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Wonder Woman survives a pandemic and polarizing reactions to remain one of the top superhero franchises

Gal Gadot stars as the titular hero in “Wonder Woman 1984.” (Clay Enos/Warner Bros./DC)

The Wonder Woman franchise isn’t going anywhere.

Despite a limited theatrical release, lukewarm reviews and social media chatter that can be best described as polarizing, “Wonder Woman 1984” opened to $16.7 million domestically at the box office this past weekend, beating all other three-day 2020 pandemic releases and boosting its worldwide total to $85 million. The film also debuted simultaneously on HBO Max and was viewed by nearly half of the streaming service’s subscribers on the day of arrival according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Warner Bros. studio chief Toby Emmerich announced on Sunday that the studio and DC Entertainment are moving forward with a third film, with director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot returning.

So the franchise has come out pretty well, all things considered. And the announcement puts it into rarefied air.

A trilogy has been an uncommon feat for DC Comics on film in the modern superhero cinema era that clocks back to Fox’s first X-Men movie in 2000.

There’s Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. And that’s it.

Gone are the days of four Superman movies and four Batman movies that both marveled and disappointed from the ’70s to the late ’90s. Post-Nolan, DC has struggled to find respectability in the shadow of Marvel Studios’ decade-long reign, but salvation finally arrived with the first “Wonder Woman” film that wowed audiences to the tune of $822 million worldwide in 2017.

Gadot and Jenkins became DC’s true heroines, helping the brand become a legit contender for the crown of best superhero movie maker that was once theirs alone. Gadot had the gargantuan task of following in the footsteps of Lynda Carter, the world’s forever Wonder Woman. She passed that test memorably, and she is equally impressive in “Wonder Woman 1984” despite not being handed as strong a script as in her first go-round with the Lasso of Truth.

Before the first film, Jenkins had the outsize expectations that came from telling a tale with not just DC’s top female superhero, but the female superhero, and had to make it work when DC was building a reputation for being too moody on screen. A movie had been devoted to Batman and Superman beating each other up, after all. Jenkins made a film full of light and hope. It’s DC’s best film post-Nolan, and set the franchise on firm footing, making it a good bet to join DC’s trilogy club.

How Patty Jenkins turned ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ into a personal Washington story

Even if the reviews for “Wonder Woman 1984” haven’t been as universally praising as the first film’s, it’s bright (maybe too bright, but it is the ’80s) and shiny and very expensive, and it helps add to a world that’s worth revisiting. Perhaps it is finally time to bring Wonder Woman to the present day, as Jenkins has hinted at previously, while keeping the character as far away from the Justice League as possible until that on-screen brand has been repaired.

But one question is when Gadot and Jenkins will have the time.

The daughter of a fighter pilot, Jenkins is scheduled to direct “Rogue Squadron,” a movie centered around the coolest pilots of the Star Wars universe. Gadot is also set to star as the queen of Egypt in “Cleopatra,” once again working alongside Jenkins.

This could be a situation reminiscent of the long four-year gap between Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” that allowed him to film “Inception.” At that point Nolan had the power to do the projects he wanted to do. He didn’t need Batman. Batman needed him. Gadot and Jenkins are now in similar territory with Wonder Woman.

Another factor is: Will theaters return to their pre-pandemic audience levels by the time a new Wonder Woman film comes out? In his statement, Emmerich said Gadot and Jenkins would return to conclude “the long-planned theatrical trilogy.” The key word being theatrical. That makes it seem like Warner Bros. is betting on this movie arriving in a post-pandemic, vaccinated world a few years from now. Those words also give the vibe that a trilogy was always in the cards.

And then there are the optics to consider. Trilogies are old hat for Marvel Studios. Look at all the Avengers that have had three solo films. Iron Man. Captain America. Thor (with a fourth on the way). Heck, even Ant-Man has a third movie in the works. Seriously. It’s called “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.”

For DC to maintain respectability in the shadow of all that Marvel Studios has done, its superheroes need equal longevity on the big screen. And while other contenders at DC have arisen with trilogy potential (“Shazam,” the billion-dollar grossing “Aquaman,” a promising “Black Adam” franchise starring Dwayne Johnson that will soon be in production, and even “The Suicide Squad” with director James Gunn at the helm), DC’s current top hero on film was the obvious choice to begin a new trilogy streak.

However long it takes, we will see Princess Diana one more time. Warner Bros. and DC just need to hope the third time can charm like the first one did.

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