Note: This roundtable reveals some plot details from the new movie Wonder Woman.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve been waiting for this Wonder Woman movie my entire life. Well, ever since I purchased Wonder Woman #200 with 20 cents from my allowance when I was 8 years old in 1974, my first introduction to Dr. Cyber. Since then, Wonder Woman has been my absolute champion, about the only female comic hero from my youth that wasn’t a spin-off of or a companion to a male hero (like Supergirl, Batgirl, or the Invisible Girl—all girls), or a quasi-romantic adversary (Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Black Cat). Wonder Woman had her own (Greek) mythology, her own race of people, even her own Paradise Island, as well as an invisible plane. In the later ’70s, she became a wholly feminist hero (even though the TV show never seemed to appreciate that aspect), and the perfect icon for my young self to admire.
So has the bar even been placed higher for me to see a movie? Probably not, but my love for WW is so strong that I was also inclined to root for this movie no matter what. When the reviews started trickling in as positive, I felt enormous waves of relief (even as the more sexist ones among them made me want to upchuck). Gal Gadot was practically the only thing I liked about Batman V Superman, a movie I gave the finger to when it finally stopped after about 18 endings, right in front of my children. I only prayed that the spirited warrior I witnessed in that drag of a film would be done justice in her own movie.
And honestly, I believe she was. I’m probably more of a fan of Paradise Island than most people, so I appreciated seeing it in its fleshed-out form (even though the ancient parable of whatever was supposed to happen when a man stepped foot on it appeared to be forgotten). I loved the bold, beautiful Amazons, and while the battle scenes were occasionally cheesy, I couldn’t help but thrill to Robin Wright’s Antiope piercing three men with three arrows at once.
I agree with our Film Club reviewers that the movie did pick up with the arrival of Steve Trevor, of all people. Trevor has never been my favorite in the comics, an oblivious chauvinist for much of the series, even as WW constantly bailed him out of scrapes. He’s also come back to life any number of times. But Pine’s Trevor was excellent. Honestly, Chris Pine had already won me over with his standout SNL hosting performance a few weeks ago, and he was absolutely perfect here. There might have been a bit too much mansplaining for my liking, but Diana was the proverbial fish out of water, so she needed a lot of background. He was appropriately astounded by Diana’s feats of strength as well as a worthy backup for her, and their chemistry was palpable. I’m almost as sad as Diana to see him go (but I also wouldn’t put it past the series to bring him back somehow, as it’s not exactly unprecedented). I also appreciated Dr. Poison as a bit of a nod to WW’s old nemesis Dr. Cyber, complete with mask.
But Gadot herself perfectly embodied the Amazon princess. My favorite part was undoubtedly everyone’s favorite part: Wonder Woman’s first official appearance as she blasts into No Man’s Land. Like many in the theater with me, I cried to see my favorite hero finally personified in warrior form, unable to be stopped by anything. It was enormously gratifying, as were all of her battle scenes (although that last one went on a bit long and got a bit video-game-like).
Even when she wasn’t on the battlefield, though, Gadot’s Diana was never less than commanding, able to infiltrate a room of dignitaries, waltz right into a gala (although there must have been a better way to hide that sword), or lead a group of renegade soldiers like herself. Her fish-out-of-water confusion made her endearing, the only show of vulnerability in a goddess like herself.
And about that goddess reveal: I think I’m okay with it. It departs greatly from the series, but also ties Diana strongly back to that mythology much in the way that George Perez’s groundbreaking series did. If Diana’s goddess powers just make her more badass, I’m all for it. Hey, it works for Thor.
A friend of mine pointed out, though, that Thor wouldn’t have had to come around to love as the ultimate solution like Diana does by the end of this movie. Can you imagine the same of Bruce Wayne, or Tony Stark? But, since it also ties back to the comic-book series, I’ll allow it. The original Diana preached love overall, and only used violence as a last resort. As fun as it was to see Diana get her rage on while battling Lupin/Ares, that’s not who she is. She’s there to save humanity, not destroy it.
So, while I found it a little long and flabby, I’m still happier about this movie than I ever expected to be. It could be because I went with my family. I sat next to my daughter and the friend that she brought with. My son loved the movie too, calling it “amazing,” with no shitty qualifier like “for a female superhero,” because hopefully that’s no longer the world he will inhabit. But throughout the movie, I couldn’t help peeking at my daughter and her friend, who were smiling while looking upward, eyes shining, finally seeing a lead superhero character on screen who reflected them. It’s about goddamn time.
I started to weep multiple times over the course of watching Wonder Woman. The first came relatively early in the film, when I watched young Diana mimic a bunch of incredible Amazons as they train on sunny, idyllic Themyscira. It’s the cinematic version of those little girls looking up to the new Ghostbusters last year or the similar images that have emerged from the Wonder Woman press tour. We sadly do not live on an island ruled by women where role models abound, but on screen there was a whole film that took a little step forward in that regard.
I once again tried to stop myself from welling up to no avail when Wonder Woman, now all grown up, decides to storm into No Man’s Land all on her own with the mission of saving a group of people held by German forces. Depictions of WWI—this one included—tend to focus on the terrifying nature of trench warfare, how it rendered soldiers futile as they rushed to their deaths. I always tend to think of the devastating ending to Blackadder Goes Forth when I see these types of scenes, and how even in the midst of comedy that series demonstrated the cruelty of these killing techniques. So when I saw the image of Diana, alone, fending off a hailstorm of bullets with her innate power, it moved me immeasurably. That light in utter darkness, that desire to fight for those who cannot do so for themselves, is why we turn to superheroes. Given the world we live in now, the sequence probably would have affected me regardless of Diana’s gender, but that only made it more potent. Here I was witnessing a woman attempting to do what she can to fend off men’s stupidity during a period in which men are as stupid as they have ever been. God, doesn’t that feel profound in 2017?
Now, I’m an easy target for tears. Still, Wonder Woman earned them from me. In these moments, it transcended just being another installment in an endless franchise. Sure, there were parts when it did have those pitfalls—specifically the beginning and the end—but the good far outweighed the mediocre. And amid all that I have to credit Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins for not just turning Diana into a symbol. As they portray her, she’s someone who has real internal conflicts and deep emotions. When she says at the conclusion that she believes in love, we know that’s not just some line. I’ll put it simply: I can’t wait to see more of her. (And, while I don’t love the trend of film and television resurrections, I sure hope Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor somehow survived, too.)
At risk of being a real Debbie Downer after Gwen’s and Esther’s glowing praise, I found Wonder Woman to be middling. It’s certainly better than anything else the DC Comics film franchise has released, but that’s a very, very low bar. As someone who’s not especially knowledgeable in that Zack Snyder-verse (I know the majority of what I know just from editing content on this site, not from watching those films), Wonder Woman had far too much 300 for my taste.
What I enjoyed most was seeing little girls in Wonder Woman capes at the screening. Standard superhero origin-story fare as it may be, Wonder Woman does two important things: It ups the representation in the kicking-ass superhero genre for girls and women—it may be a fraction of what boys have long enjoyed, but it’s a start—and it also highlights the exact need for Wonder Woman, both the superhero and the film franchise. In a country with so much toxic masculinity that women-only screenings of a superhero movie cause outrage and bile, where female directors get a tiny percentage of the opportunities that (oftentimes less-talented) male directors get handed, where our president is a self-confessed sexual assaulter, we need more pop culture to make a stand for feminism. Pop culture isn’t going to solve the problems of patriarchy, but it can do its part. So while I can’t applaud the DC Comics franchise for this film—it should have happened a long time ago, and it shouldn’t have taken a Wonder Woman film to get a woman behind the camera of a DC superhero movie—I can at least appreciate that girls now have a big-screen idol to see charging fearlessly into No Man’s Land, deflecting bullets and mowing down bad guys.
I’m somewhere between the pragmatic Caity and the tearful Gwen and Esther. I enjoyed the movie a lot, though I didn’t once shed a tear. I found it refreshing, fun, and charming, while still understanding the limitations of a summer blockbuster. We’re still talking about a babe in a bustier here, though I did try and rationalize that outfit after the fact. Hey, maybe that kind of outfit gives her the best range of motion, right? And maybe she’s a total dish because she’s in great shape, not just because a woman has to be pretty much a knockout to sell a movie these days.
Pessimism aside, I’ll say that I’m pleased as punch that Wonder Woman was as good as it is, and is doing as well as it is. It’ll hopefully make hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars at the global box office, and remind the Hollywood industrial complex once again that, hey, if you make good movies for women and by women, people—and not just women—will actually go see the shit out of them.
I also occupy sort of a middle space when it comes to Wonder Woman as a film. On the plus side, Gal Gadot is fantastic in the role, with a light touch that enables her to play Diana’s seriousness of purpose as comedic in some scenes and heroic in others. I personally didn’t find Diana’s superhero garb overly sexualized; if anything, she was portrayed as the embodiment of grace and athleticism, more of an Olympic athlete (no pun intended) than a sex object. That same glorification of female athletic prowess is what made me tear up during the Amazon training scene, as women of different races and body types performed acts of casual virtuosity unconcerned with impressing anyone but each other. Like many of us here, it made me so happy that the young girls in Wonder Woman capes and T-shirts in the audience could grow up with that image in their imaginations. As a tweet from a woman named Meg that’s been going viral on Twitter puts it:
On the negative side, I think the film suffered from the same shortcomings that are epidemic in contemporary superhero blockbusters—and not just DC movies, either. It’s narratively unfocused and arguably too long, and the battle between Diana and the big bad at the end seemed to be added because that’s what you do in these sorts of movies, not because it was essential to the story Jenkins was trying to tell. But its earnestness and optimism are very welcome after the dour cynicism of the last couple of DCEU films, and even a gloomy color palette in the battle scenes (Snyder’s vision for a DC house style at work, one assumes) can’t diminish Wonder Woman’s spirit.
But I think the biggest overall positive effect that this film will (hopefully) have is in the upward mobility of female filmmakers. This is only the second film by a female director to cost more than $100 million (the first was Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: The Widowmaker), and its $100.5 million opening weekend has set a new record for the biggest opening weekend of all time from a female director. It’s common practice for men who make a couple of well-regarded indies to move into blockbuster filmmaking—Colin Trevorrow, for example, was hired for Jurassic World after directing only one film, 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed—and good for them. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it. But equally talented female directors with similar résumés are usually not even considered for those jobs, thanks to ingrained prejudices that they can’t handle the pressure of a big-budget production. Patty Jenkins just proved them wrong. Only time will tell if the lesson is well learned by studio executives, but for now, I’m choosing to enjoy the moment.