In the days since Wonder Woman debuted last Friday, the media has portrayed the film’s success as a triumph for women, and it certainly was. Few directors can claim a $100 million opening weekend, and thanks to the DC Universe’s matriarch, Patty Jenkins is now the first woman to join that elite list. In fact, in all time, only 45 movies have had such an immediate impact at the box office, with fewer than forty directors at the helm. Indeed, almost three times as many people have lived on the International Space Station than have created films that break the $100 million opening weekend mark, and that’s a triumph worthy of note for any gender.
But as is so often the case, the social media sphere couldn’t simply say, “oh, that’s neat” and leave well enough alone. Left-leaning people sought out anything critical people had to say about the movie, touting each as the most horrific form of misogyny they’ve ever seen, and angry guys from the opposing view have pointed at women-only screenings as another example of the Left failing to abide by their own politically correct mandates. Here’s the things about all that bickering: who cares? Some people won’t like the movie – it’s got cheesy writing and meanders a bit here and there. And can we be honest guys – did it really bother any of us all that much that some women went to see this movie without us somewhere? I don’t even know where these all-lady showings were, because when I went and bought my ticket on opening night, I didn’t have any trouble finding a screening that would let me in.
Progressives want to attribute the success of this movie to the power and strength of women, and some conservatives want to point out that feminism often comes with an inherent distaste for men (not in all cases, but the stereotype isn’t without anecdotal evidence to support). I have a wildly different theory born out of the part of my brain that forces me to watch Alien for the fiftieth time with a notebook in my hand to note how many times Ridley Scott used “dutch angles” to create a sense of foreboding… I think Wonder Woman may have had a great opening weekend because it’s a good movie.
No, I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate the long-overdue addition of a lady-director to the blockbuster club, nor am I suggesting that this movie didn’t face hurdles born out of our cultural misconceptions about women. I am, however, suggesting that lots of people didn’t buy their movie tickets to make a political statement, or to support someone else’s. They may have just wanted to see a kick-ass super hero movie that takes place on the front lines of World War I.
Wonder Woman opens in the fictional paradise of Themyscira. There, the Amazons lived isolated from man until World War I came spilling onto their shores. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) leading the Germans to the island forced Diana (Wonder Woman) into the fight and launches a well presented “fish out of water” story that was both charming and, at times, extremely poignant in its observations about society. Call me crazy, but I felt the same glee watching Gadot carry her sword around London as I did as a kid, watching Crocodile Dundee carry his knife around New York.
The movie is beautiful, and not just because Gal Gadot is the kind of pretty that can leave you feeling like a little kid on the playground with a crush – the fight scenes, in particular, offer an incredible juxtaposition of feminine grace combined with brutality that gives Wonder Woman and the Amazons a style of fighting uniquely their own. The Amazons don’t look, act, or fight like Jason Bourne or James Bond – they fight like a slow-motion painting of a Beta Fish that knows karate, and it’s one of the coolest and most visually spectacular things I’ve ever seen.
However, the writing is, at times, a bit clunky and although Gal Gadot blew any concerns I had about her acting abilities away with her performance; her cadence occasionally made hiding the clichés in the script harder to do, which may not have been the case with a more seasoned actress. The plot was pretty predictable, with a few notable exceptions, and the characters are all updated versions of the same band of disposable warriors we’ve seen a million times before. In a lot of ways, this movie didn’t break any new ground, it just delivered the same hero story we’ve seen before with a new cast and with new flourishes. That’s not a criticism of Jenkins, mind you. Male directors have made entire careers out of repackaging the same stories with less skill and finesse, just ask Michael Bay as he hurriedly pens the script for Transformers 17, the one where Optimus gets a puppy.
The movie tried to depict the horror of trench warfare in World War I, but because of its broad marketability, it wasn’t able to really pull that off – but we’re still given a strong sense of the horror of war through its effort. Wonder Woman repeatedly breaks from the gender norms of the time, calling out military leadership for the way they seem to make decisions with little regard for the safety of their men – which is a fair observation about many of the tactics employed in the Great War, and is something we can root for from our protagonist independent of concerns about her gender… if the viewer happens to have any.
And for the record, the scene in which she crosses “no man’s land” between the American and German trenches should go down in history as one of the coolest battle scenes in a super hero movie.
Ultimately, Wonder Woman had a whole lot more to say about war than it did about gender. The arc Gadot’s Diana follows throughout the story isn’t about embracing her strength as a woman or standing up to the patriarch, it’s about trying to understand the human capacity for evil, and the grey realities of war that make it difficult to objectively call either side “the good guys.” Wonder Woman learns that the world is an ugly place by fighting her way across Europe, and although one might want to take umbrage at her observations about “the world of man,” they’re difficult to dispute. World War I was a horrific tragedy that cost millions of lives, after all.
So should you watch Wonder Woman because it’s about female empowerment? Sure, if that’s what you’re into. Should you watch it because it’s a fun action movie with incredible fight scenes? Yeah, you won’t be disappointed. How about my misogynist buddies that have the audacity to think girls are pretty? You guys will have a blast too. This movie isn’t a cure-all for what ails society, or a declaration of war on my gender… it’s a flippin’ movie, and a fun one at that.
If the media frenzy that’s so eager to make Wonder Woman more about gender in culture than it is about the movie itself makes it no fun to go and see, I can understand, but as a film lover – my recommendation is to ignore the Facebook debates about safe zones and hurt feelings, and just give it a watch. You might not like it, you might love it. Both are cool, and neither makes you what’s wrong with society.
Images courtesy of Warner Brothers