Wonder Woman: Perfectly Adequate

“It feels less like yet another installment in an endless sequence of apocalyptic merchandising opportunities than like… what’s the word I’m looking for? A movie. A pretty good one, too.” – A. O. Scott, New York Times

“Director Patty Jenkins and her collaborators have taken the well-worn superhero origin story and invested it with a rich, sometimes revelatory depth of feeling.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

“‘Wonder Woman’ is a superhero movie, and it fulfills the heroic and mythic demands of that genre, but it’s also an entry in the genre of wisdom literature that shares hard-won insights and long-pondered paradoxes of the past with a sincere intimacy.” – Richard Brody, New Yorker

“She’s a babe!” – James Sutherland, ABC employee

Section Break

A couple weeks ago, the newest Hollywood superhero flick astounded the world with a whopping 93% on Rotten Tomatoes—as well as box-office success—and featured none other than the mildly popular Wonder Woman. Though somewhat surprising, the movie has been greeted with overwhelming praise and even thankfulness.

If you see the movie, you can kinda tell why. Wonder Woman is tonally consistent and demonstrates mastery of basic storytelling tools, using frequent set-ups and payoffs and establishing its characters. More importantly, the summer movie speaks with a strong thematic voice—exploring such topics as the nature of humans and the idea of heroism. Part of this exploration is setting up its main character as a pure—albeit naïve—protagonist. It cannot be overstated that this sort of characterization is extremely difficult (solely for avoiding cliché), but Wonder Woman does it gracefully as we witness Diana enjoy her first ice-cream cone in what would otherwise be a quick, throw-away scene. There is no doubting this fourth installment in the DCEU is a head above the rest.

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But if you see the movie, you can kinda tell that Wonder Woman doesn’t have it all together. There’s some of the nitpicky stuff like the movement capture, where Diana and the Amazonians are supposed to look acrobatic or fast, but their movement instead comes off as unnatural. There are technical issues with the editing where cuts seem misplaced and scenes needed to make sense of the movie are missing. There are possible issues on a story level, like the question of whether Ares even needed to be there at the end, or issues with style, like the inclusion of a Batman-v-Superman-esque, special-effects frenzy for the finale. Yet the biggest issue for Wonder Woman is the suggestion of a sex-scene after what is probably the most elegant scene in the movie (the dance in the snow) and a whole movie built around a strong, independent hero.

When you sort out all of this, what are you left with? In my humble opinion, I give it a solid 7 out of 10. It’s good but not great, above average, generally acceptable, perfectly adequate.

You’ll notice, though, that “good but not great” does not equate to 93%—“good but not great” is nowhere in the Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus. We need to understand why that is. Part of the solution is understanding how Rotten Tomatoes works not as a score-giver but as a review aggregator. Another part of the solution is acknowledging the feminist excitement around the movie, which is fine but its not the real answer.

To understand the disparity between actual movie quality and perceived movie quality, Ill point you back up to our second paragraph on the strengths of Wonder Woman and the connecting thread for its virtues: its better than the other DCEU films.

This mentality of is-it-better-than-the-others is a persistent issue in movie-going culture. Too often we assess a movie by saying, “Well it’s not as bad as…” and for some reason that actually holds weight for most of us. I have been guilty of this myself. I think of my first viewing of Man of Steel and Jurassic World, and defending those movies with the words: “I mean, you can’t expect Citizen Kane of all your movies.”

That attitude dulls our tastes and relieves the movie industry of the responsibility of making good movies. We can’t complain that Hollywood keeps cranking out trash if we keep seeing it and excusing it. That means we call a spade a spade and Wonder Woman a 7.

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4 Comments

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  1. This blog convinced me to see a movie I otherwise would not have. Bravo!

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  2. My biggest issue with the movie was the tacky CG finale, but otherwise I enjoyed it. The movie is a tad overrated, but I guess people are just getting carried away at finally getting a decent DC universe movie/female hero film.

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  3. “The disparity between actual movie quality and perceived movie quality” doesn’t exist. The disparity is only between your perception and my perception.

    However, assuming the disparity exists, I find the two reasons that you dismissed each more compelling than your conclusion. For one, Rotten Tomatoes has such a weird aggregating system — Metacritic gives it a 76, which is pretty close to your own definitive score. No disparity worth analysis.

    Then there’s my personal viewing experience. I’ve seen only one other DCEU film, and I didn’t really consider it as a point of comparison with WW. Instead, I left the theater impressed at the representational progress this film made for women. I was, as you say, caught up in the ‘feminist excitement’ around the movie.

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    • Thanks for the comment!

      You make an excellent point that many did recognize the movie as average, as demonstrated by its Metacritic score. Perhaps I painted with too broad a brush. But my critique is pointed at the unquestionable buzz around the movie (see some of the quotes at the top of the post) and those who laud the movie despite its mediocrity. That’s the disparity.

      That’s totally fair; strong female characters should be appreciated in any film. However, Wonder Woman is far from a paragon of feminist ideals, even after adjusting for its mainstream, summer audience — though that’s maybe a topic for another time.
      Also, other DCEU films are the perfect place to start a comparison for this movie.

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