DC’s cinematic universe has already given us two of the company’s big three heroes in the form of Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman. Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman was one of the most popular parts of the otherwise mixed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now we’re starting to see footage from her upcoming solo film, scheduled for release in the summer of 2017.
Director Patty Jenkins faces a challenge that has perplexed previous filmmakers adapting the character: what exactly do you do with her? Unlike a lot of other DC superheroes, Wonder Woman has historically struggled to define a distinct identity. Think about it: everyone knows what Wonder Woman looks like, but what do people who aren’t comics fans really know about her? Everyone knows that Superman came from the planet Krypton, that he’s secretly Clark Kent, that he’s in love with Lois Lane, that his main enemy is Lex Luthor, and so on. Everyone knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne, that he fights the Joker, that he lives in Gotham City, and what have you. They could probably even name a few supporting characters, like Robin, Alfred or Commissioner Gordon. But Wonder Woman? She’s a powerful symbol, but has never really had a single defining enemy or narrative.
Early Wonder Woman stories were a mix of action, whimsy (especially conveyed by the stylish art of Harry Peter) and the unique psychosexual theories of writer William Moulton Marston. Since then, though, she’s been through a number of different incarnations. As a princess from an island of Amazons sent to “man’s world,” she’s sometimes a figure of fish-out-of-water satire. Sometimes she’s just a generic lady superhero, and sometimes — most notably in comics written after Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ miniseries Kingdom Come, she’s portrayed as the most martial and warlike of the DC superheroes.
That seems like the approach that the new film is taking; we see Diana caught up in the fighting of the First World War. Originally, of course, she was associated with the Second World War, a theme continued by the first season of the 1970s TV series.
At a guess, though, it looks like the filmmakers didn’t want to be accused of copying Marvel’s Captain America — an ironic decision, of course, since both characters are actually from the 1940s. But never mind — with the centennial ongoing, the Great War is on everyone’s minds anyway, and there’s nothing about Diana’s character specifically that requires a Nazi villain. Indeed, from the trailer we don’t get a lot of image of who the villain’s going to be — I suspect it will be more than just “the Germans” — which is consistent with a book that’s always been defined more by its central character than by her adversaries.
The new Wonder Woman seems like an interesting and unusual move. Most first solo films are origin stories, presumably because origin stories have movie-like arcs in which characters change and grow over time. But it’s rare that we get one like this, an origin story for a character who has already appeared. There’s some time to go before the actual release, but DC fans — like Warner Brothers itself — are hoping that when it comes to their big heroes, the third-time-lucky rule applies.