Going into Wonder Woman, as I occasionally do, I was preparing an introduction or opening ahead of time that would address whatever rumors or controversy happened to be affecting a film at the time of its release which, here in Austin anyway, is this bunch of stupidity. I had some snappy riposte, some witty insult prepared because I absolutely cannot stand this nonsense “Men’s Right’s” movement on the internet, I have nothing but contempt for it and its perpetrators. “Hmm, ….maybe not everything is about me.” – A quote from none of the people protesting a women-only screening of Wonder Woman.
But those thoughts and preparations evaporated from my mind about ten or fifteen minutes into the film for one simple and satisfying reason: I was having too much fun. Who cares what those folks think, the important thing is that DC and Warner Bros. have finally broken their streak of tepid, uninspired, soulless comic book adaptations and discovered the real joy that can be found in these stories and they did it with an unproven lead, an Academy recognized indie director, and a whole lot of moxie.
One of my favorite criticisms of Batman 5 Superman: Decolletage of Jurisprudence that perfectly and effectively cuts to the core problem with that film comes from comic book nerd, podcaster, and occasional filmmaker Kevin Smith, saying, “There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of what these characters are about. It’s almost like Zack Snyder didn’t read a bunch of comics, he read one comic once, and it was The Dark Knight Returns, and his favorite part was the last part where Batman and Superman fight.” Not being a particular fan of DC myself, I was shocked to discover the animated incarnations of the Justice League on Netflix, such as Justice League: War and The Flashpoint Paradox were really fun and entertaining (here’s a lovely moment in the former that is directly lifted by the movie and is not a spoiler). The characters in DC comics actually have personalities and pathos and I wanted to see more. And unlike the Snyder interpretations, I didn’t feel depressed and exhausted after spending time with them. This is where Patty Jenkins, screenwriter Allan Heinberg, and Gal Gadot truly succeed with Wonder Woman: they figured out what makes her tick, what makes her naive optimism incredibly charming without it making her weak or foolish and that, despite being something of a fish out of water, her constitution or agency are in no way affected. She is, in some ways, analogous to Captain America in that way and the same thing I love about him I love about her. In an era of anti-heroes and tragic origin stories it’s incredibly refreshing to find a hero who does the right thing because it’s the right thing, who aren’t essentially trying to save themselves out of some misbegotten guilt complex but rather want to save the world simply because it needs saving.
There is undeniably an undercurrent of inclusiveness running through Wonder Woman with an ethnically diverse cast that stands out anachronistically the same way as Steve Roger’s troupe did in Captain America: The First Avenger but there is also a casual self-awareness to it. The character Sameer (portrayed by Moroccan actor Saïd Taghmaoui) points out to Diana after her observation about gender roles, “I wanted to be an actor but… I am the wrong color (shrug). Everyone is fighting their own battle.” It also feels like the film wanted to say a lot more on the subject but was streamlined for wide release, which is understandable however I am hoping there will be an extended or Director’s cut that explores these characters in more detail. Ironically, although the inclusion of people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds is a nice gesture, without taking the time to flesh them out they end up seeming to be exactly what was trying to be avoid: two dimensional stereotypes. Points for the effort, though.
Now for the bad, because make no mistake, there is bad and it’s all in the third act. Anyone familiar with the other films in the series, at this point, is going be able to precisely mark the line of demarcation where the unique, endearing origin story is awkwardly and forcibly shunted into the rest of the DC Cinematic Universe, where Zach Snyder (thoughts and prayers with his family, by the way, all commentary aside) gets his dumb, clumsy hands all over the story and turns it into a murky, smoky, noisy exercise in smashing CGI actors together in front of a green screen. Don’t get me wrong, the heart and soul remain intact but are largely pushed into the background so that the movie can turn into everything that was dull and visually exhausting about the final battle in BvS:DoJ. There is also a completely nonsensical and unexplained head-fake in the final act that really has no place or necessity that I can come up with other than to simply have a twist of the sake of itself. This doesn’t entirely ruin anything since the whole last act feels so incongruous with the rest of the film anyway, but it does somewhat distract from the real emotional impact of the finale during which someone in the theater was inexplicably chopping onions near or around my vicinity. Which was weird, but hey, that’s what Austin is all about, right.
I’m just kidding, I cried like a little boy whose balloon floated away. Because movie.
Bottom line, what is good about Wonder Woman more than makes up for its deficiencies, it is without a doubt DC’s best extended universe offering and a sign that Warner and company’s course corrections seem to be in the right direction. There is a real concern for me, however, that the Diana, Princess of the Amazons, the sweet, sincere warrior with the mega-watt smile and an indefatigable sense of duty I found in this film is not going to be the Wonder Woman we get in the upcoming Justice League, that she will be replaced by some grizzled, bitter, steely-eyed grimace in a superhero outfit without any of the charm or personality. And if that’s the case, I’ll be severely disappointed. And then I’ll go back and watch Wonder Woman again because there’s this one part where she FLYING KNEE KICKS THIS DUDE THROUGH A DAMN WALL and it’s like KABLOOOOOM and she goes flying out after him and the music is like BWAOOWEDDDY BWAAAAAAAAOOOOW and you’re like, “HELL, YEAH.” Girl power.