Article by: Anthony Florez
At the Alamo Drafthouse screenings of Wonder Woman (no, not those screenings), the pre-show entertainment includes an eight minute long montage about the on-screen history of Wonder Woman and it’s easy to understand how fans could be frustrated that it’s taken so long for her to get her own movie.
Besides Lynda Carter’s spectacularly campy yet iconic turn as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, the character has either never really been taken seriously, or been badly misinterpreted in multiple incarnations. The most recent of which was an adaption on NBC by Ally McBeal showrunner David E. Kelley and starred Adrianne Palicki; the show failed to get picked up after a pilot was filmed — an episode that reportedly ended with Wonder Woman, famed symbol of female empowerment and independence, crying herself to sleep because Steve Trevor was engaged to another woman. Very briefly ardent Feminist and frequent writer of strong female characters Joss Whedon wrote a film adaptation back in 2006 before he had the clout and reputation of heading up The Avengers that, according to Joss himself, nobody liked. So for a DC Extended Universe that has been financially soluble but critically maligned, to take a chance with a tent-pole franchise on an indie director who hadn’t made a film in 13 years, and a screenwriter who had at that point only ever written comic books, it would seem like the executives at Warner Bros. finally reached that point where they said, Screw it, what’s the worse that can happen?
Well, the worst thing turned out to be the best film in the DC universe, the highest grossing opening for a female director of all time, and a refreshing, thoroughly entertaining entry into a genre that has long been feeling a sense of fatigue.
The past decade will undoubtedly go down in film history as some of the most financially successful years, although artistically anemic in terms of major studio releases; the catalyst to that was Marvel and Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. Previous to this, superhero films were viewed as comic book properties rather than comic book movies; they tended to be self-important and preachy, and often failed to capture the simple joy and escapism that having super powers should be all about. Now, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe being so all-encompassing and far reaching, that joy has been effectively dissected, reconstructed, and packaged for safe, interlocking consumption — and this is fine. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, “We bought the ticket….billions of dollars worth of tickets, we take the ride.” DC’s efforts to duplicate this success, back to front, with Zack Snyder at the helm, hasn’t quite captured that feeling of fun or that sense of exhilaration… until Wonder Woman. Some combination of Gal Gadot’s magnetic screen presence and Patty Jenkins’ remarkable command of the humor and action sequences launches WW into a dead heat with the best of the Marvel fare, and it’s going to be difficult for Snyder and company to keep pace.
Collectively, there is a slight disparity between critical communities regarding Wonder Woman, and with good reason. It seems as though more mainstream publications are using words like spectacular and revelatory and Best Picture candidate, which is pretty bold and exceptionally unlikely while, let’s say ‘nerdier’, more internet-hardened groups are more commonly using the phrase “good-not-great.” And they are both right in their own way. With regard to the comic-book/superhero genre in general, WW is an absolutely solid entry that captures the feel and fun of the character and dignifies the source material in the way that’s taken far too long and will do wonders (heh) for girls seeing an empowered female character on the big screen for the first time in a long while. However, it also relies on a lot of tried and true things that comic book films have been doing for years now, and without the strong on-screen chemistry between the leads and the uniqueness of having a female lead, it stands up as just a solid movie (obviously not a bad thing.) It is not (whatever Rotten Tomatoes may have you believe and not in a sexist way at all), superior to Logan or The Dark Knight, in my opinion, both of which have a lower overall critical rating.
The higher praise from other media outlets, however, are also correct in their own way in the sense that a good comic book movie is going to please the comic book fanbase, but a movie that becomes a cultural zeitgeist is more than that. When that appeal becomes so much more broad and mainstream it’s like the normies get to see why us geeks get so excited about this stuff. This is a film you could confidently take your mom and a small child to and know everyone is going to have a good time, and that’s truly something special. It also helps that there has been a built in audience for this film since the 1970s. As Kevin Smith put it in his review on YouTube during an advanced screen as the lights went down a woman in the front row shouted, “I’VE BEEN WAITING MY WHOLE LIFE FOR THIS.” This brings to mind the people on the internet protesting the women-only screenings of Wonder Woman and the only response that’s really necessary which is, “Can we let the girls have their own thing for once? They deserve it.”
If Wonder Woman can be faulted, it’s in the third act, which is not essentially the fault of Patty Jenkins or Gal Gadot or Allan Heinberg. The biggest drawback to the film itself is that it’s not its own franchise and is only another stepping stone towards the rushed, convoluted, bloated Justice League movie coming out later this year. As a reminder, of the five principal members, one has an origin story film who then ‘died’ in the sequel, one had about ten minutes of origin story in that sequel, and the others are just… there. And then there’s Wonder Woman. So the action sequences that are balletic and elegant and thrilling in those first two thirds of WW ultimately transition into the Zack Snyder patented CGI slugfest that will correspond aesthetically in the subsequent films, where there are no rules or sense of tension because the question of ‘How hard can these characters keep hitting each other and what effect will it have?’ is answered with ‘Really really hard and no effect at all.’
A sequel to Wonder Woman has already been greenlit with Patty Jenkins being asked to return, so there is some hope that the magic found here can be preserved and repeated, but if not, this was a hell of a start.