible and clear to the audience.

So this is certainly not the entire story --- people may have lots of other reasons for preferring Wonder Woman to BvS. But in terms of a holistic view of general audiences overall -- not thinking about individual preferences but just how the films are received across millions and millions of viewers, we think that the linear flow of the plot, the use of a comfortable formula, the explicitness of the themes, and the character interactions are part of why Wonder Woman has garnered both critical acclaim and widespread appeal. We are very excited for its success, though I believe that all four of us here -- myself, @raveryn, @derbykid, and @wondersyd -- still personally prefer the masterpiece that is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.


  1. Listening to Justice League Universe podcast has been quite great for me, I was at dublin costume shop to buy all those outfits from Justice League Universe for this Halloween, Really enjoyed it a lot, Will be waiting for more episodes.