Wonder Woman finally hit theaters and blew everyone’s mind. Arguably the best film of the DC Comics Extended Universe, the Gal Gadot vehicle topped the box office with a staggering $100 million box office in its first weekend. Certified fresh by Rotten Tomatoes and favorably reviewed by the vast majority of critics, the film has overcome poor reception of previous entries in the DCEU and a number of controversies to surprise audiences and become a modern classic. But it didn’t do it without drawing a few comparisons to other movies.
Thanks to its setting in World War I and fish out of water origin story, the film has drawn a few close comparisons to one of Marvel’s flagship films, Captain America: The First Avenger, as well as passing similarities to other Captain America films. For better or worse, though, the film may just be the best comic book origin we’ve gotten to date, thanks to fleshed-out characters and a moral ambiguity that the comic book colored tone of Captain America’s World War II avoided. The stakes feel real, and the ramifications are felt throughout. Wonder Woman is possibly the best Captain America film ever made, or at least we think so, and here are 15 reasons why.
SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for WONDER WOMAN
15. THE MISERY OF WAR
Captain America: The First Avenger is explicitly set during World War II, but it is sugarcoated as hell. You don’t see a lot of the miseries of war in the film. There are a few hostages Steve saves early on, but most of the movie is bright colors and action as Steve topples Hydra.
Wonder Woman doesn’t pull any punches in this regard. Venturing into trenches shortly after her arrival in man’s world, we see victims of the war. Soldiers and innocents who have lost limbs and are near death, horses who are beaten to try to escape quicker. And it culminates in the small town of Veld being destroyed as Diana is helpless to prevent it. There’s a real weight to the notion of The War To End All Wars in Wonder Woman, and it helps the tone significantly.
14. THE HORROR OF SOLDIERS
The First Avenger did a great job with its Howling Commandos, but they seem to be largely an easter egg for fans. There’s not a lot of thought put into who these characters really are and what makes them tick. Everyone is a soldier (and, honestly, a bit of a stereotype) and that’s it. There’s not really any talk of what happens after the war.
By contrast, Wonder Woman’s allies are more fleshed out (though, yeah, still very much stereotypes). Sameer wants to be an actor. Charlie longs to sing. The Chief misses his heritage. Even Trevor, a dedicated spy, just wants to find a life outside the war with a family. The characters’ actions are informed not by a dedication to their profession, but by the things they want to earn through it.
13. SIDEKICKS WHO PITCH IN
As cool as it was to see the Howling Commandos, they didn’t seem to do much. Colorful characters who rounded out the cast of World War II fighters the movie featured, they’re ultimately characters who participate in the background as Cap leads the charge. It probably should be that way on some level; after all, it is Cap’s movie. But fans have been dying to see the Howling Commandos proper ever since.
Wonder Woman made no bones about fighting on her own, but her allies are quick to help out, too. Most notably in the final fight, as Diana and Ares clash, Sameer, Charlie, The Chief and Steve Trevor are seen going into action with efforts that turn the tide of the battle, both Diana’s and the world’s. It’s refreshing to see these Average Joe heroes actually help out.
12. A SELF-CONTAINED STORY
Captain America: The First Avenger makes it pretty clear what the point is. It’s all about setting up for The Avengers and putting the pieces in place. Establishing Captain America, as well as his relationship with Tony Stark’s father, Howard, to create a connection to Iron Man, and how Rogers wound up in the present day are key. As a result, the film carries a weight to it that can make it a drag.
Wonder Woman is tied to the current DCEU films by way of scenes at the film’s beginning and end, but that’s it. The film is self-contained and doesn’t require you to have any real prior knowledge of the other movies to enjoy it. The result is a much cleaner experience and one that viewers can enjoy without feeling bogged down by other films.
11. GROUNDED FIGHT SEQUENCES
There’s a level of ridiculous spectacle to Captain America’s fight sequences. Sure, it’s entertaining to watch Cap bounce his shield off everything, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s just absurd. Steve standing in place as Hydra troops shoot flamethrowers around him makes for a cool shot but makes little sense in practicality. The fights have improved over the course of the MCU, but these early ones are comic book tropes through and through.
Wonder Woman‘s fights, by comparison, have a much more grounded tone to them. Sure, calling them grounded is a stretch given Diana’s powerset, but the fights themselves are visually much more interesting. Diana is an explosive fighter, and the battles are fast, brutal and violent. The fights are more engaging and create a more visually dynamic adventure for the character.
10. ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS
In recent years, Captain America’s history as a soldier has undergone a significant retcon. Previously depicted as a soldier who was willing to kill if presented with no other option, these days Marvel depicts his World War II adventures as bloodless carnage, and his usage of rifles established as an offensive tactic to disarm opponents. Put simply, Captain America no longer kills, whenever possible.
Wonder Woman has always been portrayed as more willing to kill if she had to, and this carries over to the film. Diana’s final fight with Ludendorff ends with his death at her hands, and she shows no remorse about killing the man as she felt it was necessary. Diana’s a hero still, but one who isn’t afraid to do what she must to save the day.
9. A MESSAGE OF LOVE
There’s not much of a message to The First Avenger. Steve Rogers wants to be a soldier so he can help people, but that’s about it. The film doesn’t have a particularly present or strong message, focusing instead on the origin and the adventure. Steve is a soldier, and there’s not really anything particularly significant about this decision.
Diana, on the other hand, brings her message of love and peace with her. She doesn’t care about the logistics of war, she just cares about innocent people. Diana’s motivated to erase to the black stain on the hearts of men, and this desire informs her actions throughout the film. Sure, she eventually finds out it’s not something she can erase, but learning that alongside her and the message on the effect of war on men makes for an interesting story.
8. THE LOVE INTEREST ISN’T AN INFORMED ABILITY
You can stop typing the angry comment. We aren’t denying it: Peggy Carter is an absolute badass. She holds her own and could have easily saved the day even without Captain America. But most of this comes to light in Agent Carter, or after the fact. In The First Avenger, Peggy participates in a chase early on, but after that is relegated to commanding missions via radio and being a jealous girlfriend.
Steve Trevor manages to largely avoid this in Wonder Woman, even getting to make an apparent heroic sacrifice at the film’s end. He’s nowhere near as badass as Peggy, but he still manages to make a notable contribution throughout the film. Trevor’s demeanor and willingness to help people makes him an excellent counterpoint to Wonder Woman, and that he actually participates makes his sacrifice all the more meaningful.
7. NO INSTANT HEROES
We never really see where Steve learned to fight. It’s meant to be inferred as an acquired skill between years of being beaten up and his military training. But Steve is a top level hand-to-hand combatant in The First Avenger and a hell of a fighter. We’re never given a reason to believe he is, we’re just shown it and asked to assume it’s true.
Contrast this with Diana. The opening sequences focus on Diana’s relationship with her mother, Hippolyta and her aunt, Antiope. These scenes not only serve to showcase how Diana came to be such a great fighter, but how she stacks up compared to the rest of the Amazons. We also even get to see Steve Trevor’s true colors as he fights alongside the Amazons early on. These moments serve to build the character up and earn her transformation into a hero.
6. A TWIST THAT WORKS
Twists in the Captain America films have fallen pretty flat. Arguably, the only one that worked was the reveal that Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. Reveals of The Red Skull’s, uh, skull or that Bucky was the Winter Soldier, however, were less powerful. The movies aren’t known for their twists or surprises, but for their action and adventure.
Wonder Woman, though, tackles its swerve in a unique fashion as Danny Huston’s Ludendorff is revealed in the third act to be a red herring, and David Thewlis’ Sir Patrick is actually Ares, the God of War. The twist wasn’t perfect and may have been something viewers picked up on just before it happened. But it’s what the twist stands for that matters — that Ares wasn’t the cause of war and the darkness of men, but merely an agent moving it along, that sets the tone for the film’s message.
5. AN EMOTIONAL BOND
Despite the appearances of Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, and the Howling Commandos, the only emotional bond we’re really given is Steve and Bucky. There’s an attempt to create one between Steve and Peggy, especially with the ending, but ultimately it’s not terribly earned throughout the film. Steve is just too preoccupied with the war.
By contrast, the war is used as the building point for the relationship between Diana and her allies. Appearing at first to just be soldiers who are struggling to make ends meet, Diana learns early on that there is more to her allies than originally believed. These quiet moments in between action are used to effectively build Steve Trevor and his soldiers as real people with real passions. We form a bond with these characters, and it makes it all the harder to see them go at the story’s end.
4. MOTIVATED BY EMOTIONS
Steve Rogers is portrayed as a fairly emotional person. However, he shuts these feelings off as he goes into fights. Captain America is a fighting machine, and it does pay off. He’s incredibly efficient, but he could be stronger. Wonder Woman serves as a perfect example of this, and it’s in how she embraces her emotions.
Diana is raised to believe in the goodness of all man, and that she can save the world by killing Ares and erasing the darkness in the heart of mankind. She is powered by her love and compassion and chooses to embrace these emotions rather than suppress them. Despite being a hardened warrior, there’s a softness and compassion she carries, and it makes her stronger not just as a fighter and hero, but as a character as well.
3. THE HERO SAVES THE DAY
The kicker at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger? The Red Skull beats himself. Grabbing the Cosmic Cube, Skull vanishes in a bright light. What’s more, you could argue the Red Skull won, given his aircraft crashed and Steve was thought dead afterward. Events happen to Steve in the finale, but he has little agency in the finale.
Diana, by contrast, takes charge of the events in the film’s finale. Despite losing Steve Trevor and learning the truth about her origin, a reveal which clearly shakes her to the core, Diana overcomes these tribulations. She embraces what makes her strongest and claims victory with her own hands, despite everything that has happened. Wonder Woman‘s finale sees Diana earn her victory, rather than stumble into it.
2. THE MORAL GREY
Things are pretty straightforward in Captain America: The First Avenger. Is the character a German? Then they’re a villain. Not a German? Then they’re an American ally and want to kill all the Germans. These characters have very limited range and are shoehorned into an almost binary state of being.
By contrast, everyone in Wonder Woman that isn’t Diana seems to toe the line. Steve Trevor, a spy, deceives his superiors and everyone around him. Sameer, Charlie, and The Chief are initially portrayed as brash, violent and broken. But over time, we learn that they are in fact at odds with their desires. What’s more, the primary plot’s final twist, that Ares is not the cause of all war but rather pushes mankind to embrace its violent nature, highlights the moral gray area. The end result is characters who feel like real people instead of cartoon characters.
1. SUPERHEROES CAN’T STOP WARS
During World War II, comic book writers were sensitive to the battle at hand. Sure, you could write a story where Superman solves the Nazi problem in an afternoon, but that’s insanely disrespectful to what’s actually happening. So, while you got a lot of fun covers out of it, stories never really took place on the front lines of war.
Captain America: The First Avenger didn’t bother too much with the tone. There’s a real feeling like Cap is going to stop the war himself, one way or another, but mainly it’s about adventure. Wonder Woman opted for a more realistic tone. Sure, Diana is out to stop the war by killing Ares, but Steve makes it clear that war doesn’t work like that. Superheroes can’t stop wars, and Wonder Woman doesn’t just explore why that’s a bad idea, it explores why it doesn’t work like that.
Do you think Wonder Woman out-Capped Captain America? Let us know why or why not in the comments!
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