I’m just going, to be honest. This review has had me thoroughly derailed for far too long now. I’m exceptionally late to the Wonder Woman party. At this point, it has already been celebrated, put down, quantified, and moved past. I’m not overly satisfied with the thoughts I have to share with you here but in the name of getting the train back on the tracks, let’s talk about the movie. While the DCU does have a few fans, by and large, the movies have been critically and savagely panned generating memes and record-breaking second-weekend falloffs. But Wonder Woman is good.
Really really good. And fun. Where I had begun to suffer a bit of DC Trailer numbness, I find myself looking at the newly Whedonized Justice League movie, with Wonder Woman front and center…and f feeling hope. More than anything though, the movie is important. Important in a way that I think it’s important not to move too quickly past. First the movie. What has been going on with the DCU? The comparison between the MCU and DCU movies is probably inevitable, and much has been made of the DCU movies lacking the same quips and humor as are a major ingredient to the Marvel formula.
That’s a bit over-simplistic I think. It isn’t just joked. The DCU movies have felt pretty joyless in comparison. But I don’t think the fix would have been to adopt the Marvel formula wholesale. We already have enough Marvel movies, and the mid and lower-tier ones over-rely on the charisma and humor formula to their detriment. And there are dark humorless Marvel movies that are still wonderful. The real issue is I think the DC movies have been missing something far more fundamental to the superhero genre. Superheroes are super not simply because of their gadgets and powers but because of their necessary ideologies.
Those ideologies are incredibly significant because they are what distinguish them from their villains. And the most interesting superhero movies in the last 20 years are ones in which the heroes face an ideological attack, as well as a physical one. “You have all these rules and you think they’ll save you.” – “I have only one rule.” Of course, you have outliers to this structure here and there like Deadpool and Watchmen but those are exceptions that actually prove the rule. And without that ideological challenge, it’s difficult for superhero characters to have much of an arc or even be worth watching. That’s one of the many reasons I’ve found the DCU movies difficult to get into so far.
I don’t want to watch a nearly 3-hour movie about Superman having a narcissistic identity crisis that ends in an exhausting, amoral, city leveling, buzzsaw of a climax. Or a movie about a sociopathic murdering Batman on a quest for revenge, that ends in an exhausting, amoral, city leveling, buzzsaw of a climax. Wonder Woman gets it right. Diana, daughter to the queen of the Amazon’s believes that she can wade into the world of men, slay Ares the God of War, and put an end to all suffering for eternity. Her journey throughout the film is as much a challenge to her heroic abilities as it is to her ideological perspective, and all of the elements of the film are neatly structured to play off of her assertions about evil and how the world works.
Fitting then that her journey of understanding occurs in the complicated morass that was the first World War. A war that, for the most part, lacked an actual Big Bad. The story centers around her journey with Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine. Pine is on a mission to stop a madwoman engineering WMD’s and leads Diana into the heart of the conflict. This is a very fun movie top to bottom. Gal Gadot gives a great performance, embodying the look and feel of the character.
She exudes captivating strength, power, and confidence when she must and the innocence and naivete early on that would come from the insulated island birthright that Diana comes from. She and Chris Pine have some dazzling chemistry. Without my irrational dislike of the new Star Trek movies causing me to see red, I found him insanely lovable in this role. Trevor and Diana’s characters also play well with the movie’s internal moral theme. Both are moral individuals. Diana’s code is driven by confident absolutes, while Steve’s is never sure how the battle is going to go, or things are going to turn out. But he perseveres regardless.
In the end, their hearts cross. And I was moved by much of Diana’s journey and realization for incredibly similar reasons to some other content I’ve been reviewing on this channel. And there were two scenes that seemed to me direct homages to Buffy. I would be very surprised if the screenwriters here weren’t fans. The movie has a few issues. Some of the green screens are a little iffy. The movie was far too interesting to lean so heavily on the Zack Snyder style speed ramping. The CG occasionally evoked the Agent Smith burly brawl.
The ending devolves a bit into the sky beam style laser fight cliche of many superhero movies. But you see that’s the thing about a movie that first earns your care. Once that’s done and done well, the rest are details we can forgive. Of course, Wonder Woman might be even more culturally significant than it is just a good movie. At this point, there have been a number of wonderful videos talking about what Wonder Woman means culturally. I will link a few of my favorites in the description. But let’s just go over some statistics. Since 1920, Wikipedia tells me there have been 175 superhero movies.
Now it’d probably be a bit statistically inflammatory to measure from that far back so let’s start with the first one directed by a woman and count from there. Since Rachel Talalay made Tank Girl in 1995, there have been 120 Superhero movies. And of those 120, 2 have been directed by women. 2008’s Punisher War Zone, directed by Lexi Alexander. And Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins. That is a rate of 1.6 percent. There have been a dozen Batman and Superman movies, and not a single Wonder Woman movie until now. And yet, Wonder Woman, while still in theaters at the time of this writing, is the 27th highest domestic grossing movie behind Frozen.
Patty Jenkins has far surpassed the previous opening by a female director for 50 Shades of Grey. And in its opening, Wonder Woman surpassed Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and Iron Man. And Wonder Woman has the highest Rotten Tomato score for a superhero movie since Iron Man and the Dark Knight. Now here’s the thing. None of these statistics are absolute statements as to the quality of the movie. That’s just something you’ll have to judge for yourselves. But what this does point to, is the irrelevance of gender when it comes to making a damn fine action movie. We all have adrenal glands. We all fear danger and thrill at the conquering of it. And there have been artists of both genders throughout the centuries.
While some of the staggeringly low percentage of female directors and women as action leads does have to do with systematic sexism and bigotry I also believe that a great deal of it is due to the staggeringly slow rate at which society actually changes. When any shift in the cultural zeitgeist causes unethical legislation to be struck down, the fabric of society doesn’t just instantly reshape itself. Those laws were a baking mold, shaping the country for decades, and when they’re removed for a long time the actual shape doesn’t change. Because that shape exists in offices and street corners. In people’s hearts and minds. And the movie industry in the United States is 120 years old. Let me give you an example of that slowness.
In the United States, Segregation was abolished in 1954. And in 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law prohibiting discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. 50 years later, programmers at the University of Virginia took current census data and plotted every individual in the US on a map based on their ethnicity. And city by city, you can still see segregation’s legacy. Again, I’m not saying that the complexities of housing, ethnicity, income, and any related idiosyncrasies are in some way equatable to the light that Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, and Patty Jenkins shine on the current state gender in film. I’m simply suggesting that when you remove the legal restrictions actual cultural change still takes place over decades on decades. And that is why Wonder Woman and its success are so important.
Because like it or not both genders need heroes to look up to. Studies have proven that children are more likely to aspire to careers where they SEE people who look like them. On television, there are so many female forensic scientists that there has been an explosion of enrollment in colleges from women who want to study it. But an industry that is producing films directed by women at a rate of 1.9 percent, is going to keep that cultural inertia and maintain the shape of the mold that was removed so long ago. But a movie like Wonder Woman still represents hope. And that is important by itself, especially today.
We live in a baffling time in the States. A time in which the term feminism has been rendered a dirty word, and calling someone a warrior for social justice is considered an insult. The pendulum swings hard when it swings away from you. Ultimately, at one point or another, we all face the same question as Diana, when we’re faced with the baffling way the world actually can work. Why do we fight? And what do we choose?