Why Wonder Woman Is a Mess, And Why It's A Miracle Anyway

By now, all of you know I went to see Wonder Woman, and that I have serious problems with the film. I've written three or four times about it--I can't get it out of my system apparently.

At first, I was annoyed. I said to my friends, "Look at all the horrific problems with this film--not just ham-handed timing and poor directing, but systemic, fundamental problems with the entire premise of the film." And they said, "Arrows! Horseback riding! Serious butt-kicking!" It sounded to me (I am ashamed) like my ten-year-old friends say about Transformers.

Then I was amused. I thought, "I get this film, and all these other dolts just don't. They don't see what I see." But I hate that attitude even when it's mine, so I gave up on that pretty quickly. And the rave reviews--no, they're not reviews, they're the first row of fans at a Beatles concert--kept coming.

It took me writing 3000 words about this film before I got it.

I'm the one that doesn't understand.

I'm about to link to a post where I mention a whole lot of things about the film that are, to me, serious, gaping flaws, things that should have derailed the film and relegated it to Batman vs. Superman status. And then I'm going to tell you why they didn't. And then, if you're a writer or a movie-maker, or any sort of creative, I'm going to tell you why you should never be discouraged again, and why Wonder Woman is a miracle you should embrace tightly and keep with you always.

Spoiler alert. Ready? Here they all are. There are about twenty.


Which is a lot of serious problems, a large number of middling ones, and some small ones that are just sloppy. Ordinarily, this would doom a movie. I'm not the only one that can see these things. The story just flat doesn't work.

And it hasn't mattered. At all.

That's because it doesn't matter. No, really, it doesn't. And I don't mean that in the Transformers sense, where no one went to the movie for a story anyhow--they only wanted to see Michael Bay blow things up. He delivered. And we're good.

This is different. There aren't that many explosions in Wonder Woman. Almost no one went to the movie to see the action. They went to see Gal Godot--utterly, completely worth it--and more, to see Wonder Woman. The only way that was going to work is if the heroine made us believe in her.

She did.

The story is an utter bollocks. It doesn't matter, because the main character is compelling. She demands we believe in her. She is all the things we wish we were. And this, perhaps more than anything else--she did it as a woman, something a large fraction of the population thought could not be done. Clearly it can. And how.

Wonder Woman, the movie, is a miracle. It taps into something primal in millions of women, something Hollywood (and many others) not only ignored, but even denied was there. Women feel something in this movie that raises them out of themselves in a way I'm not sure has ever been done before. They get it. I don't get it, not in the same way. I'm worrying about wooden dialogue and screaming plot holes, and they're just...screaming. Transported. They're having an experience I don't understand, but that doesn't mean for one second that it isn't real.

None of the catalogue of horrors above matters. The movie is a miracle. It doesn't need to be good. It's above such mundane considerations. I'm not saying that looking down my nose, either, because to me, it's a wondrous thing, and I didn't understand it until really recently.

Wonder Woman is such a great film it doesn't have to be good. And there are other examples of this. Picking two at random: Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray (which is, in case you missed it, also Twilight). By most critical accounts, those books were not well written. Twilight knocked Harry Potter VII off the top of the NYT, and Fifty Shades sold $50 million. They were, in a way, so good it didn't matter that they were bad. 

As long as we're talking about this phenomenon, Harry Potter belongs in the conversation. How many critics pointed out problems with Rowling's writing style, with her amateurish plotting, her nonsensical magical system? But people bought into the universe, to the story, in ways no one had ever seen with middle-grade/YA fiction. She all but invented YA, currently the hottest category of fantasy and sci-fi in the known universe. And now Rowling lives on an island made of gold, and the critics are hustling gigs with the Daily Beast.

Some stories are so good that they can be filled with problems and no one cares. That was what I should have seen. I expected the feminist attachment to a solidly-female cast and female lead (though it was critically important in ways I am now ashamed I did not see), but I didn't understand what Wonder Woman was trying to say to me, as a writer.

My writing isn't that great. I like a lot of it, and other people--a few--like it as well, but I know I'm not writing Pulitzer stuff, or even USA Today and NYT stuff. I'm not going to write a bestseller, in all probability. I may never even get a publishing deal with a big house. I often read my stuff and despair of even making it passable. I think every creator does that at some point.

But that's just the point. We don't always have to. We just have to tell our story. Make it real. Someone, somewhere, will have the experience my friends are having with Wonder Woman. I don't have to be perfect. I just have to tell the truth. I just have to be me.

That's all any creative has to do. It is, in fact, all we can do. Yes, it will help if we try to improve our writing in ways that will help us tell our stories more clearly, with more precision and impact. To draw with more skill such that what is in our head comes out on the paper. But in the end, if we tap into that primal flow in the audience, we can reach something profoundly more important than making something technically sound.

We can make something great.

So when I said before that Wonder Woman was not a great film, I was wrong. It is. It is not a good film. But it is undeniably a great one. It does things never done before. What more could anyone want?