Back when it hit theaters, the question of whether or not Wonder Woman was good got tangled up with the whether or not it was important: on the film and director Patty Jenkins’s shoulders was placed the cause of whether or not a woman-driven, woman-directed tentpole franchise could “work” at the box office. It is, I think, an unfair expectation to place on any film that’s essentially the same kind of expensive pixel-camp we see a dozen times a summer, and that itself is a kind of double standard. Before the film was released, I saw a post on social media—and it’s telling of our time that I can’t remember if it was a friend or a meme—that the goal is not for Wonder Woman to come out and be amazing. The goal is for Wonder Woman to come out, suck, and then be followed three weeks later by another femme-centered superhero movie, because that’s the way it works with the boys. That sounds about right to me. It’s strange that building movies on women is still considered a “niche” strategy by so many Hollywood forecasters, especially when Wonder Woman is the second highest grossing film of the year (for the record, the only one currently ahead of it is the testosterone-fest of Beauty and the Beast).
So if a verdict is what you’re looking for, I can say with absolute certainty that Wonder Woman is totally fine. On a cinematic and dramaturgical level, it’s no worse or better than the average tentpole—more focused than a lot of lesser films, less developed and airtight than the better ones. (Given how Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad were disastrously received last year, that makes it definitely a step in the right direction for the nervous masters of the DC Universe). It’s the sort of adventure high on slo-mo fights and fleshed out by stock characters who shout exposition they couldn’t possibly know so that the audience doesn’t fall behind. It doesn’t really try for any surprising turns until late in the game. And if the idea of an explicitly anti-war action flick that racks up a bloodless bodycount sounds contradictory to you, you’re right.
So I’d say that this is the sort of movie that asks you not to think about it—except it’s more the sort of movie that asks you to think about it in a very certain way. It makes sense that most conversations about the film have had to do with the politics of representation, because that’s the movie’s most distinguishing mark, and it knows it. I don’t just mean having scenes where an attractive woman kicks someone’s ass; that’s hardly uncommon, and most times it’s for the men. I mean that Wonder Woman aspires to match its heroine by differentiating itself with a feminine perspective in a sausage-fest environment. The women have established their bonds of sisterhood, motherhood, etc., before a male character is even introduced, and so many of the scenes of Our Heroine meeting the human race for the first time exist solely to get laughs of recognition at the BS women experience in everything from politics to fashion to a thousand little social interactions. (Like, say, fending off a “friendly” hug from a stranger who’s clearly discomfortingly attracted to you). That insistence of perspective, more than any of DC’s hokum about whether mankind is worth saving, is the catharsis. Women like this geeky stuff, too, goddammit, and for the life of me, I’ll never understand why so many male geeks have bristled at the idea. As long as Hollywood is going to try to turn geekery into gold for the foreseeable future, godspeed.
Wonder Women is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon. But Diana really dropped the ball on Hitler.