Sorry about the title. My friend Kerey committed me to it in his Introduction to Wonder Woman here on Nerds who Read. He told the whole world that if the movie was good, that was what I was going to call my review. If it wasn’t, the title was going to be “Blunder Woman.”
Over the years, legions of female superhero movies have bombed at the box office. Conventional wisdom in Hollywood was that female superheroes just didn’t sell. Brainy pundits put their intellectual heft behind various theories as to why not; the theories ran the gamut from sexism to sexism. Apparently the audiences were sexist for not going to these movies. But IMHO, the reason the audiences stayed away was because these movies just weren't very good. And that wasn't because the audiences were sexist. It's because the writers were.
They insisted on giving their female heroines what they perceived as female missions: Supergirl (1984) fought a witch. Elektra (2005) babysat. Catwoman (2004) took on an evil manufacturer of cosmetics. It was as if Hollywood were telling women, “Stick to girly things, even if you have superpowers.” I remember the 1976 pilot of the TV show The Bionic Woman, when the title character used her cybernetic implants to help with the cooking. There was a discussion about it in English class the next day, and the teacher, a woman’s libber (as feminists were called in those days) who once gave us an assignment to write letters to companies protesting sexism in advertising, visibly cringed.
Indeed, it’s difficult to discuss female superheroes without getting into feminism and sexism. On the surface, one would expect feminists to embrace strong female characters who defy conventional gender roles. But these characters are usually insanely hot women in impractically revealing costumes (the superheroines, I mean. Not the feminists). If you've read my novel, Full Asylum, then you know I like insanely hot women in impractically revealing costumes. They're fun. But some feminists see it as objectification of women. For example, last year, when the UN named Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot as its Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, the decision was met with a firestorm of protest. A petition, signed by 44,000 people, complained that, “Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent warrior woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character's current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit with an American flag motif and knee high boots --the epitome of a pin-up girl.” (They say that like it’s a bad thing :-) ) To complicate matters, Gal Gadot is from Israel, a country not exactly popular with the globalist crowd that hangs out at 1st Avenue and 42nd Street. Within two months of beginning her assignment, the UN fired her.
Suffice to say, to make a movie in this genre is a hazardous endeavor, rife with pitfalls. Filmmakers must contend with producers skeptical about seeing a return on their investment and leftists eager to pounce on any misstep. Surprisingly, it’s DC Comics who figured out the formula for success.
I say surprisingly because ever since 2005’s Batman Begins, DC movies have been positively grim. They forgot to make them fun. The lone exception was last year’s Suicide Squad. It was fun. It sucked in every other respect, but it was fun.
With Wonder Woman, however, DC got it right. It's very simple: The secret to making a good female superhero movie is to make a good superhero movie. Which means a well-constructed plot, great characters, memorable lines, a mission worthy of the heroine’s powers, and fun.
Wonder Woman nailed it in every category.
The movie starts with her origins, and in this the writers stuck closely to the well-known source material, which Kerey covered in his primer. Born and raised on the Amazon island of Themyscira, Diana’s life changes when an American Military Intelligence officer, Steve Trevor, washes up on one of the island’s beautiful white sand beaches. Albeit in the case of this movie, he doesn’t so much wash up as is dragged up by Diana, after his plane bursts through Themyscira’s cloaking shield and plunges into the ocean. Diana then rescues him from the watery depths. Safely on the beach, he finally comes to and sees Diana looking down at him, with a face without pain, fear, or guilt. So basically it’s the Dagny Taggart meets John Galt scene in Atlas Shrugged, with the genders reversed. And wet clothes.
Steve is reluctant to reveal his mission, but when the Amazons bind him with the Lasso of Truth, he spills everything. Beyond the shores of Themyscira, the world is at war. World War I, to be precise. Steve has just learned that Germany plans to deploy a horrific chemical weapon. He was on his way to England to warn the Allies when enemy aircraft shot him down. Diana is convinced that the Amazons’ nemesis Ares, God of War, is behind this global conflict. The only way to bring peace to the planet is to kill him. Thus she has a mission that’s worthy of her: nothing less than ending the War to End All Wars. And while that’s not exactly Steve’s mission (he thinks a little smaller and is understandably skeptical of the whole God of War angle), their missions are parallel and so they sail off to England together on a rickety old ship that just happens to be sitting around tied up to a Themysciran wharf.
What follows is one part Splash, as Diana adapts to the “modern” world of 1918, and three parts Captain America as our heroine leads a DC version of Cap’s Howling Commandos into combat. That’s a little weird actually, because supposedly one of the reasons for switching the venue from World War II to World War I was to avoid similarities to Captain America. Add one part Return of the Jedi as Diana…well, I won’t give away that part. What I will say is that it’s all very well-paced. Whenever I started to think, “They could use an action scene about now,” WHAM! There’d be an action scene.
The character of Diana is well-fleshed out (pun intended): a fierce and confident warrior, but a thoughtful one, ever mindful of the consequences of her actions.
Steve is less cerebral, but quite likable. He is adept at shifting into various personae in his capacity as a spy. In one scene, at a party, he disguises himself as a German and conducts an expert seduction of Dr. Maru, the inventor of the German weapon, only to blow it when Diana walks into the room wearing a stunning evening gown. Indeed, Steve’s inability to ever know what to make of Diana is comical, but in an endearing way, not an awkward 1970’s I didn’t expect a girl to be strong way. Definitely good chemistry between them. One of the funniest scenes is when they are in close quarters on the sailing ship, Diana wants Steve to sleep with her (or, at least, next to her), and gentleman Steve figures he better find out how much she understands about sex. It turns out she understands a great deal—from reading, at least—and has concluded that males are necessary for procreation but have little to contribute to pleasure. It’s a funny line that doubles as a sop for the feminists. (My right-of-center friends will be happy to know that the movie contains very few such sops. There's one other line about women in the cabinet room and that's about it. No girls-against-the-boys, no men-are-stupid.)
Much as I liked Steve and Diana, it was the secondary characters who were my favorites—Steve’s feisty secretary Etta Candy; Sameer, the con man with a thousand alter egos; Charlie, the sniper who couldn’t shoot; and The Chief, a native-American war profiteer. One of my few criticisms of the movie was that after it introduces us to these great characters, it doesn't give them much to do.
My other criticism (not counting some nits) was the movie’s occasional flirtations with being profound. It didn’t really work. For example, in a modern-day epilogue, Diana concludes, after decades of studying mankind in war and in peace, that what the world needs now is love, sweet love. Thank you, Burt Bacharach. A tired, cliché, oversimplified analysis of what ails us. And completely unnecessary.
Because Wonder Woman does just fine on its own without tacking on a pseudo-deep message. It’s a great, great movie: exciting, visually gorgeous (and not just because of Gal Gadot), and did I mention fun? When I saw it last night, and the end credits began to roll, something rare happened: the audience applauded. Okay, I confess. I started it. But I wasn’t the one who yelled, “Woohoo!” Judging from reports of women-only showings selling out in Austin, TX, and some positive buzz on websites like Ms. Magazine and Bustle, it’s possible that when the reviews are in, it’ll turn out that even feminists like it. If DC keeps this up, Cinema Sins may have to stop counting “DC Comics” as a sin.
Want more Amazon women? Check out the novel Full Asylum by Nerds who Read editor-in-chief Mike Isenberg. Available, appropriately, at Amazon.com.
Photo credit: Indian Express
Photo credit: Indian Express