Wonder Woman may be the best Warner Bros./ DC film since The Dark Knight. That said, I’m not actually sure it’s very… good.
I saw the film last week so this blog is rather late (nothing new there ha ha) but I have to admit it’s at least partly because I left the cinema feeling more confused than anything else by what I’d just seen. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and the more I did, the more complicated it seemed. If you haven’t seen it yet, there may be spoilers below, so, fair warning, now let’s dive in.
Straight off the bat(man), let me say that Gal Gadot’s performance in this is fantastic. She’s straight-up the best part of the DC Movieverse at the moment, she was the best character in the awful mess that was Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Impossibly Long Titles and while this film absolutely has problems she is not one of them, and I cannot understand the various other journalists and bloggers giving her a hard time about it. Same goes for Patty Jenkins, the director, who I am prepared to believe did a great job under difficult circumstances working for a studio known for meddling in productions.
But a lead actor does not an entire film cast make, and Gadot feels sadly isolated for the bulk of the film. Other strong female roles are present, but inconsistent, and one – Robin Wright’s celebrated General Antiope – does not get nearly enough screentime before being relegated to the Thomas and Martha Wayne Institute for Heroic Motivations. Similarly, Lucy Davis’ role as Etta Candy would have been a great opportunity to have another well-developed female character (this time in the role of comic relief) but the film backs away from including her, forcing her into the background for the majority of the second and third acts. This could be excused for plot reasons, except I’ve seen Suicide Squad so I’m disinclined to believe anyone at Warner Bros. knows what a good plot looks like.
All in all it felt like excellent female characters were being buried so that the film could include more of the production-line male action heroes we’ve seen a million times – something I would have thought this film wanted to avoid like the plague. The non-Etta Candy comic relief team of Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) wander around the second half of the film in a confused mess of cultural stereotypes and poorly thought out jokes (The Scotsman! He’s funny, because he’s drunk! Because he… has… PTSD?), but they’re really just background noise to the BLARING KLAXON of Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, the most boringly-named man in the world.
Since it’s apparently impossible to have a conversation about women or feminism without making sure men feel included somewhere, let’s talk about Steve. I want to make it clear I’m discussing the character portrayed in the film here, because even though I am aware he’s based on a character in the comic books, I haven’t read them so I can only talk about the interpretation I have actually seen. And that interpretation is… Exactly what you expect when you see a scruffy-haired white dude called Steve in a film. Even down to the casting, Steve Trevor is dull, dull, dull and yet we have to sit through two hours of listening to him when we could be watching more of Wonder Woman beating up German soldiers. I don’t really want to be mean to Chris Pine here, I didn’t get the sense that he was phoning it in – I’m sure he had a great time on set – but man, this guy is about as good an action star as an actual plank of pine would be. Has anyone here seen the film of “Into the Woods”? He’s GREAT in that! He’s really funny! Why can’t he just go and do comedies or more musicals or something instead of forcing us to watch him shouting his way through lines about love and duty and DC’s fatalistic bullshit about the human condition?
And the problem is that Steve takes time away from this landmark film about probably the best-known female superhero in the world to make us watch… Steve. Even here, when I could be talking about how DC’s artistic direction could take pointers from Jenkins’ version of Themyscira, or how I actually find their action sequences with their over-reliance on slow motion pretty insufferable (we get it Zac, 300 was fun, can we see something else now?), or how David Thewlis as Ares is actually a perfect visualisation of the fact that sexism and violence are entrenched in Old White Male conservatism (seriously, a middle-aged, skinny god of war was spot on and I loved it) or how it’s ridiculous that people have complained about how the female characters are somehow not sexualised enough (really?) when the film practically opens with a shot of a model cartwheeling off a horse so we can see her leather underwear (… really?), no, when I could be talking about all of that and the intrinsic bullshit that women in media have to go through just to get the opportunity to make these movies, INSTEAD I’m talking about Steve Trevor.
AND THAT’S THE POINT. Wonder Woman is not a great film. I’m not even sure if it’s objectively a GOOD film. But I don’t know, and I can’t know, because this movie HAS to succeed so Hollywood can finally realise that action movies with female leads, female directors, female writers and casts are worth their time and money. I just hate that in order to do that, Wonder Woman had to compromise by filling up a bunch of screen time with the most generic white male in modern cinema. This movie is like the polar opposite of Mad Max: Fury Road’s fantastic bait-and-switch by promising Tom Hardy as Mad Max, then giving us the real protagonist as Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. Except that Mad Max and George Miller were the subjects of fan fury because of that, while Wonder Woman has been heaped with praise to the extent that I left the cinema wondering if I’d actually seen the same movie as everyone else.
I want Wonder Woman to succeed, but I don’t necessarily want more movies like it. I want female-driven superhero films. I can’t wait for Captain Marvel, and hell, I’m even down to see the Ocean’s 11 remake. I’d love to see a stronger female voice in filmmaking. I just don’t want it to be written by Zac Snyder.