It’s no surprise that Wonder Woman is enjoying some success, both financially and critically, because in a lot of ways it gives us exactly what we said we always wanted: a female-led, female-directed, earnest superhero movie, and a DC adaptation better than Batman V Superman. Anyone can see the validity of a character who inspires girls to be more than just a beautiful princess who marries rich, and Wonder Woman at the very least does that, giving girls a character in whom they can see themselves, the way little boys can see themselves in Thor, or Iron Man, or Captain America, or The Hulk, or… You get the picture. Wonder Woman gives girls the chance to envision themselves the heroes of their own story, and that’s great.
That a $150 million Wonder Woman movie exists at all is a sign we’ve advanced at least a few inches of societal progress since those studio execs were caught saying women couldn’t carry a successful action movie. That said, being better than regressive dickheads think we are still feels like a low bar. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where Wonder Woman didn’t have to be a symbol, where it could just be a movie, and not a referendum on female stories or storytellers, a cultural battleground and steaming cauldron of the internet’s hottest takes? I mean, is “Girls should have stuff too” really political speech now? Oof.
That’s the trouble with the mainstream: It’s so slow to catch up to the obvious that cheering it on can be a little… well, anticlimactic. (Outside the mainstream, there are a million brilliant female-told, female-led stories, but I can understand eight-year-old girls being rightfully reticent to trick or treat in Toni Erdmann costumes.) Is a gender-swapped version of the mediocre heroes we already have for boys really all we can hope for?
To be fair, simply being a symbol of progress isn’t all Wonder Woman does well. It’s refreshingly earnest, without much in the way of winks or jokey references to the ’70s TV show. Director Patty Jenkins said in a recent New York Times profile that “‘cheesy’ is one of the words banned in my world.” Her commitment to sincerity shows, and erring towards flawed sincerity is probably preferable to Marvel’s tendency to be self-aware, occasionally to a fault (*cough* Ant-Man *cough, cough*).