Wonder Woman is a fun superhero action film that features a woman doing some badass fighting on (mostly) her own terms. It is also a “problematic” film that has enraged some men’s rights activists, and left many journalists considering whether it issues a just corrective to the long list of legitimate grievances foisted upon us by Hollywood, which has pretty much never found a story about a man it couldn’t take more seriously than a story about a woman.
Wonder Woman cannot solve that problem alone, nor can it solve the problem of every sexist film crime in history. But it’s still an entertaining flick that proves you can satisfy the same appetite for violence and warfare and sex, while just slyly subverting who gets to have all the fun doing it. And though it’s almost impossible to remember during these times: you have permission to enjoy the film freely.
Of course, reading the onslaught of hairsplitting reviews out there tackling it from every critical angle, you may feel you can’t really enjoy it all the way. Is it as feminist as it should be? (No.) Did old guy reviewers give more word count to their boners for Gadot instead of focusing on what was actually great about the movie? (Yes.) Did men protest all-female screenings of the film because it threatened their sense of entitlement? (Yes.) Did even slobberingly positive reviews from women who loved it feel the need to point out that Gadot is still a sex symbol, and still at the behest of a man in the movie to some degree, and still naked most of the time? (Yes.) Does she ultimately fight with badassery, but in a way that’s still a bit too ladylike, what with her bows and arrows and her gentle lasso of truth? (Yes.)
Those takes aren’t wrong: Gadot is a looker, and looking is the point. Not a moment goes by in the film where men remark in some form or another about how stunningly attractive and fit and threatening and arousing she is. Yes, she is trained in cut-throat warfare on an all-female paradise island of Amazon warriors (implied lesbian sex — huzzah), and she also meets a hot dude and immediately follows him around and stuff. She dutifully trades her gladiator style costume for some restrictive and modest suffragette duds when told to. She goes in for a critical kill and then backs down because a dude says so. And romance and true love arguably supplant the fight for good and justice as the main driver of the film.
But that’s expected: This is a $150 million film based off a comic book made for the masses. We are a not a nation of avid watchers of challenging, subtitled films that explore thorny issues while people sit around talking. We need, and have always needed, a spoonful of sugar to take our social justice medicine, which is why we can finally talk about, say, trans issues when they come in the form of a celebrity, or gay issues when they come in the form of a celebrity, or race issues when they come in the form of celebrity.
We can’t take anything difficult straight, and we need to be seduced with the familiar to take the change in through the backdoor. It’s the Trojan Anal Horse of progress, and we demand it. Wonder Woman knows this, and yet, for all those tradeoffs, it still succeeds far more than it fails. That it does so while still being wildly entertaining to watch is the reason it should be considered a success—not just as a superhero movie, or as an action movie, or as a feminist movie. But just as a movie.
There’s a saying in journalistic training that all stories are either one of two things: interesting or important. Wonder Woman is both — it’s an important film for female superheroes, who’ve long been left out of the spotlight in blockbuster movies. It’s important for women directors (Patty Jenkins), who’ve long been left out of helming those movies, much less winning awards for them. It’s important for DC Comics, always the bridesmaid to Marvel’s bride.
It’s important because it did all this by appealing to male and female audiences equally, while breaking the record for a female-directed flick at the box office, surpassing Fifty Shades of Grey when it earned $103 million its first weekend, compared to Fifty Shades’ $85 million. That puts it ahead of Iron Man (which is about a dude).
But, it’s interesting because, even if you don’t give a shit about any of that, it’s also just a good, fun action movie that happens to feature a half-God half-woman doing some badass fighting, mostly doing it her way, and controlling her own fate. (Also, the dude—Chris Pine—is arm candy.) There is a scene, for instance, where Diana singlehandedly takes on the German army’s impenetrable force of shooters and turrets — so the Allies can finally advance after not having moved the line so much as an inch in a year — with her shield alone. There’s a scene where she somersaults off a makeshift shield on the backs of four men to catapult into a sniper den. This shouldn’t seem like that big of a deal—action movies are lousy with such sequences—but as a Gen X woman who has been watching movies since birth, it proved that representation is everything. That’s a fancy way of saying that it’s just nice to see a lady have all the fun.
While watching it with my 7-year-old daughter, I realized that this alone would serve as a counter to the glut of male action figures saving the world she’s already seen a steady diet of. I went into the movie aware of all these perceived shortcomings, and watching as a woman and as a mother, I was slightly uneasy about what I was showing her. But when the first epic fight scene erupted, she looked to me, her eyes alight, and mouthed: THIS IS AWESOME. When she saw the Amazons training, she leaned over and said, I like this place where women get to fight like this.
Maybe it’s a shame that she didn’t see the “wokest” version of Wonder Woman possible; the one that might get made 20 years from now. Maybe it’s a shame she got this anesthetized version that tried to have the sexist tropes both ways—nodding to them while gleefully shredding them.
Yet in the end, all I can think is that while she still got the message that women must always be beautiful and perfect alongside their resourcefulness and competence, her takeaway was somehow infinitely more valuable. Women get to fight like this. For a $16 ticket, that alone was worth the price of admission.