The movie you want versus the movie you have
It is the job of the film critic to sniff at new movies. And so, it was expected that reviewers would drag “Wonder Woman 1984” onto the operating table.
With other movies at other times, I might welcome their take on cinematography, character development and narrative drive. But with the fun pretty much wrung out of our current existence, I’m fine with a piece of distraction brimming with heroics and uncomplicated villainy.
Most critics, it seemed, wanted this tale based on the comic-book Amazon to be a different movie. That’s like complaining that a bowl of ice cream doesn’t contain enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is not on ice cream’s to-do list.
The reviewer for NPR did concede that “WW84” was “fun,” if “labored.” He also worried how its “climactic all-CGI fight scene … devolved into visual incoherence.”
He made three references to “CGI,” as if everyone knows exactly what that means. Professor Google explained that it stands for “computer-generated imagery,” of course, which I learned involves the use of algorithms to generate fractals.
The movie opens on Paradise Island, a mythical home to an all-female race of fierce warriors. “In Amazonia,” Hippolyta tells Princess Diana, her daughter and the future Wonder Woman, “women ruled and all was well.” (That line was in the comic-book version.)
The movie then whisks Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to Washington, D.C., where she disguises herself as an archeologist at the Smithsonian Institution. She reunites with her true love, U.S. Army Capt. Steve Trevor. He died in the first film but is back in a different body. He disappears again. And so on and so forth.
I did enjoy watching Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) change from a frumpy archeologist to a foxy chick and then to the she-monster Cheetah. The Hollywood Reporter found this transformation “too abrupt to be convincing.” (I’m not sure how to make a female academic’s change into a horrendous cat-monster more convincing.)
The New York Times concludes the movie doesn’t make the case for bringing back Wonder Woman beyond the “obvious commercial imperatives.” Imagine that — Hollywood producing a movie just to make money.
The Times critic also seemed surprised that Wonder Woman’s big new battle took place at a plain old 1980s shopping mall. You wouldn’t expect that setting in such a classy movie.
The one interesting regret about “WW84” came from New Yorker writer Jill Lepore. She noted that the movie neglected Wonder Woman’s origins as a descendant of feminists, suffragists and birth control advocates.
Her comic book creator was William Moulton Marston, who, as a Harvard student in 1911, fought for women’s right to vote. Back then, Harvard wouldn’t even let a woman speak there.
The Atlanta Constitution determined women’s right to vote “a subject for legitimate debate.” And The Times editorialized that it was OK for Harvard to bring in a woman speaker as long as “the curriculum of Harvard does not include woman suffrage.”
Talk about freaky. There’s more in Lepore’s fascinating book, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman.”
The latest Wonder Woman fights the criminal elements but not deniers of women’s rights. Her all-purpose Lasso of Truth ties up crooks, rescues children and stops bullets. She does work her powers to rough up physical harassers of women, but that’s as far into the weeds of MeToo as she goes.
Best to keep it simple. See the movie for the superhero action. Read Lepore’s book for the feminist backstory.
And ignore the critics. Vulture panned the movie as an “empty spectacle,” but it’s an empty spectacle the way ice cream is empty calories.
Americans are tired, sick and hurting. Who would deny us ice cream now?
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop.