Wonder Woman (2017)
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya
Director of Photography: Matthew Jensen
Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams
Edited by Martin Walsh
Written by Allan Heinberg
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Rating: 2 out of 10
Wonder Woman works on two different levels. On the one hand, it is simply a movie. A superhero movie and a good one. It delivers a better origin story than most of its competition with lots of humor, good action and compelling actors. Gal Gadot in the title role is extremely well cast and delivers a once in a lifetime performance. When did any actor or actress in the past play a superhero so strikingly for the first time (except maybe Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman)? Chris Pine works great too and the diverse cast of supporting actors helps a lot. Apart from an overuse of slow motion, the direction is well done too. On a purely functional level, this is a good movie with some minor flaws (if someone can tell me how exactly the Germans have found Steve in the beginning and where the big battleship disappears to, I’d be happy).
On the other hand, this is more than a movie. It is the first major superhero movie starring a female superhero. Sure, you can say, who cares, it’s just a superhero? You can also say there have been more than enough good movies with female action heroes. So, what’s the big deal? First of all, superheroes have a special meaning in our culture. You can debate whether that’s good or not (but that’s a topic for another time), but the mythology of superheroes cannot be underrated. After dozens of highly successful movies about them, the fact that there is one about a female superhero is important. It helps to balance the scale which Batman, Captain America and Spider-Man have tipped so strongly towards the male side. We are so used to see men leading in all those movies, no matter how well made they are.
Seeing a woman in such a major role feels different. You can enjoy the moments that Black Widow, Gamora and even Wonder Woman in BvS get but it is not the same as seeing a whole movie that is simply about Wonder Woman from beginning to end. She has a male sidekick in Steve Trevor who never has to rescue her from a dangerous situation. In fact, he is more often a damsel in distress himself. When The Force Awakens came out, I was delighted by the idea that my daughters now had a potential role model in Rey but Wonder Woman seems even more influential to me (maybe because my oldest is heavily into superheroes already). Given the high quality and success of the movie, you can be sure that it will have a lasting impact. I cannot overstate how much that means to me.
Many scenes in the movie are clearly steered towards not just making a female superhero movie but an actual feminist superhero movie. I don’t want to repeat all of those moments as they have been discussed heavily by other people already and were even featured in most of the trailers. Wonder Woman telling Steve Trevor that he can’t not tell her what to do and telling his secretary that her job sounds like slavery are just brilliant approaches to feminist ideas which the movie is full of. And it never shies away from its ideology. I especially liked the war room scene because it both establishes how unjustified and simply wrong it is to exclude someone because of their gender and also how important it is to voice your frustration over this institutionalized sexism, as Diana does in that scene. The battle scene, which will be called ‘classic battle scene’ in the near future, encapsulates everything that makes the movie great and is a great piece of filmmaking.
There are some other observations that are somewhat disappointing. The biggest is the popular but terribly pessimistic idea that the biggest problem in the world are humans because they are so flawed. Throughout the movie, Diana insists that humans are great and that it’s Ares who is causing all the war. Everyone tells her she is wrong and in the end the movie follows that line of thinking and makes her accept that, yes, humans are inherently flawed, but because they can love and dance and laugh, there are still worth saving. As mentioned many times before, this ideology is both disheartening and wrong. In a movie that does so many things right and has such a strong message about the power of women, this is a lesser flaw than in other movies, but it is still worth a lot of sighing.
It is especially frustrating because the clash of cultures that happens as Diana enters ‘our’ world gives way to a lot of observation on our culture that justifies Diana’s initial idea that humans are not the problem. Diana doesn’t understand how our culture can turn women into something inferior or how we turn sexuality into something problematic instead of simple pleasure. And when she wonders why Steve lets a watch dictate what he does, there is a hint at the authoritarian structure we force ourselves to live in. But it’s a minor moment and completely discarded when Steve’s watch becomes an object worth saving in the end, thereby diminishing its representation of an oppressive culture. At least we have the moment of Chief Napi mentioning that our culture destroyed his culture (and the fact that there is so much diversity in this blockbuster superhero movie that there is room for that line).
Despite its meddling in common tropes, the movie is a big win in any other aspect and will be considered important for years to come. I personally cannot wait for the moment where my daughter watches it for the first time and that is the highest praise I can imagine.