So, Wonder Woman is out. We here at Flixist are big fans, but I will admit to being a bit more lukewarm than many of my colleagues here (as well as most of my social circle). But quality aside, it’s an important movie, and there’s been some tension in the way I’ve discussed the film, trying to divorce what I see as fundamental flaws in its actual presentation from the fact that it is a big deal in and of itself.
And that tension is the subject of the latest entry in our Flixist Discusses series, where resident hipster genius Hubert Vigilla and I get into that and any number of other semi-related things. As per usual, we went a bit long, so it’s been broken up into two parts. This first part is shorter and focuses largely on the DC Extended Universe in general. Tomorrow, we’ll post part two, which delves a little bit deeper into issues surrounding gender, race, and all of that fun stuff.
So, without further ado:
Alec: Before we really get into the issue at hand, I want to establish my DC cred (or lack thereof). I liked Man of Steel and thought Batman v Superman was bad but worth seeing in IMAX and that the Director’s Cut was actually decent, if still infuriatingly stupid. Also, Suicide Squad was awful.
My first introduction to Wonder Woman as a character came in Batman v Superman and I came into this knowing pretty much nothing about her. If this movie changes her up (as I imagine it does), I couldn’t tell you how. Crucially, I also don’t care.
I think that, by this point, the modern DCEU has staked out its underlying theme: Do heroes have a place in the world? While Marvel films seem more-or-less content to have them around in some capacity, DC questions their existence (in that sense, it has more in common with Fox’s Marvel films than Disney’s). Do I think it succeeds? Not really, at least most of the time, but I do think it’s a more interesting question than Marvel’s.
Prior to getting into the specific merits of Wonder Woman, its place in DC’s canon, and — perhaps most crucially — its place in American culture in 2017, I wanted to get your opinion on the DCEU and also whether you agree with my assessment of the story it’s trying (and often failing) to tell.
Hubert: I agree that the DCEU movies ask what place heroes have in the world. That’s the crux of Man of Steel (which I didn’t care for), and the film has a pretty dark, non-committal answer to the question. Rather than a moral beacon, the Superman in Man of Steel is unsure of his purpose and constantly wrestles with self-doubt. After saving a bus full of drowning children, Clark’s dad isn’t proud that his son did the right thing. He essentially says, “Maybe you should have let those kids die to protect yourself.” That’s one effed-up moral compass, Pa Kent–you standing near a magnet? And then Pa Kent commits suicide by tornado in front of his wife and kid to prove a point. Jesus, Jonathan, how messed up was your dad?
So Superman is this glum hero who seems burdened by his need to do the right thing rather than fueled by it. Meanwhile, Batman is a homicidal psychopath who’s really into CrossFit. That’s not my preferred iteration of the character. It’s pretty striking that the Batman and Superman of the DCEU are these really damaged people that are still working through their traumas. Worse, they find no sense of meaning or purpose in their heroism. They remind me of the grim-and-gritty Batman and Superman analogs from the comics of the 1990s.
And yeah, Suicide Squad sucked on toast.
I feel like Wonder Woman is a break from that grimness and glumness. She’s this optimistic, idealistic, confident hero who wants to help people because it’s the right thing to do. Full stop. She would save a bus full of drowning children and take them out for ice cream after that. That’s the kind of heroism I think of when I think of Superman, but it’ll take the DCEU Superman years of therapy to undo the BS his dad gave him.
Alec: I think it’s true that Wonder Woman is a radically different take on a superhero than what Zack Snyder has thus far done with the DCEU. Wisecrack did a really interesting video recently about the philosophical failures of Batman v Superman, focusing largely on the fact that Batman is the objectivist ideal that Snyder loves (and Frank Miller portrayed in The Dark Knight Returns) but so, in many ways, is Superman. Wonder Woman is very much not that. She is, it seems, in the wrong universe.
(I think this is furthered by the fact that she is literally a god, which complicates the whole Superman-as-god-kinda-but-not-really thing that has been the crux of the franchise thus far.)
That said, even if the hero doesn’t feel like a natural fit, her movie does. It’s more colorful and quippier, to be sure, but it’s still rather brutal. Marvel dealt with the idea of civilian casualties in Captain America: Civil War, but they didn’t show Scarlet Witch walking through the building she destroyed like they made Diana walk through the mustard gas’d village. (I could imagine a truly horrific R-rated cut of this movie.)
Beyond that, the over-reliance on CGI, particularly towards the end, felt very DC, particularly since their movies have objectively worse effects than do Marvel’s, and I found Wonder Woman‘s effects to be consistently and seriously lacking. Which brings us, ultimately, to what this whole thing is about, because I feel weird criticizing this movie, because the movie is genuinely important. It is the first $100 million+ blockbuster to be directed by a woman and first film in either comic cinematic universe to center on a woman. It has made a ton of money, and I’m ecstatic for that, because apparently there was a question about whether or not women could make movies that people would want to see. And now that question is (or should be) settled firmly in the “Yes” camp.
But my feelings are complicated greatly by the fact that I think the movie is pretty good but not the brilliant, revolutionary thing that so many folks in my Facebook feed appear to have experienced. Because I think this movie is important historically, but I don’t think history will be kind to it.
Hubert: I liked the movie a lot more than you did, but I also sense that a lot of the love people have for Wonder Woman is rooted in its historical significance and/or personal significance. A couple of my friends have talked about seeing the movie with their daughters, or with their nieces and young cousins, and the sense of pride they felt watching it. Other friends talk about the confidence the movie instilled in them as women, which is something they haven’t felt from other movies. On my way to the theater to see Wonder Woman, I saw some parents take a picture of their young daughter striking a Wonder Woman-y pose in front of the Wonder Woman poster; I immediately thought of my niece, who isn’t even a year old, and what she might think of the movie when she eventually sees it. Conversely, I have a couple friends who outright refuse to see the movie because of Gal Gadot’s service in the IDF and her support of Israel.
People may love (or hate) a movie for what it represents at the moment rather than what the movie is in and of itself. But I think that’s fine. It’s natural, even. It’s unavoidable. I think that’s how people encounter art and consume entertainment in their daily lives. No movie is ever a movie in and of itself. There’s the work, there’s the viewer and what they bring to the work, and there’s the social/political/historical context in which the viewer encounters the work. We can’t step outside of world history or personal history, and neither can a work of art or entertainment. My reaction to a movie may cool over time, and that’s natural because we change our minds, the hype dies down, and maybe in our reassessment we realize we aren’t so hot on the thing we once really liked. The reverse is true as well. There have been plenty of movies I’ve come to love later when I’m in a different point in my life and can see the work differently.
This may be weird to say, but I think Get Out and Wonder Woman occupy a similar space this year in terms of their social/historical significance and how that affects people’s individual love for the film. I like Get Out a lot and think it’s a well made horror-comedy with remarkable insights about race, though I don’t think it’s the masterpiece other people think it is. But that’s fine. As an assimilated Filipino guy who grew up in the suburbs, my personal connection to Get Out isn’t anything like the personal connection of my Haitian friend who’s married to a white woman.
I guess I’m saying that we never experience art in an ahistorical, non-biographical social vacuum. I guess I’m also saying there may be a similar cultural conversation surrounding Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther come February 2018.
[Check back tomorrow for Part 2!]