Wonder Woman (2017)

*. A tale of two marketing campaigns. Coming out within a year of each other Wonder Woman and Black Panther both expanded the traditional (read: white male) pantheon of superheroes. This was not something movie studios did out of any spirit of equal opportunity. They did it to cash in on untapped demographics, and given the huge box office that followed for both films they were handomely rewarded.
*. Is that cynical? Well, I liked both movies but I didn’t think either stood out as being much better, or any different, from what had become the usual superhero formula. And the marketing really was egregious. Not just the women-only screenings for Wonder Woman, but the United Nations making the heroine their new Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Woman and Girls (a decision that received a fair amount of criticism and which was later dropped).
*. Not all of the attention was positive, but in the spirit of “no publicity is bad publicity” I think it all helped. There were essays on Wonder Woman that debated how feminist a hero she was or what female empowerment was supposed to look like. Was her presentation subversive? Reactionary? All this noise helped sell tickets.
*. The dust has not settled, but I begin with all this talk of marketing and demographics because there really isn’t much else to say about Wonder Woman. I think it got better reviews than it deserved because people were predisposed to like it, not just for its feminist message (and having a woman director) but because they wanted there to finally be a decent DC superhero movie to go up against the Marvel juggernaut.
*. In itself I don’t see where this stands out much from the usual superhero fare. There’s a long, clunky and very dull intro giving the back story. It finally gets Diana off the island though and into the fabric of human history, specifically the battlefields of Europe in the First World War.
*. I’d note at this point some divergences from the comic book. Wonder Woman was a heroine of the Second World War, fighting Nazis in her early years. What’s an even bigger shift, though easier to understand, is the complete abandonment of any of the bondage fantasies the early comic books depicted. In 2014 a book by Jill Lepore titled The Secret History of Wonder Woman went into all this by way of a biography of Wonder Woman’s creator, a really odd cat named William Moulton Marston. Bondage was a major theme throughout Marston’s comics, but here it plays no role at all. Given the new messaging, it isn’t hard to guess why.

*. So it’s not a movie indebted to Marston’s Wonder Woman very much. Instead, what I was reminded the most of was, naturally enough, Marvel’s version of this story. That would be Thor. Thor is another deity who comes to our world and is a stranger in a strange land, leading to intermittent comic bits relating to our silly customs and lifeways. Wonder Woman is basically a female Thor, albeit one bearing a pacifist message.
*. The bad guys here strike me as very weak. Dr. Poison had potential but poor Elena Anaya has almost no lines at all and I couldn’t even remember what happened to her at the end. Danny Huston is wasted as the steroid junky Ludendorff. I won’t give you any spoilers for revealing David Thewlis as Ares since if you trust David Thewlis in any role then I can’t help you. Maybe this film is his comeuppance for treating the ladies so badly in Naked.
*. Ares doesn’t even have any flunkies to help him out (in the comics he had the likes of the Earl of Greed and the Duke of Deception). And his evil scheme is just another plan for destroying humanity in order to save the world, or the universe. He might be Thanos or any one of a dozen such figures who all appeared in blockbuster movies around this time. Note how his version of the apocalypse brings about another green renewal of the planet, transforming the battlefield into a garden.
*. The lone bright spot, and it’s a spotlight, is Gal Gadot. I don’t know if she’s a great actress but she’s a great Wonder Woman. They hit a home run on the casting here and she carries the whole film practically by herself. Of course, the fact that she’s a bombshell and never breaks a sweat or disturbs her perfect make-up in the final fiery battle can be presented as evidence for either side in the “is she or isn’t she a feminist role model” debate.
*. In sum, I really don’t see where it was anything different from other comic book movies. A good-looking, charismatic young star (or two, if you throw in Chris Pine as some beefcake). Lots of CGI. The same old Matrix-style combat slipping in and out of slow motion and suspending figures in mid air. A megalomaniac bad guy out to destroy or conquer the world. A door left open for what’s sure to be a host of sequels.

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