Uninspired Comedy Title for a ‘Wonder Woman’ Review

by Simon Williams on June 5, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Here we go again.

Before we begin: an open letter to Patty Jenkins, director of Warner Brothers’ Wonder Woman.

A-, good job.

[Solid Rock Fist Up]

This review was hard to write. That’s part of what caused this thing to take a whole week to come out (which seriously nothing speaks to the ADHD nature of our current blockbuster scene more than the fact a week seems like a long wait for a critical analysis to emerge). I’m pretty sure this very article you currently read has been through a minimum of ten permutations because I know I have a very specific point I want to make and articulating a point so nuanced is quite a challenge. Because Wonder Woman is good. Not great, and not for the reasons you think it is (and yes that’s what this article is about), but it is good. I like a Warner Brothers DC film.

I’m weirdly disappointed. It’s been some time since I’ve been able to contribute to the site (check the changed author’s bio for why) and I was really excited for something to sink my teeth into. What could be more perfect than a DCEU film? My reviews for Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad are not only my most-read articles for this site but also some of my favorite film writing ever. There’s something really satisfying about being able to be articulately angry for well over two thousand words and then get rewarded for it. And here I was, after three months leave of absence, with a new DC film that looked just as confused as the last two but with so little confidence from the studio that they didn’t even send the lead to host SNL. I was primed to tear into yet another over-bloated, awkward and sloppy superhero film and yet again declare the incoming death of the genre.

But here we are, and Wonder Woman is good.

It’s essentially pointless of me to say that because you all know that. You’ve all read reviews and shared think pieces and probably have even seen it at this point. You’ve gotten into political arguments about the misandry of Alamo Drafthouse and questioned why it took so long for Warner Brothers to have a sense of humor and celebrated the exit of Zack Snyder (which is actually somewhat monstrous if you see why he left. Seriously Mr. Snyder, I mock you a lot but all thoughts and prayers to you and your family). What possibly could I, a random Kansas City critic publishing his article a week late, have to add? Because Wonder Woman was good.

But here’s the rub: Wonder Woman is good for the exact. same. reasons. Batman V. Superman was bad.

I want to assume most people reading this have also read my now infamous review of BVSDOFJOSFT (Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Fucking Justice or Some Fucking Tripe) but in case you have not, 1) welcome to the club! I cannot wait to read your hate messages! And 2) I didn’t like it.I thought it was a bloated, awkward, self-important, sloppy mess that didn’t keep the reigns on any of its philosophical meanderings and had absolutely no understanding of basic sound design. But I did say this: it was very much a Zack Snyder film. Warner Brothers still considers itself an old-school studio, and likewise gives its creatives quite a lot of freedom, or at least in comparison to the competition. Disney made someone as cuddly and universal as Joss Whedon feel restrained and already began the process of tearing Star Wars away from whomever steps behind the camera. One screening of either Amazing Spider-Man shows just how many fingers Sony likes to have in their franchises. But Warner Brothers? For all intents and purposes, they seem to be entirely game for just letting Snyder do his thing.

This is the same studio that gave a Harry Potter film to Alfonso Cuaron. This is the same studio that let George Miller reinvent his Mad Max reboot as a streamlined to hell meditation of the nature of patriarchy. This is the same studio that willingly throw money at whatever crazy idea the Wachowskis come up with. Warner Brothers likes its creatives. George Miller, the Wachowskis, Ben Affleck and Zack Snyder are their guys, and as their guys they get a pretty decent dollop of creative freedom every time they come to bat. Even Suicide Squad, once thought to be the C-Team re-edit ripped away from David Ayer, seems more and more to be nothing more than the third or fourth re-edit to be done directly under Ayer’s supervision. Both BVS and Suicide Squad are awful but they are awful in ways that make total and complete sense for the men who helmed them.

Snyder’s work has always been, at most, half-based philosophical pitches that attempt to reach the same adolescent understanding of psychology as a Saturday morning cartoon to almost ridiculous levels of self-importance and seriousness, surrounding said musings with overwrought and unpolished action sequences and visuals so saturated they lose all sense of content. Batman V. Superman is the most Snyder Snyder has ever Snyder’d and Warner Brothers went all in behind him. From a production standpoint it’s identical to Mad Max: Fury Road. Let this guy go nuts with our few precious IPs and we’ll just bankroll it then hope a massive ad budget can keep us through if it sucks.

Wonder Woman seems to have been made with much the same philosophy. There’s nothing in the film that does not read as though Patty Jenkins had any of her control stripped from her whatsoever.

Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a slogging, gorgeous, and lofty number that goes all out with its WWI setting. It makes a rather subtle point about the nature of violence and evil and features a colorful visual palette that reminds me far more of the 40s fantasies of Emeric and Pressberger (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, Stairway to Heaven) than it does other current blockbusters. It embraces comedy and attempts to subvert many expectations the audience may have, then uses said comedy and subversion as content. This feels much less like a studio-mandated product and more the work of someone who knows the source material and is trying to say something with it.

Which is the exact same thing that happened with Batman V. Superman.

Production wise, these films were made almost identically, but it doesn’t stop there. Both of these films are attempting something very similar with intent, and frequently Jenkins takes Snyder’s style whole-cloth and applies it to many sequences within her film. Watch the action sequences, the influence is obvious, with the slow-down/speed-up editing and the constant dust and debris in frame. They both reach for intellectual heights (Batman V. Superman attempting to be a Randian exploration of the ubermensch and the requirement for them, Wonder Woman being an analysis about the omnipresence of violence and the inability of man to fully escape or even comprehend true evil) and both kind of fail. Yet Wonder Woman is good, and BVS is not.

I admit it could be me. Zack Snyder has a very specific voice and for some people he really works. It is adolescent and it is rather half-baked and overblown but that works for people! He’s a frat guy, and so is David Ayer. I am not. But I don’t know, sometimes frat-guy musing works for me. I actually like a few of Ayer’s films, despite him being far more macho and far worse a person than Snyder. Snyder, as much as I ridicule him, is a grade-A auteur with a unique voice who obviously cares about what he does, but his films have never worked for me (except 300 but I have to be in a mood). But again I don’t see that much different here. This feels very akin to Snyder’s work and Jenkins seems aware of that. She’s doing a lot of the same stuff functionally the same ways.

Part of me just wants to write a book on how strange and scattershot the DC Expanded Universe has been because to an extent I genuinely believe this to be the most fascinating thing happening in the industry right now from a business standpoint. When asking why Wonder Woman works better than BVS I could bring up cast and editing and restraint but none of that feels quite true, rather it does feel like a simple, dumb, “this time it works” and as a critic I hate that but as an artist and a close watcher of the industry it’s utterly fascinating. It’s something rather intangible, and I’ve been struggling with it. I know I want to see Wonder Woman again and I want it to make money and I want more artist-driven studio works to happen on the scale but I can’t for the life of me tell you why it took so long for this to happen. Because this time the jokes work. This time the characters are interesting. This time I’m thinking when it actually wants me to think and not laughing at the ineptitude.

And that, dear reader, is why it took so long to write this.

Simon Williams

Simon Williams is a media critic and filmmaker originally from Columbus Ohio. He makes short films about sad people who don’t speak their minds because he himself is a sad person who does not have that issue.

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