Wonder Woman

*wasnt feeling the first paragraph so I took it out.

WONDER WOMAN is framed as an interrogation of the simplistic reactionary structures of superhero comic books, anchored in genuine human sentiment. But unlike most of these films which ask complex questions only to answer them in a brutally simple way (I’m looking at you Nolan), Jenkins maintains a delicate dance between the black and white of good and evil and the endless gray of humanity. In this way, it is closer to SPIDER MAN 3 than most other films of this genre—by which I mean: it’s fucking good. This is most evident in the handling of the film’s central dichotomy—a sex/gender binary that is far more complicated than I anticipated, given that even gender scholars fuck this shit up a lot. The island of Themyscira could have easily been a paean to the failed 1970s lesbian separatist ideals based on a deterministic binarism that female/woman is of peace and order and male/man is rape and aggression (the problem being these arguments ignored social conditioning and located character traits in a strict reading of biology and also were violently transphobic). But the film maintains the element of myth and fiction that avoids simple reduction. Themyscira is an unreal place created by the gods. And while Ares provides this contrast to Diana, it is presented as poles that hold up a scaffolding of all of humankind (as seen in the their final 80s fantasy show-down). However, the sexism of British society is absolutely the real-world anchor that complicates the narratives of superheroes. I’m not saying this a feminist film—whatever that is—but a complicated one that lends itself to feminist and queer reading strategies, but just as easily to imperialist ones of purity versus deformity.

These narratives of good versus evil are constantly compromised throughout the film. The gorgeous living painting sequence that tells a black and white myth is later complicated by the very woman who tells it! Diana’s own belief in Ares is shattered not once—but twice! First, when the on-the-nose wicked Bosch is revealed as merely a man and not Ares (with the great switcheroo being the mild-mannered English statesman being the true harbinger of endless war) but also a second time when Ares reveals the nature of humanity as hardly in need of a push from him. This level of moral and mythical complexity is almost never (NEVER) seen in this genre. Batman v. Superman gets close, but the simplicity of a “crazy” bad guy and a giant dumb monster muddles this considerably in the final act (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE BVS).

Jenkins—and to whatever extent Snyder is responsible, if at all—shape this film through human sentiment. This is a genuine film about humanity, not a cynical exploitation of super-combat and War on Terror imagery of brown-skinned analogues and justifications of endless war. This is achieved in a number of ways throughout. One way is the frailty and vulnerability of flesh wrapped up in notions of honor. In typical Great War literary tradition (see Dos Passos, Remarque, Sassoon, Graves) or its visual tradition (Schiele, Dix) the inhumanity of the Great War is in its remoteness. It covers the human form in layers of rubber and metal and khaki. For the first time warfare is waged at great distances and the millions of lives slaughtered are entirely anonymous. Diana emerges from a realm of flesh, of closeness, of touch, and of hand-to-hand combat. But also of loss. The absence of the living is felt by Diana. This is perhaps most palpable in the film’s conclusion where the absence of Trevor is startling in a way that death almost never is in the current articulations of this genre (with the exception of BVS and SPIDER MAN 3).

The humanity of this film is also emphasized in a handful of quiet moments, which are always of intimate bonding. The ship at night. The campfire—“he sees ghosts”. Diana and Trevor talking mid-battle on the watchtower. The small Belgian village. The dancing and the signing and the snow! Oh, if only superhero films had more moments like these. The closest I’ve seen recently are a few moments in LOGAN—brief respite from the forced Cormac McCarthyisms. This is not to suggest that WONDER WOMAN is a radical destabilization of genre tropes, but its close. It’s a great film in part because of the attention to sentiment and because Jenkins has a preternatural eye for movement. God damn the movement!

Also Jenkins deserves praise for making a superhero origin story that’s compelling—perhaps the first of its kind.

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