Recently, I saw Wonder Woman, the new entry in the D.C. Expanded Universe, and a movie that literally everyone has been talking about. I really enjoyed it, especially in comparison to the DCEU’s previous films, so much so that I was worried for a moment that maybe all of my praise was coming exclusively from that. After some careful deliberation, however, I came to the conclusion that I did like Wonder Woman on its own merits. I don’t intend to write about the film itself at length (there’s tons of women out there who are covering the main talking points better than I ever could), so instead I wanted to talk about Wonder Woman in relation to something that scares me: expectations.
Wonder Woman’s greatest ally and its greatest enemy in the run up to its release were the incredibly high expectations for it. On the one hand, the hype machine gave it an easier time attracting new viewers, and more support for films led and directed by women is always a great thing. On the other hand, the hype machine also produced a lot of people who were absolutely adamant that Wonder Woman would be the most perfect, most amazing, “most feminist” blockbuster movie ever and would singlehandedly revolutionize the film world in favor of stronger efforts for inclusivity of women directors and quality control, so much so that they’d keep clinging to that idea despite any opposition.
Here’s the thing: Wonder Woman isn’t perfect. And that’s okay.
I think we, as a culture, have become so accustomed to the idea that we can pin all our hopes or fears on one specific tangible event or thing or person and then praise it or blame it as necessary. I know I’m definitely not immune to this: I have a pretty strong tendency to blame Ryan Murphy for everything that was wrong with Glee, despite the fact that Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan are probably responsible for a lot of that as well. The fact of the matter is that wider cultural movements, especially within the medium of film, aren’t easily attributable back to just one thing or person. Despite the fact that film has been around since close to the beginning of last century, it is still very much a developing medium, with a fluid language and many territories and ideas still unbreached. It’s also a highly collaborative medium, not just on individual projects, but industry-wide as well. One person’s success on a project can enable others towards brilliant work, either by inspiration or providing assistance and funding, and those two things can and do happen simultaneously with one another. The point is, all of these things combined make up a cultural revolution, not one film alone.
Wonder Woman alone was never going to be the revolution everyone wanted; one film cannot perfectly embody a political ideology or rescue a stagnant industry. That said, I completely understand the disappointment I’ve seen many people express with the film; it’s pretty flawed. The lack of prominent women of color, or queer women beyond subtext, or fat women, is frankly inexcusable. The third act touches on some very interesting ideas about human nature and violence, but the clichéd battle sequence with a floaty CG villain (while not nearly as bad as some other examples) undermines those somewhat. It probably would have been more interesting had the film stuck closer to the concept of all Greek gods being fickle jerks rather than superimposing Christian concepts onto Greek mythology by making Zeus The Bestest Guy Ever. Unfortunately, the pressure on the film has made it so that all of these legitimate criticisms get lost in the mix, drowned out by people all but claiming that Wonder Woman will bring about world peace by its very existence, because if it isn’t perfect, then that means it was all for naught and we might as well just give up and let the Trumpreich’s tanks roll over us. That’s not a fair conclusion, either!
I’m not really in love with the idea of accepting only perfection or nothing at all, because it’s a fruitless endeavor. I mean, insisting that teeny tiny increments of change is the only way anything will ever change is bullshit and mostly tends to encourage complacency from more powerful people, and telling the masses that they need to “wait their turns.” We’re all tired of waiting; we’ve been waiting far too long for real, tangible change in both activist causes and in the art world. We can do better. We need to do better. Even so, I don’t see why Wonder Woman, in its imperfections, can’t be a step towards something better: the film’s success has already proven once again that women-directed films can be highly successful and that women are a powerful force in movie-going. We just need to treat it as that: a step, not the entire journey.
There’s multiple big-budget studio films with women of color in major roles coming up (Marvel’s Black Panther and Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time in particular, with the former directed by a Black man, Ryan Coogler, and the latter being directed by a Black woman, Ava DuVernay), and the people who have so vocally lent their support to Wonder Woman would do well to give those films their due and their dollars as well. And who knows, those films may not be perfect, either, but they’ll still in their own way further the push for inclusion and acknowledgement of progressive ideologies.