Men on the internet will leave no female-fronted blockbuster unturned. Until a few days ago, the fervor surrounding “Wonder Woman,” which opens this weekend after two decades of false starts and personnel changes, felt tame on the grown-males-whining front. As long as Wonder Woman isn’t busting ghosts, she’ll be fine. Unless, of course, a theater announces no-boys-allowed screenings. Then it’s war.
It seems the folks responsible for “Wonder Woman” anticipated a macho tussle somewhere along the movie’s Amazonian journey to the big screen. After all, the internet provides well-trod platforms for fanboys ― and I do mean boys ― who are hyper-reactive to any feminine updates to their childhood staples. Wonder Woman, as an entity, should have been bulletproof, considering the strong-willed heroine dates back to her 1941 DC Comics debut, which spawned multiple animated adaptations and the popular 1970s television series starring Lynda Carter. Oh, we of little faith. Patty Jenkins, the first woman to direct a major superhero movie, and screenwriter Allan Heinberg surely foresaw the same juvenile gender divide that haunts the Hollywood franchise machine. Never devolving into a didactic sermon about feminism, “Wonder Woman” chides its male mudslingers with humor and grace.
Once the titular Amazon princess (Gal Gadot), known colloquially as Diana Prince, leaves her remote island to join Army captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) on World War I’s virile London battleground, her self-empowering seclusion clashes with the modern metropolis’ heteronormative standards. (Mind you, this comes after Diana and her clan massacre the German fleet that’s washed ashore with Steve.) Having grown up surrounded only by warrior women, Diana carries no baggage about how she should behave in relation to male acquaintances. As she and Steve set sail, he says it’s only appropriate that he sleep in separate quarters of the boat. Diana can’t understand why it should matter ― temptation is of no concern to her, even as their chemistry simmers. Steve assumes this means she is unschooled in carnal matters, but oh no: Diana knows all about “reproductive biology” and “pleasures of the flesh,” having read “all 12 volumes of Cleo’s treatises on body and pleasure.” This yields her fiercest conclusion about the weaker sex: Men are essential for procreation but expendable in matters of bliss, erotic or otherwise.
Without devaluing its penis-toting characters, “Wonder Woman” continues this soft battle of the sexes across its 2.5-hour runtime. Diana becomes our surrogate for a world where women don’t even entertain the expectations of men. When she’s introduced to Steve’s “secretary,” the plucky Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), whose duties entail whatever Steve asks of her, Diana likens the role to slavery. During her plot to stop the god Ares from wreaking more wartime havoc, Diana scolds a pompous general for not fighting alongside his troops, like the matrons of her native Themyscira would. At every turn, dudes inform her that circumstances are too “dangerous.” Nevertheless, she persists, aided by her signature Lasso of Truth, god-killing sword and bullet-shielding bracelets. When Diana is prepared to execute the man she thinks is Ares, Steve tells her, “I can’t let you do that.” “What I do is not up to you,” she counters. She doesn’t need textbook feminism because she’d never conceptualized a pretense where men were superior in the first place. In Diana’s universe, an all-women movie screening would be another ordinary night out.
By the time Diana disrobes to reveal her tightly cropped Wonder Woman suit in all its glory, it is an act of power. She runs circles around the boys who tell her they “can’t save everyone in this war.” It comes as no surprise that the woman in “Wonder Woman” remains the victor, but Jenkins and Heinberg effectively pepper the movie with a winking sense of humor about the number of gents who doubt Diana’s facilities. Gadot and Pine are in on the joke too, tempering their performances so gamely that “Wonder Woman” almost becomes a buddy comedy. The final 20 minutes disintegrate into the same noisy CGI spectacle that concludes all comic-book movies, but this particular superhero outing is judicious and charming enough to rise above its genre hurdles.
Whether the angry internet men-children will skip “Wonder Woman” because of the Alamo Drafthouse screening or any other gender-related nonsense ― well, who cares, really. Advance tracking for the movie’s opening weekend indicates heftier interest among male moviegoers than female moviegoers, according to The Hollywood Reporter, so the sound and fury will likely amount to little. Jenkins, who is best known for the Charlize Theron vehicle “Monster,” isn’t trying to prove anything other than her (already proven) ability to make a quality movie. On that front, she has succeeded. For added kicks, she also trolled the men who would doubt her along the way. Wonderful, woman.
“Wonder Woman” opens June 2.