This morning I woke up to an acquaintance on Facebook lamenting the fact that the new Wonder Woman film did indeed signal equality among the sexes because now a woman had made a superhero movie as terrible as any of the ones made by men. The post made me laugh a little, cause I get it – after seeing Wonder Woman last night, I can confidently say that it won’t be making any of my end of year top 10 lists. But that remark, along with David Edelstein’s equally negative and borderline leering review, also made me want to defend the movie and its immense importance.
Part of my problem with my Facebook friend’s assessment of Wonder Woman as “terrible” is that I feel like it should be graded on a curve – not because it has a female star and director, but because it falls under the sphere of this great comics universe in the DC/Marvel era which will rule our movie theaters forever and ever without end amen. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not a big comic book/superhero person – so the endless parade of Thors, what with his hammers and Lokis, Men, both Super and Spider, justice leagues and infinity wars, isn’t something I get that excited about. Instead I look for the ones that rise above – above the formulaic plot, the too many bad guys and the iffy dialogue so many of them suffer from. The first Iron Man did that. Logan did that. And Wonder Woman – it partly does that. It has its moments where the chemistry, the humor and the heart, all help it transcend the usual slog from origin story to saving the world. So it’s not a terrible comic book movie – I’d say for a non-comics fan, it’s a slightly above average comic book movie. And because it has a female star and director, because of the way it presents women as powerful and capable, because of the way it defies gender stereotypes, it’s also so much more.
We can now say that Wonder Woman is a critical and commercial success – it’s sitting at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and will bring in over $100 million on its opening weekend. So some backlash to all the praise and glowing celebrity endorsements is inevitable. And being someone who likes to think critically about film, I do understand that backlash – for me Wonder Woman was far from perfect. It was a passable film with some exceptionally beautiful moments. But apart from any critique about its structure, writing or special effects, there is a reason that this movie will be remembered and remarked upon for its significance, and that reason can be summed up in one word: representation, representation, representation.
Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjinani has a fantastic twitter thread about why the most recent Star Wars film, Rogue One, meant so much to him. In one tweet he writes, “For the 1st time I really felt the importance of representation. I felt like a kid watching this movie. I felt like I could do anything.” And that sentiment, for him about seeing a racially diverse cast in a sci-fi movie, is the same way I felt about seeing Gal Gadot kick so much ass as Wonder Woman. I truly didn’t expect to get emotional going in to the film, but when I walked in to the theater to see a middle school aged girl getting her mom to take her picture in front of the screen, ticket proudly displayed, I was suddenly overcome with happiness and hope. To think that little girls watching would have new role models for strength and empathy, whom they could identify directly with,and that the little boys sitting next to them would see an example of men and women working as equal counterparts in the fight for good in the world, that was powerful for me. And that young girl’s excitement matters more than critical nitpicking – it’s a power that proves that this movie is a game-changer for generations to come.