Movie Review: Wonder Woman

I finally watched Wonder Woman.

I did not think it was very good?

What were you all talking about.

I don’t really need to introduce Wonder Woman, because everyone was talking about it. It’s a superhero movie. It stars a woman, which is a positive change. It’s set in World War I.

And it really isn’t much more than action.

I think at this point it’s clear superhero movies aren’t my thing, and for that matter neither are most action movies. So it’s not a surprise that I didn’t come away with a heartfelt love for this movie. But even given that, it doesn’t seem to offer anything that makes it stand out from any other action movie, except that the main character’s a woman. The plot is straightforward. The jokes are the obvious ones. And you know Wonder Woman’s eventually going to come out on top.

One thing the movie did do well was Steve’s ragtag band of allies: a drunkard Scottish sniper with PTSD, a conscripted Moroccan spy…and most importantly, a Blackfoot smuggler known as “Chief”. When Diana (Wonder Woman) questions this dishonorable trade, Chief points out that his people have nothing…thanks to Steve’s people, white Americans. There is a hit-Diana-over-the-head message in this movie about humans being the real cause of war and evil, but then underneath that is the same message about shades of gray and doing what is right, aimed at us.

Unfortunately, that’s not really good enough. I think part of the problem is Wonder Woman’s backstory: her discovery that the world does not quite follow fairy tale logic is kind of necessary, but makes for a fairly simple story. I could have used something with more nuance.

(The other side of the problem may be that I’ve been watching RWBY, which has deliberately over-the-top action scenes maximizing for “awesome”. Even though it’s totally different from realistic feature-length superhero movies, it means I’d already had my action fix.)

There were smaller things I was unhappy about as well, one of them being Dr. Maru’s disfigurement. Her mask comes off in a dramatic reveal as emphasis to show how evil she really is, and, um, we literally did a whole musical about how that’s unwarranted prejudice.1 She’s a chemist; it wouldn’t really be surprising to have had a lab accident even if she weren’t working on horrible ways to kill people. That whole bit in particular was just clunky, even if her earlier experiments were chilling.

I guess I’ll leave it here. You probably already know most people liked the movie, so chances are you’ll like it too, even if I didn’t. And I’ll recognize that for people who do like the genre it’s important to have women in leading roles. But it’s a superhero action movie; don’t expect anything more.

Gal Gadot

Let me start this postscript with a personal note.

I don’t usually look for representation myself in a movie; you see white people everywhere in American films. Sure, I could be a little more specific, but being Jewish isn’t a big part of my own identity. (Seeing San Francisco show up in Big Hero 6 and Inside Out was way more fun.) And yet there was a moment in Wonder Woman where it clicked that Gadot was actually Jewish, like me and my family.

And that moment also crystallized the flip side of the coin: Gadot is not just Jewish but Israeli, and has been on record supporting Israel’s position against Palestine. And people have been unhappy with the casting decision and her being lauded because of that. I’m not going to get into either the controversy or the actual conflict, but I do see how a Palestinian could look at Wonder Woman and think, “Look, there goes this superhero who’s promised to defend the world…except my home. And the rest of the world is happy to let her be the face of justice.”

Of course this issue comes up plenty, in various forms. It ought to be even less controversial to censure Louis CK, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen for their recorded sexual assault, but somehow that’s not universal either. (Separate the artist from their work? Okay, but what if that means giving them a bigger platform?)

Is this the same? Well, for a Palestinian, maybe it is. But then again, let’s say a white, non-Jewish American woman played the lead. Would it be so surprising if an Iraqi viewer then had a similar reaction?

I don’t really have a takeaway here. As far as the acting goes, I think Gadot did a good job as Diana (my complaints about the story aside). But I wanted to mention this in case you hadn’t heard of it, because it’s important to talk about. After all, representation matters.

  1. If you don’t know what musical I’m talking about, revealing it would be a spoiler. ↩︎