Thoughts on Wonder Woman

I wrote this on Facebook, but it sparked enough interest that I thought I should repost it here. 


Some superheroes, like Thor, Green Lantern, or Superman, have alternate worlds built into their origin. This can be very difficult to depict in a movie, as there’s little time to conjure a fully realized realm, and make it feel authentic, before they must move on from the origin story and into the main conflict.

As with everything else in the Green Lantern movie, its depiction of the Lanterns’ homeworld Oa failed spectacularly. Man of Steel’s Krypton was filled with visual spectacle, but felt as deep as a puddle, a collection of random images and ideas thrown together without meaning. Even Thor’s Asgard felt brassy and cheap, as authentic as a Las Vegas version of Rome. Nothing but a background.

By contrast, Wonder Woman’s Themyscira looks and feels both glorious and lived in. Sets and costumes are rich in authentic detail, but don’t overshadow the characters or story. It feels not like a background, but a place. One gets the sense that a dozen stories dwell under the surface of each character, each stone. I wanted to spend a whole movie on that island, exploring its history, its corners, the way it works. I would watch a whole series about that army of warrior women.

Unfortunately, I felt the film peaked there. While the story of Diana’s journey to the Great War’s front was compelling, it wasn’t nearly as well crafted as what had come before. It got bogged down in unnecessary intrigue, and reached its climax not nearly prepared to do battle with the themes it was attempting to confront.

Wonder Woman tries to address humanity’s capacity for violence. It asks whether the existence of war means we should all be condemned. But the film doesn’t make a strong case against the idea of war. Instead, it pits Diana against the god of war in a battle to the death. We experience her disillusionment with humanity, and then her rediscovery of compassion, crammed between special effects in a bombastic action set piece.  After a few muddled speeches about humanity having virtues that redeem our violent nature, the movie’s ultimate solution to endless war is “be stronger than the bad guy.” And I’m just sick and tired of that moral.

As with Man of Steel, there is much talk of heroes creating a shining example. But the only example Diana presents is a capacity for violence. One almost gets the impression that the filmmakers can’t think of anything else for all-powerful being to do. Personally, I think we can do better. What about compassion? What about forgiveness? Diana seems repulsed by the horror and degradation war brings. Yet her methods of solving problems are no different. And she completely fails to reflect on that.

That said, I reveled in Diana’s displays of strength and bravery. And I wanted her to leave the film’s world as a legend. But as with mainstream comics and many Marvel films, this movie felt like it was pulling its punches, saving the good stuff for films that are a long way off. Wonder Woman could have ended with the Themysciran army coming to Diana’s aid, crowning the movie with an epic battle between the German army and the Amazons. It could have ended with Diana stopping the fight, rather than killing more soldiers. With her publicly delivering the much talked of but never seen Armistice treaty, thus ending the war. Defeating Ares not with an explosive death-scream, but with peace.

But I reckon it was mandated to end in a battle with a big mean bad-guy. And with no one remembering Diana except three sidekicks we’ll never meet again. Because the studio wants to save her for the upcoming “important” film. In effect, I spent full price on a film ticket, but got an incomplete story, because I’m supposed to come back and see the fruition of the Wonder Woman story in Dawn of Justice.

Chris Nolan had a policy with his Batman films not to save anything for the next movie. They carry their ideas all the way, trusting themselves to think up something new for next time. By contrast, films like Iron Man 2 and 3, Thor 2, and Avengers 2 all feel like running in place, because the characters are the same at the end as they were at the beginning. They feel skippable.

The frustrating thing about Wonder Woman is that it is a brilliant movie in a sub-par universe, which treats it as a footnote. Even set in a different time period, protected by magical mists, the DC cinematic universe drags on Wonder Woman like kudzu, leeching its life to feed an ever-winding, incoherent super-narrative. We may never understand why such a good movie had such a bad ending, but I’d lay odds that it was mandated to set up Wonder Woman’s god-killing death-scream to kill a Big Bad in an upcoming “more important” film. And it will be just as empty of meaning as it was in this one.

Had this movie been allowed to be its own thing, free from the burden of serving inferior films, it might have been undiluted greatness, instead of half a masterpiece, half a compromised mess.