The poorly named War to End All War ravaged Europe and changed the world in ways we still feel to this day. It turned idyllic landscapes dotted with picturesque villages and family orchards into a carnage strewn churning pile of mud, blood, death and destruction. Imagine in this context a vision of beauty, angelic in appearance, and armed with only sword and shield, climbing out of a trench to do battle with machine guns and toxic gas .
The moment is iconic. The birth of this hero resonates. It’s the scene in all the trailers, and it makes the point clear; in the world ruined by man, Wonder Woman has arrived. Hope has returned. And that narrative works in so many ways.
This is an important movie. Let me type that in a different way to get the point across- this movie is important!
Geek Stranger Broadcasting Note- I’m sure all one of our long time viewers have noticed how quiet it’s been in these parts for the last year. What can I say? I joke that Batman v Superman “broke” the website, and now I’m equally pleased to joke that Wonder Woman has breathed new life into it. I’m sure a cross country move, a historic presidential election, a Pokémon Go addiction, and just plain life had nothing to do with it… we’ll stick with the jokes here at Geek Stranger, because denial is our stock and trade. Anyway, with a new commitment to the site, I proudly present all you need to know about Wonder Woman that you’ve probably read somewhere else in the two weeks since it’s been out. In my review of Legend of Tarzan, I implied that all hopes for the DCEU were riding on Margot Robbie. Well, I was right about it being a woman, anyway. Spoiler level- Medium lite.
In the same way that Richard Donner’s Superman made you believe a man could fly, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman will make you believe a woman could end war- or at least be a successful protagonist and hold her own in an otherwise male dominated genre. Put differently, as you’ve noticed if you have any nerd friends on social media who happen to be women, the movie f&$#ing inspires! Absolutely, and positively, in every sense. It takes all the complaints anyone made about a woman led project and renders them as obsolete as the cavalry charge after 1914.
The movie is an empowering feature for women and young girls as you’d expect, but it also gives permission to young boys to ‘like’ women super heroes. Without a doubt, for every grown woman who cried tears of joy seeing Gal Gadot let down her hair and cross the No-Man’s land, and every little girl who will now never know a world where Wonder Woman doesn’t save the world on the big screen, there’s a little boy who is going to ask for a red t-shirt with a golden WW logo on it. This little boy is certainly going to track one down at the next convention he attends. Note to vendors- stock up in larger men’s sizes now.
Oh, and the movie has also saves the struggling DC Extended Universe. Despite the necessary tie-ins to Batman v Superman, Jenkins wisely ignores in style and substance everything that’s come before it beyond what you’d expect with its turn of the twentieth century period setting.
While fully half the DCEU suffers under the misconception that dark is somehow more realistic, and therefore better, and Ayer’s Suicide Squad may have suffered from too many hands in the pot, Jenkins vision has embraced the comic origin and utterly positive life affirming nature of the character Diana Prince. And the tonal shift pays off exponentially. To the point where the pattern, as observed by Geek Stranger friend Nathan, that each DC movie is better than the previous, turns from a straight line into a serious upward curve. No pressure though, Whedon and Justice League. Just learn the lessons of staying true to the spirit of the character, even if you change everything else about them. All you need will flow from that unshakable foundation.
So, having placed the movie in its proper historical and cultural context, how was it really? Once you strip away that no movie will ever be as important to an entire demographic until next year’s Black Panther, does it hold up?
Without a doubt. It was better than decent. It was fun and uplifting. But with the rose colored glasses off, it admittedly wasn’t perfect, although I’d argue that isn’t a big deal.
Wonder Woman follows the typical origin story pattern to a T, playing it mostly safe beyond its core risk of daring to have a lead without a penis, and borders on formulaic. In the same way that Marvel recycled Iron Man’s origin for Doctor Strange, Jenkins recycles the beats of every successful origin story for Diana-three acts, from childhood to hero, from naive to experienced, from weak to strong.
But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing or a criticism. In modern internet parlance, formulas and tropes are considered negatives. But they’re formulas and tropes because they work. There’s a reason your mother still makes great aunt Clementine’s meatloaf exactly to the recipe- because it’s freaking delicious that way! It’s the same reason Wonder Woman is trending at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
So maybe Jenkins missed an opportunity to do something original, or experimental, or just plain dangerous. But maybe also, when you’ve got half the nerd population counting on you, and probably most of Warner Bros’ executives, you play it safe. I can’t fault her for that, and fully expect when and if she’s brought on for the sequel set in contemporary times that we’ll see just what she can do when the only expectation on her shoulders will be to tell a great story.
In this way, while I hate making the obvious Marvel comparison, it fits, Wonder Woman is very much like Captain America: The First Avenger. That movie also followed a basic premise and formula while being set in a world war, and just like that franchise really opened up creatively with its sequel, so I’m confident will Wonder Woman. And just for side by side comparisons, I feel Wonder Woman did it better.
But all in all, there’s only nitpicking to be had with this movie. Sure, there’s the journey in a night of about 3000 miles by sail, or a poorly edited scene where Diana is weaponless then suddenly lands from an unseen jump armed, where I suppose her enemy just casually waited twiddling his thumbs, or a missing chapter or two in the origins of the Amazons. And there’s one particular ability of hers that, even after two viewings, I’m not sure if she possesses or not. Maybe? Sometimes? And the twists such as they were, really weren’t.
Most of what I considered mistakes, as I mentally listed them in the theater, were explained later on. Every time I thought to myself “gotcha!” they smugly proved me wrong ten minutes later.
Wonder Woman does everything it has to do, and Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot make it look easy in the process. While I didn’t have the trepidation about the casting of the Israeli actress that so many, mostly men, seemed to, I’ll also admit she wasn’t my first choice. But just as casting the guy from the musical Oklahoma as Wolverine convinced me I’m crap at casting, Wonder Woman convinced me that a couple of decades hasn’t improved the skill in me. She’s innocent when she needs to be, and fierce as hell when she’s a mind to. Even though you know young Diana is going to be disappointed by the world of men, her idealism comes through the screen and brightens a movie set among one of the bloodiest conflicts in history.
This is also where hiring a woman as director pays off doubly. After arriving in London, Diana is walking the streets and unabashedly expresses joy at the sight of a baby. It’s all the evidence you need that this is a fully realized woman as envisioned by women. Yes, it’s the first baby Diana’s ever seen, but even if it were the thousandth, my anecdotal experiences in the workplace would suggest women never stop getting excited about babies. It’s just one of many little flourishes that popped up in the movie. A stranger’s baby is never going to make Thor excited like that. Too often the idea of a strong woman to men means having the sensibilities of a man, but with boobs. Wonder Woman has opened the door to a cinematic world where women can be strong while being women.
Without a doubt, this is still very much visually the male idolized version of a woman as hero, with bare arms, upper legs, and shoulders, and hair or no hair in all the right places, but lets not knock it for what it is on the path to getting, say, the Super Secretary Etta movie. Between Gal Gadot and Robin Wright’s spectacular turn as general Antiope, DC’s Amazons are here to stay, praise Zeus!
Of course, Wonder Woman‘s cast is rounded out with the diverse assortment of men that any good adventure might entail, from a smuggling Native American, to a conning Middle Easterner, to a thickly accented Scotsman. Oh, and also Chris Pine.
To give credit where it’s due, Pine does a remarkable job stepping back into a secondary role in the film, simultaneously playing straight man-love interest to Diana and comedic relief-side kick. He introduce her to the modern world while recognizing her place in it as “more than”. With the exception of his secretary, we don’t know how Steve treats women, but if his reaction to Diana and the Amazons is any indication, his world is changed for the better by her arrival.
If I were to level any charges of sexism or reverse sexism (is that a thing?) at the film, it would be with regards to Steve, however. While Diana steps into the traditional role of the super hero man, Steve is able to maintain his own agency. Pepper Potts or Lois Lane would never make the choices Steve did without charge of a different and entirely more negative trope. Thus, Wonder Woman is more evolved in that respect as well, by having Steve maintain all the important ‘manliness’ required by the masses while still playing second fiddle to a woman.
Still, the final battle between good and evil and the awesomeness displayed by Diana has me wondering if she held back against Doomsday. Seriously, anyone watching this movie may come out thinking she could have taken the villain from Batman v Superman all by her lonesome. I’d put good money on it.
So yeah, go see Wonder Woman if you haven’t. Or if you have, see it a third time to recapture the momentous feeling- it doesn’t fade after multiple viewings! And if not in Justice League, maybe by the now all but inevitable sequel, someone will actually say the words “Wonder. Woman.” on screen somewhere. It’s not that hard DC, I promise!
Is Wonder Woman making a play for best movie of the year? Does it live up to the hype, or is it just remarkable for being successful? Are men complaining about an all women viewing missing the point (yes)? Let the Geek Stranger Score decide!
There it is. Jenkins is as effective tapping into the geek community as Wonder Woman is at using her lasso and arm bands- which is to say, very. For many, this movie will be the real beginning of the DCEU, for others it’ll be the movie that makes them go see Justice League. For that, Warner Bros should give thanks, and the rest of us can sit back and enjoy a solidly constructed flick that makes this world ever so slightly a better place.
Wonder Woman on the Web: