Everyone is talking about Wonder Woman, but nobody is saying what I’m thinking. Before going any further here, you should read a review or two from a source you trust, and also read some of the many excellent and contentious think-pieces (not reviews, not suppliers of Rotten Tomatoes scores, but think-pieces) that have sprung up in reaction to the film. All caught up? Great. Here’s ten little things that none of the reviews or think-pieces said:
1) Without taking anything away from Jenkins’ outstanding film, is it possible that one reason that Wonder Woman had such a smashy opening was the fact that Wonder Woman was by far (by far) the most famous, legendary superhero who had not yet had his or her movie? We were already far enough down the C-list to see movie merchandise for Iron Fist, Ant Man, Groot and Rocket Raccoon; I’d say there was some pent-up demand not only amongst fans of strong women, but also amongst fans of superheroes full stop.
2) The first-culmination scene that ends with Wonder Woman on top of the church, the new steeple that everyone applauds: yes. Yes. Yes. You could practically hear the people chanting “Diana.” By the way, is the name “Diana” tragically underused in movies? The movie seemed roughly 10% more original than most movies just by having people regularly shout “Diana.” I see other movies, and I hear “Rose” and “Kim” and “Mia” and “Emma” all the time. More three-syllable names please! (On the other hand, no one in the movie ever says “Wonder Woman” – hmmm.)
3) Gal Gadot’s thighs deserve some kind of award for supporting work. They radiated power and badassery. As Imogen West-Knights put it, “Her thigh muscles ripple as she jumps.” They also seemed almost impossibly long, right? I read on the internet that Gadot is the same height as Charlize Theron, but I don’t remember any thighs running down Fury Road like those. (Of course, Hollywood loves to sing the double-entendre virtues of “legs” when it comes to female-centered films; female viewers are more likely to wait for word of mouth than to run out on opening weekend, and thus a female-centered big movie is likely to earn at least 3x as much money as it made on its opening weekend. Legs, baby, legs.)
4) That said, Wonder Woman had way too many awkward conversations about attractiveness, as Christina Cauterucci wrote in Slate. I mean, sure, but really? “What is that thing?” allowed to linger about five seconds as a dick joke until it’s revealed to be a misdirect about Steve’s watch? (Although I did like the follow-up double-entendre “You let that little thing tell you what to do?”) Did we need to hear the words “Above average” again and again? How many more bystander comments about Diana’s looks? In 60 one-hour episodes of the old cheesy TV show, I’m not sure Steve and Diana’s physical appearances arose in conversation that many times. While I’m on about the show, was Diana’s personal spin into a Pretty Woman montage supposed to be a wink and a nudge to a “Wonder Woman” who would spin in circles when she wanted to change clothes? Just seemed weird that the movie would take this detour to Mr. Selfridge’s, and without even seeing Jeremy Piven. We got it: Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are easy on the eyes. Moving on.
(My next four points can be lumped together as Wow, Lazy Screenwriting Alerts! But #filmtwitter can’t live-tweet like we do while watching TV, so indulge me…)
5) In training, Diana locks her bracelets together and creates a sudden energy-shock wave that knocks down many of her fellow Amazons. Ten minutes later, Germans are storming her beach, shooting at these fellow Amazons. Why not put her bracelets together again? Okay, maybe she wasn’t real sure about her newfound power. Why not do it later when she was charging the German battle lines? Why not do it a lot more times before her big fight with Ares? Just saying.
6) Languages are sort of strange in this movie. On the one hand Diana and Sameer trade Spanish and Chinese banter – you know, in actual Spanish and actual Chinese. On the other hand, none of the Germans ever speak German, even when they’re alone together (which is fairly often). That might not matter, except that Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) sets the entire plot in motion by eavesdropping on a conversation inside a German military base (where he learns of some secret plans for deadly weapons). Now, I know the movie never says that Trevor doesn’t speak German, so I know what some of you are going to say: obviously it’s just one of those movies, like Gladiator or Rosewater, where we know the actors are speaking English as a substitute for the characters speaking another language. Right. But in your long history of viewing films like that, did you ever see one where the lead character also demonstrated her ability to speak five or six actual languages? Can you think of one other film like that? I’ll sit here and wait.
7) Speaking of language, several times in the movie, characters, especially Steve, say “intel,” as in “I have to get this intel back to HQ.” Five seconds of googling any dictionary site will tell you that the term was first coined in the 1960s, two generations after World War I. Soldiers back then would have said “info” or “information.” I mean, at that point, why call it The Great War when you could just call it “World War I”? Why not make that ice cream cone that Diana enjoys into Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough? Just saying (again).
8) A little more seriously (and feministly, if that’s a word), how is it that Diana has to ask about marriage, men in general, and what a watch is, but when someone brings up taking a picture, she casually says “you won’t need to take a photo, you’ll be there”? So she’s read Thucydides and she’s read about photography but she skipped all the books about men and watches (which were invented centuries before cameras)? This wouldn’t have crossed my mind had it not been for the framing device (oo, pun) of the photo Bruce Wayne sends to Diana in our present day. The movie positions the 1918-taken photo of Diana and her entourage into a Big Deal (and 1, it should be a big deal, because it forces its sexist audience to deal with the notion that a woman led a battalion a century ago in sepia-toned times, and 2, the quoted line is foreshadowing), so it should stop undermining itself by being so sloppy with Diana’s dialogue.
9) Several of my linked pieces make the point that this is the first female-led superhero movie not named Catwoman or Elektra. Sure. But they elide the point that we were prepped for this by the Hunger Games and Divergent franchises and Fury Road and the last two Star Wars movies. (I mean it, google “Wonder Woman Hunger Games”! Almost nobody made the connection!) Maybe we’re just relieved after last summer’s internet-flavored Ghostbusters debacle. I’ll be happier when one of these superheroines looks more like Dr. Strange, with some grey around the temples. Maybe appear a little bit like Diana’s mentor, Antiope, except (SPOILER)…uh, in her case, not going to happen. I want Pam Grier as a superhero. Current Pam Grier. Maybe I’m asking too much.
10) I agree with the lion’s share of reviews that the best part of the film were the early scenes on Paradise Island, which packed more sunshine into 30 minutes than seen in the previous seven hours of the D.C. Extended Universe (that’s Warner Bros.’ official term for the films that include Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad). I agree that it’s hard to imagine a blockbuster that is also entirely a feminist critique of blockbusters, and this seems pretty good, even if it does fall into certain third-act trappings (and, less noted, the “chosen-person sword”/phallic symbol thing). What I liked was that after the story settled into Europe, Diana’s femininity walked a fine line between necessary and unnecessary to the plot. Just when you think you’re in a story something like Gravity or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where you could pretty much substitute out the female lead for a male one and barely change any of the lines, suddenly you’re getting “Mother was right, you don’t deserve me,” and “You don’t tell me what to do,” and love for babies and other reminders that, no, this ain’t a role that a man could have easily slipped into. And that makes her position as the film’s alpha that much more powerful. Instead of love being a sort-of-default choice (we’ve got Scarlett Johanssen as the kick-ass Black Widow, hm, I guess we better make sure she flirts with Iron Man in his movie, with Captain America in his movie, and with the Hulk and Hawkeye in the Avengers movies), Diana’s love for Steve winds up being a bold choice, almost (almost) putting Diana above Ellen Ripley and Clarice Starling in that she’s strong enough to be vulnerable enough to love a partner. Basically, I was impressed.