Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

White Male Critic Asks Why If Wonder Woman Is Really So Great Why Didn’t She Prevent the Holocaust

with 4 comments

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier this morning, the hype turns out to be right: Wonder Woman is really pretty good, especially by the poor standards of the DC Cinematic Universe. DC would be absolutely crazy not to use Wonder Woman as the model for production going forward rather than Batman v. Superman or (god forbid) Suicide Squad; it’s the only one in the DCCU that has been remotely successful from either a political or artistic point of view. (A Twitter friend even suggested that this might be (another) way the film might replicate Captain America, beyond the obvious, templating future entries in the shared universe and becoming the new franchise anchor after a somewhat slow start.) It gives me hope that Wonder Woman (and, soon, Batgirl) can show DC there’s real money in female-oriented superheroes.

I’ll admit I did have some trouble with how obviously the film was cloning Captain America, and I don’t think this is mere pushing-up-your-glasses nerdery: World War II, and the Holocaust especially, hangs over the film in a really direct way, I think, and not only because of Gal Gadot’s Jewish ancestry and its place in the strange debate over whether or not this Wonder Woman qualifies as a woman of color. WWI vs WWII is not a situation where you can just change the dates and tell the same sort of triumphalist story; WWI is simply a very different sort of moment, and a WWI narrative mandates a sort of bitter aftertaste even at its most triumphant.

At least since Star Wars SF and fantasy trilogies have tended to follow a particular template:

  1. optimism
  2. disillusionment
  3. recuperation

The historical existence of World War II is the original and ultimate dark, gritty sequel, a nightmare that like so many filmic sequels was made possible by the conditions of victory of the first one. The choice to set Wonder Woman during WWI thus makes both WWII and WW2 its necessary extension, a situation the film itself even nods at by having its poison-gas-themed villainous Dr. Poison spared by Diana and escape at the end (presumably to help develop Zyklon-B somewhere down the line). Our foreknowledge of the Holocaust — and Wonder Woman’s own retrospective knowledge of it in the film’s unexpectedly quiet frame narrative — haunts the film’s apparently victorious climax, telling us immediately that there is something off or incomplete about her apparent defeat of the God of War: that in some way it was deceptive or incomplete, perhaps, or potentially that her seemingly liberatory victory over Ares only made things worse. The obligatory Empire-Strikes-Back dark turn of Wonder Woman 2 is built into the historical logic of the film’s WWI setting from the jump — and similarly makes any sort of final recuperative turn in WW3/WW3 somewhat hard to imagine. (Perhaps a temporarily pacifistic Diana Price using the spy look from the 1970s comic stops nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis? I’m just spitballing.)

Another Twitter friend had an idea for WW2 I thought was great, and wrote this longer post more or less entirely to popularize: a Wonder Woman film that sidesteps the stale supercharged-Nazi-demons angle in favor of street-level resistance in a Warsaw ghetto:

Depowered or in some other way hamstrung by the Spear of Destiny, perhaps, but still needing to make a difference where she can… In the same way that some MCU movies can be political thrillers and others can be heist movies, Wonder Woman 2 could be and should be a Holocaust film. Knowing nothing about screenwriting and caring nothing about money, I really think that’s the way to go.

4 Responses

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  1. Numerous things trouble me about the idea of Wonder Woman and the Holocaust – as with any superhero story, it comes down to asking how it is they failed to stop the monstrosity. Comics are better off avoiding certain direct facts of real life, because there’s so few ways they can get it right.

    I’ve not seen WW yet, looking forward to it. But it’s a shame people feel the need to constantly dump on BvS – which was easily the best superhero movie I’ve seen. I’ve not seen the Captain America movies, but it’s easily better than the Avengers, and better than the Nolan Batmans. That was a critical pile-on if ever I’ve seen one.


    June 2, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    • And I know my take on BvS is not popular, and likely to be dismissed as fanboyism…. but I watched the movie expecting to dislike it, because I’d been primed to by bad trailers and advance hate, and was shocked to find I liked it, a lot, and that literally none of the criticisms felt valid to me (other than the color scheme – I would like it to be visually brighter). (Also, too, I watched the extended cut, only, and do gather that the missing 30 minutes matter a great deal.)


      June 2, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      • You know I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the extended edition of BvS. At some point I’m sure I will give it a chance…

        My take on the film is that it misunderstands both characters in such a radical way as to be a terrible DC movie — and doesn’t do that in a sufficiently compelling or interesting way to be worth seeing outside the franchise context. I think there’s been a backlash to the backlash lately but I am unpersuaded there is anything there. For heaven’s sake, the movie stops midway through to show trailers for other movies for 15 minutes.


        June 2, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      • “My take on the film is that it misunderstands both characters in such a radical way as to be a terrible DC movie”

        This is such a strange take – I know you’re not the only one to have it, but that doesn’t make it any less bizarre – because in no way whatsoever can the film be said to misunderstand either character. I’ve been reading & watching Batman & Superman for 40 years, and they fit. Both are squarely in the tradition. I wonder what informs the take. I see, e.g., people complaining that they don’t like a Batman who shoots guns… but he doesn’t shoot guns in the movie. In any case, not only is the Batman not a misunderstanding of the character, it’s easily (and I mean easily) the best depiction of the character in film. Superman is maybe a bit dour, but he is sometimes! I think it might be him that benefits the most from the extended cut.

        And I don’t even know what to say about the trailer comment. How strange. Everyone knows the movie is intended to lead into the Justice League, and the sequence is part of Bruce both chilling out, and deciding to find and work with the others.

        Anyway, I realize I’m at risk of being annoying here, so I’ll let it go. (Except: The backlash to the backlash is completely warranted. I strongly recommend the extended cut, since you seem to care about these things.)


        June 2, 2017 at 7:22 pm

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