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Review: Wonder Woman – “Joss Whedon and Buffy spoil me.”

ABOUT: Not to be confused with Wonder Woman [1974 film] or Wonder Woman [2009 film].

Wonder Woman is a 2017 American superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. It is the fourth instalment in the DC Extended Universe. The film is directed by Patty Jenkins, with a screenplay by Allan Heinberg and a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs. Gal Gadot stars as the titular character with Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielson and Elena Anaya in supporting roles.

Wonder Woman is the first live action theatrical film starring the character, following her first live-action theatrical appearance in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In the film, after American pilot Steve Trevor crashes offshore of the island of Themyscira and tells Diana Prince about World War I. Diana leaves her home to try to stop the war.

Development for the film was on-going since 1996, with Jenkins signing on to direct in 2015. Principal photography began on November 21, 2015, with filming taking place in the United Kingdom, France and Italy before wrapping up on May 19, 2016. Additional filming took place in November 2016.

Wonder Woman premiered in Shanghai on May 15, 2017, and was released in the United States on June 2, 2017, in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D. It received positive reviews from critics, with many praising Gadot and Pine’s performances and has grossed $223 million worldwide.[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

I REALLY wanted to like this film. It is extremely important to have female heroes and I wanted my review to flatten the haters – the misogynists. I feel the way I felt about Black Swan – I felt alone in my condemnation of the lead. I may be a bit too hardcore in my expectation for the representation of strong female characters. Joss Whedon and Buffy [Buffy the Vampire Slayer ] spoil me.

You know, Joss Whedon was originally going to write and direct. Well, that didn’t happen. 🙁 The script he wrote in 2006 can be read here. One thing to remember: This was before the DC or Marvel movie universes were around. Gal Gadot hadn’t been cast and we didn’t have the character introduced in Batman v. Superman.

I wanted a different script, a different director. I wanted a badass Wonder Woman who would give the middle finger to stereotypes for women in film. Instead, the box contains our lead – she does not break free. She is in fact quite typical.

“I can’t take on the history of 50 percent of the population just because I’m a woman,” says Jenkins.

Look, this is not a bad film, it is just ordinary. If you buy into the cultural system, you’ll be rewarded. I felt like I was watching one long apology for female strength. How can Wonder Woman be less intimidating to her love interest? She can own her sexuality but she has to be seen as inexperienced. He can take the lead here. Her eyes glaze over when they dance together, she comments about how close they are – her desire for him feels orchestrated – she is just where he wants her to be. Everything is too soft and pouty. I longed for Spike and Buffy.

“That softness and beauty and strength to me is the critical combination, and Gal has it in spades, and she doesn’t have to try all that hard to do it,” says Gadot’s co-star Chris Pine. “So my job was very easy. I got to come to work, fall in love with her, make her laugh as much as I could, flirt and act like a jackass. I had a lot of fun.”

Yes, she fights the bad guys – with perfect hair and lip-gloss. It’s cool to be girly but her to be looked-at-ness has a very long tradition in film theory and frankly, I‘m tired of it. If she were sexy, strong and less malleable that would be interesting. I value ‘difference.’

In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I say; “Difference is something that most people avoid. Fitting in becomes a goal. Personally, I think difference is valuable. It is the “same” that irks me. Variation is not the same as inconsistency. One can be incredibly multi-tonal and consistent.” (Shiller, p. 23.)

So, in my opinion, the film machine wants her to conform. There is lots of talk about marriage, children and love. Would a male superhero be contextualized by these elements? These aspects are fine, in general, but honestly…

Act I was nice. Amazons training to fight. Still too septic. Yeah, they live in a Utopia but surely there is a way to make them more grimy or sweaty or something. Princess Buttercup [William Goldman’s The Princess Bride] is now an Amazon warrior as General Antiope, sister of Queen Hippolyta and aunt to young Diana. Better and ironical.

I was worried about how my disapproval might be received. There is a thin line here because it is so important that there is a female superhero but the representation of our female superhero has to bust out of the cultural chains that weigh her down. On Rotten Tomatoes Leah Pickett from the Chicago Reader articulates how I feel, “Jenkins tries not only to include men on Wonder Woman’s side but also to make male viewers feel better about a woman saving them.” Phew. I’m NOT alone here.

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