This post contains spoilers. Big, serious spoilers.
There is a strange alchemy whereby, if you pile up enough cliches, one on top of another, at some point they begin to become convincing, even moving. Once banal, they take on the air of inevitable truths once they reach critical mass.
At least, I think that’s what happens. It’s the only way that I can explain how it would be that I enjoyed ‘Wonder Woman’ so much.
I did not expect that I would see ‘Wonder Woman’, much less like it – it didn’t appeal to me at all. Firstly, Wonder Woman herself has always struck me as lame, in the same way that Superman is lame: too strong, too good, too generic. Secondly, the obviousness of the feminism irritates me. It felt patronizing, as though the creators of the comic books realized that they needed a female hero and then put no effort into it: ‘She’s, uh, gonna be great. She’s strong, very strong, and hot, obviously. She’s wonderful: Wonderful Woman. No, Wonder Woman! Her power is…that she’s wonderful!’ It’s as though they didn’t think that women would notice that she was a completely unfleshed-out character.
But I ended up going with a friend to see ‘Wonder Woman’ last night, and, despite the fact that all my objections are completely accurate, I loved it.
For those who are unfamiliar, ‘Wonder Woman’ is Diana. She is an Amazon; in fact, she is the daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. She was born on the island of Themyscira, which has been enchanted by Zeus until such a time when the Amazons will emerge to destroy Ares, the God of War.
Themyscira is where we meet Diana, when she is a young girl being raised by a group of warrior women with messy braids, all gorgeous and aging extremely gracefully. Diana longs to be a warrior like her mother; she is determined to personally wage war against Ares, and in particular to wield the sword which her mother calls the God-Killer, the only weapon which can slay him. Her mother is reluctant to train her, and her mother and aunt are prone to ominous whispering about how Diana is different from the other Amazons, and any competent moviegoer will realize immediately that it is Diana herself who is the God-Killer and that she is destined to go mano a mano with Ares.
One day, a plane carrying Chris Pine will puncture the protective bubble around Themyscira. Diana will save his life, and learn about World War I, the foretold war to end all wars, and she will determine to leave the island, find Ares, and save mankind.
And now the cliches will come fast and furious: Diana will be shocked by the wickedness of men, the wantonness with which they destroy each other. She will literally fall in love with the first man she sees, and then despair even of his goodness. She will meet Ares, but he will not be the man she expected (but, if you’ve ever seen a movie before, he will be exactly who you expect). She will nearly give in to rage and join Ares in his decision to rid the world of men. She will realize, at the last moment, that there is still good in man, and she will vow to protect mankind. Her love will be sacrificed in service of this realization.
It is almost perfectly formulaic – there are even the requisite comic sidekicks! Then why was it so enjoyable? I’m not sure I know the answer, but I have a few ideas:
- The banter is remarkably good. The conversations in particular between Diana and her male co-star are excellent. They are funny and awkward and convincing and charming they carry a lot of the movie.
- The fight scenes are cheesily magnificent. There are lots of shots of muscular women in gladiatorial outfits making improbable moves with archaic weapons, and it’s really fun to watch.
- Formula is relaxing. When you know exactly what’s going to happen, you can be present in the action in a movie in a way which facilitates a certain kind of appreciation. You can let the movie carry you, and the pounding theme music and beautiful people and gorgeous scenery can all have the narcotizing effect they were meant to have. Your critical thought dissolves into a pleasurable, well-produced cinematic experience.
‘Wonder Woman’ allowed me to achieve this state – I had a blast. It’s not that it was a good or bad movie – that really isn’t the relevant question. It was entertaining.