Wonder Woman: The Movie We Need Right Now™

Well gang, I finally saw Wonder Woman, the new film from executive producer Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and National Finance Manager for the Donald Trump presidential campaign, and current Secretary of the Treasury in the Trump administration. I was bored stiff, but I will concede that aside from its unconscionable 141-minute running time, it is a serviceable entertainment for children.

Consumer report: of all the films in the across-the-board godawful DC Cinematic Universe (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad), this is the one that feels most like a Marvel Comics movie. It has the mythic/pagan backstory and unfunny fish-out-of-water comedy of Thor, the retro-war setting and burnished look of Captain America, and the flavourlessness of all of them. And like all the Marvel movies, it climaxes with an interminably long, loud, weightless finale involving big explosions and physics-defying action. Every story beat and every character is familiar from other movies.

Much has also been made of the fact that Patty Jenkins is the first woman to direct a wide-release comic book movie since Lexi Alexander made the comparatively modest Punisher: War Zone in 2008. This is a sorry statistic, and I think that if big corporations are going to keep pumping out generic, personality-free garbage that could’ve been directed by an algorithm, women should be able to direct them too. My feed has been full of Very Good People very outraged on behalf of a $150 million DC Comics movie. There was the women-only advance screening at the Alamo Drafthouse that riled up a small pocket of internet dumb-dumbs (for the record, I am in favour of all-women screenings of this film, but it has become a marketing strategy to rile up a tiny minority of idiots on the internet so that everyone can denounce them). There was backlash when the Hollywood Reporter framed an article about director Patty Jenkins with a tweet reading, “Warner Bros. is gambling $150M with a filmmaker whose only prior big-screen credit was an $8M indie.” There was David Edelstein’s review of the film, which is reportedly sexist (I haven’t read it. He’s a descendent of Pauline Kael’s sensual/visceral/instinctive mode of film analysis, so I’m not surprised he’s susceptible to the sight of a woman in a tiny Amazonian costume).

The film is political, in the sense that it contains scenes in which Wonder Woman righteously tells off some crusty old WWI generals, and it features an Indian character who laments that his skin colour has kept him from finding success as an actor. If your idea of art is a rigorously formulaic superhero film in which liberal truisms are stated liturgically, then perhaps you will agree with Indiewire that Wonder Woman deserves Oscar consideration. Some have made a case for the movie’s importance by tweeting pictures of little girls in Wonder Woman costumes gazing at the movie’s poster, with captions like “This is why Wonder Woman matters.” This, I suppose, is a reasonable point: representation is important, and the canon of female superheroes is thin, so I guess it’s nice that small children finally get to see the most famous female superhero in her own movie. As I said, Wonder Woman is a serviceable entertainment for children.

What I have trouble with is grown adults who are greeting the movie as a balm for troubled times. According to an Uproxx article titled “‘Wonder Woman’ Gives Us the Superhero We All Really Need Right Now”:

“This is the movie a lot of us need right now and Wonder Woman is the hero we all kind of need right now: you know, the one who actually makes us feel good. I left feeling like maybe there’s still hope in this world. (It didn’t last long, but still.) We see assholes on television every day – our so-called ‘leaders’ – so it’s nice to enter a world where at least one person wants to do the right thing, even if she’s fictional.”

According to a USA Today article title “This is the superhero movie we need”:

“Diana is genuine in her love for ice cream. She and the film are genuine about everything, which is what makes it feel so special. In a time when the public discourse is fraught and full of misinformation and hatred, watching Wonder Woman fight so hard and so earnestly for love is a profound experience.”

By the film’s end, Wonder Woman has concluded (I’m paraphrasing here) that the human race can be evil, but it can also be good, and she will combat evil with the power of love. I’m all for “spreading love,” but if you think that’s all it’s going to take to counteract the forces of Trumpism—and if you think that what “we really need right now” is Wonder Woman—my advice would be: try opium instead.

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