I said I wasn’t going to watch this film. This is less of a review and more of an exorcism of stress and personal demons, bottled over for years of what I feared this movie would be. And what it wouldn’t be.
I had chosen instead to protect my heart from what I was convinced would be another mischaracterized and mistranslated abuse of a character whom I love and admire deeply. DC has not put a live action Batman on screen yet that has been worthy of his legacy. Superman has gone from inspirational to “this is the best we’ve got for now” to homicidal and terrifying. But Wonder Woman…
Wonder Woman is, like her male counterparts, a fictional ideal that is far too perfect to realize because she is a conglomeration greater than the sum of many parts, realized over the course of several generations. She has powered through against all odds to become a woman worth fighting for, a woman worth fighting alongside, a woman who inspires you to want to be a better person. A woman worth losing your heart over.
In 1987, a writer / artist by the name of George Perez rebooted her after the multidimensional crossover that rebooted the DC Universe two years before. By this time, every other DC hero had been rebooted by some of the biggest names in comics at the time. Perez, who had helped to kill Wonder Woman (and many, many other characters) in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, took up the cause to reintroduce her to the world because he felt sorry for her. He felt that she deserved far better than neglect. It was to have been a short run, perhaps a year, long enough for DC to find someone else more fitting for a regular series. His custodianship of her title ran over five years because a strange thing happened: he fell in love.
In 1994, I was reading pretty nearly every DC Comics title on the market. But not Wonder Woman. At that point, DC had been taking some huge risks with their lead characters in a bid to regain readership lost to the newly-formed Image Comics. They broke Batman. They killed Superman. And they got my attention when they removed Diana of Themyscira from the mantle of Wonder Woman. I read it, and I realized there was so much more going on here than I was capable of appreciating. So I went back to the new origin story put in place by George Perez.
And wouldn’t you know it… I fell in love. By the time I was done reading that first storyline, I knew just how special this character was. Over the course of years, I caught up on all there was to know about who she is, where she came from… all of it. She became my favorite character. I say this in spite of the 45+ years of rather schlocky and sordid history that predated the Perez era. I say this in spite of the great many missteps that creative teams have taken since that time, rising to greatness and sinking back down to the depths of what-the-fuckery in alternating turns.
Then a few years ago, they gave us an alternate universe version of the character who was younger, angrier, and was in every way not Wonder Woman. The title — which had been holding on by its fingernails due to poor sales for literally decades — finally gained the attention of the world, and DC realized the answer to their greed was to reboot the entire universe around that badly written character. They rebooted all the characters just as badly. It sold for a time, then they wrote themselves into a corner and rebooted it all again five years later.
I stopped reading those comics just before the first of those two reboots, having watched them destroy my favorite character even beyond the bounds of her earlier, Pre-Crisis incarnations, turning her into something unrecognizable and so very uninspiring. My heart shattered, I realized the only thing I’d ever truly fear was the inevitable day that they’d finally bring her to the big screen, because this was the version I’d likely get.
That day came in short order with Batman v. Superman. I had no desire to see this film until she was revealed to be in it. Fearing the worst, I waded in because curiosity drove me forward. She was the best part of it. But it wasn’t Wonder Woman as I knew her. Wonder Woman doesn’t turn her back on humanity for a century because of World War I. I’ve seen her face wars that were bigger, longer, and far uglier. I’ve seen her do a thousand years of Ragnarok alongside Superman. This new big screen version of “Wonder Woman” is nothing of the kind.
And so I wasn’t going to see this film. Whatever they put into place here, no matter how well it started, it would inevitably explain and lead to her disillusionment in BvS.
The interviews sounded great. The movie was inspired by the 1978 Superman film, it was said. Big words. When the film opened, Wonder Woman had taken the world by storm. Her time had come, everyone said. The rumors started taking hold that, just as Batman had supplanted Superman for #1 hero in the DC pantheon, Wonder Woman was now poised to replace Batman and take the lead. In the mid-90s, I’d have wished anything for that, but I couldn’t believe it would happen because DC declared her to be “unmarketable” to a wider audience. All evidence to the contrary. Today, my fear was that if this were to be true, it’s only because Batman and Superman had both failed to live up to anything worthy, which they’ve now demonstrated in spades. It’s a low benchmark. Wonder Woman deserves to take that title in my eyes even when all three are at their best. I’ve seen her at her best. So you see, I went into this movie with my eyes wide open. My hopes ran high, but my expectations were nearly zero.
I came home from work today and sat in my home office, amongst my collectibles. The above photo is half of one wall, the smallest of the four in this room, and all four walls in this room look pretty much like this one, floor to ceiling. My most prized Wonder Woman collectibles are in a glass display case. Wonder Woman outnumbers and outclasses the Star Wars representation in here, which if you know me and lifetime of collecting habits, you have some idea of what that means. I meditated for a while on these bits of plastic and porcelain and metal. I thought long and hard about that which inspired me to make these purchases over the years. It’s been a long time since I really connected with any of it, being that DC has been systematically destroying my faith in these characters for years now.
Ultimately I decided that, while I don’t need to see any other DC releases from here on because I know exactly what I’ll get, I needed to see this one. It was the only way I’d know for certain if my fears were justified or if maybe — just maybe — Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot managed to find my Amazonian Princess. If they did, that would be more than enough for me. That’s what I told myself.
“I used to want to save the world…”
These are the opening words to Wonder Woman. Right from the start, Diana narrates how she lost her faith in her mission and in mankind. This movie, just as I’d assumed, was all about how she lost her innocence and, with it, her perspective. Not a promising start, but I’m determined to keep an open mind. After 75 years, Diana had gotten her own movie. I wanted more than anything that she should earn it, and with it the respect of the world.
For those who don’t know the plot, I’ll go through it briefly here.
In some ancient war, Ares killed the other gods of Olympus, ultimately being vanquished by Zeus. During that war, the Amazons, who were created to bring peace, were enslaved and rose up to destroy those who would hold them down. Zeus led them to Themyscira, where they’ve trained ever since for the war with Ares they all know is coming.
When Steve Trevor crashes a German plane into the water just off the coast of Themyscira, pursued by German soldiers, Diana rescues him, and the Amazons launch into battle to defend their home. The casualties that ensue give Diana her call to action. Believing the Great War that has erupted across the world to be the work of Ares, Diana is determined to go into Man’s World and end it by ending the God of War himself.
The movie that unfolds from here is one part war film, one part fish out of water story, and one part superhero extravaganza. That sounds like everything a Wonder Woman film should be on the surface. There are little things about this film that I enjoyed. Diana’s enthusiasm for new experiences plays just about as perfectly as I could have hoped. The brighter the picture, the darker the negative. Her defiance against what she sees is wrong in the world comes across less like honest distress and conviction and more like a geek-fueled temper tantrum, completely unworthy of a character of her caliber. Go ahead, ask me how I know. 0.o
I was breathing a sigh of relief in the beginning when Queen Hippolyta told her daughter that Diana had been sculpted from clay and given life by Zeus. That’s not perfect, but it’s far closer than the current comic story of being yet another Zeus rape-baby. Imagine my surprise when it’s revealed that, yeah, she’s yet another Zeus rape-baby. Only this time it wasn’t just lust fueling Zeus. It was the need to (*spoiler*) create a godkiller weapon to use against Ares when the time came. Yay. Only a god can kill a god, and apparently Zeus was too much of a weenie to track down his wayward son and do the job himself, even after Ares slaughtered every other deity on Olympus. So much for justice and strength. Also, this means Queen Hippolyta — guardian of the Lasso of Truth — lied to her little girl about where she came from, so it’s no surprise that Diana lied in turn about training behind her mother’s back and later snuck off to steal her sword and equipment before setting out to fight World War I. There was a time when the concept of Truth meant something to Wonder Woman. Kind of important given that her creator also invented the polygraph lie detector test.
You know, in the Perez origin, all of the other gods gave Diana’s clay form life and gifted her with her abilities in spite of Zeus and Ares, and the effect was far greater sense to the story and far more girl power. Diana also had to win a contest against her fellow Amazons to become Wonder Woman, earning the right to champion her people against Ares. It was poetry befitting a warrior princess. Just saying.
The opening battles featuring the Amazons in their full warrior glory are nothing short of spectacular and beautiful, with the notable exception of the rather frequent and irritating usage of slow-motion photography so we can see more of this strength and beauty. It’s irritating, as I say, but I get it and appreciate it too. Mixed feelings there.
When Diana finally makes it to the war and goes over the trench wall in No Man’s Land, the interviews I’m reading say that Patty Jenkins almost didn’t include this scene because nobody was “getting it,” and thus it was having trouble being made at all. I immediately understood because this is the kind of nonsense I’ve heard for years. It sounded to me like Jenkins had seen what I’d seen, and ultimately it’s that testimony that made me curious enough to watch it in the first place. When that scene unfolds, it’s as glorious and as devastatingly beautiful to watch as the earlier Amazonian fight sequences. It also holds next to zero context because we don’t see just how nasty trench warfare is. When a film like this is guilty of telling us in exposition rather than just showing us, the entire point of film is just gone. This is World War I, people. This is the stuff that inspired Tolkien to create Mordor. The uglier we see it, the more it means when Diana rises out of that trench. What we got on screen was visually gorgeous and contextually empty.
Anyone remember 1984’s Supergirl? That film is nearly unwatchable, the only saving grace being Helen Slater’s ballet-like flying sequences. The fight scenes in Wonder Woman, especially due to the slow-motion, have the exact same kind of effect for me. It is an honor and a privilege to see her fight like this, especially after a generation of waiting. Lynda never got to fight quite like this. The closest I’ve seen so far is Lucy Lawless as Xena. That’s also part of the problem. Wonder Woman isn’t Xena, and Xena isn’t Wonder Woman. More on that in a moment. At this point in the film, Gal Gadot is living up to goddess potential here, and more power to her.
The third act, wherein we get the big Ares fight, is when Gal Gadot becomes Xena. The fight graphics are a completely joyless mess, and yet Diana looks to be in good fighting form in the middle of it. Honestly, she’s about the only thing we can see, which is probably a good thing. Ares is a sad, miserable joke after the versions I’ve read, not unlike the weak version of him from the 2009 animated movie. In both this movie and that animated version, they make the same mistake: Diana actually fights Ares. Because it looks good on film, not because it’s the right move befitting our Amazing Amazon. It’s not that she can’t do it, given the proper mindset. It’s that the fight itself undermines the heart and soul of her character. Diana’s mission is to bring peace to the world. She can’t do this by being a typical superhero who solves problems with her fists. As Sun Tzu points out, a true warrior knows when to fight and when not to fight. In choosing to fight Ares, Diana simply adds her power to his, making him potentially unstoppable. She knows this. Her weapon is her heart. Again, read Perez, and be prepared to be amazed at how a real warrior would solve the Ares situation. Instead, in a move worthy of Xena, she fights Ares, defeats him, and then executes him outright. And this is where my problem lies. In virtually every incarnation of Wonder Woman that actually works on the page, Diana is capable of killing, and will do so in the heat of battle as befitting a warrior. But that’s a last resort. Fighting itself is a last resort, for peace is the Amazonian way. Killing in combat to stop an otherwise unstoppable force is what she’s prepared to do if need be when all other options have failed. But when the opponent is beaten, she’ll stop. Execution is not her style. This sort of nonsense has been done a couple of times in the comics, and it’s been reviled as a low point in her history at every turn. Why they chose to do this on the big screen is beyond me, except maybe to appease a bloodthirsty audience. To my mind, this is as slap-happy stupid as when Superman broke Zod’s neck or when Batman let Joker die. It’s out of character, and it’s offensive.
Then again, it may be completely in character to the current version of Wonder Woman that I don’t read for exactly that reason. I don’t know. I don’t want to know.
I guess what I’m saying is this. I walked into this movie in the full knowledge it wouldn’t be my Wonder Woman. Characters grow, evolve, and move past their older versions to speak to new generations. I don’t respect what this character has become, and the same can be said of her Justice League counterparts, on the page nor on the screen. That’s on me. This Wonder Woman film has moments of greatness that brought a tear to my eye, especially the Amazonian defense of Themyscira. Gal Gadot has brought something to this role that’s very special, but the writing gives her characterization that is unbefitting the actress and the character, making her more of a whiny little brat in certain sequences, not too dissimilar from the alternate teenage version they gave us right before DC rebooted the universe around her. Whiny little brat… those are three words I never want to use again in regards to Wonder Woman. When this movie gets it, it absolutely gets it. It’s better than I expected, not nearly as much as I’d hoped, and nowhere near what it could have been.
These are my personal expectations and fan knowledge getting in the way. I understand the audience reaction to this film. I understand why they think they’re finally getting the Wonder Woman they deserve. And maybe it is the version they deserve. If you don’t know much about the character and want to see a strong woman beat the stuffing out of people and have fun doing it, this movie’s for you. Love what you will, and love it for the right reasons. It just seems to me the general public is rallying around this because they don’t know the character well enough to know her full potential.
Some people out there do, obviously, but not the majority of the filmgoing public. No one can deny she’s come a long way since her original 1940s incarnation. She’s also fallen so much further than people today might want to know. Again. But this is love and heartbreak talking. Someday the powers that be may figure it out. They got so close at times here, and they should be applauded for what they did pull off. They just don’t know her like I do. As with all of the other live action DC films in the past generation, that would require learning who the character is instead reworking her into something she’s not. But seeing as how the film got closer than the last few years of comics, I suppose I should be grateful on some level. I am. It’s just that my gratitude goes where it’s truly earned.
Thank you, George Perez. Battle on, Xena.