Oscar season, like the political campaigns that Hollywood’s ugly step-cousins obsess over, seems to start earlier every cycle. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that lobbying and jockeying for position have already begun in earnest for dark-horse contenders looking to better their odds in the brutal race to come. One long shot that should stay on the outside looking in?
It was hard to miss the spate of headlines declaring the Amazonian’s candidacy last week. Variety got the ball rolling with a report that Warner Bros. is considering a big-time push for the film to get a best picture nomination and for director Patty Jenkins to get a nod. And the reason Warner Bros. thinks now’s the time for a comic book to break through the pulp ceiling? The film’s brilliant artistry? Its director’s impressive filmmaking chops? The genius performances?
Nah. It’s just partisan politics. Or identity politics. Or some lame combination of the two.
“Insiders report strong reactions to the screening of ‘Wonder Woman’ at the Academy, as it’s been championed by a liberal Hollywood and a reinvigorated wave of feminism in response to Donald Trump,” Ramin Setoodeh reported. “The studio will also stump Patty Jenkins for best director, which would also be groundbreaking. No director of a comic-book film — not even Christopher Nolan — has ever been nominated, and only men have ruled the category since (and before) Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for ‘The Hurt Locker’ in 2010.”
Needless to say, the woke brigades were keen to hop on the bandwagon. And industry watchers all over are hyping its chances: Forbes, Collider, HuffPost, Esquire, etc. Everyone loves a good Oscar story, and everyone in the media loves to look nice and progressive — so everyone loves “Wonder Woman.”
And, for purely ideological reasons, I wish I could get on board with this campaign! After all, as I noted in my review of the film, it’s not every day that a major Hollywood blockbuster treats enhanced interrogation techniques for laughs and views as villainous politicians whose pursuit of peace will only cause more death and destruction. It tickles my interventionist bones in just the right places to see a movie about the need for the strong to protect the weak receive near-unanimous praise from liberal film critics who undoubtedly sneered at Dubya’s second inauguration. I’d love to stick it to the prigs in the Arab states that boycotted this film for daring to star an Israeli actress. If political considerations are to trump artistic ones, well, hey: There’s a great right-wing case to be made for “Wonder Woman.”
Alas, I’m the naive sort that believes artistry should matter in the race for the Oscars. Leave aside the question of whether or not the Academy should nominate comic book films — and, for the record, I think it should, along with other genres that often get ignored such as comedies and sci-fi — and just consider the simple fact that “Wonder Woman” is, frankly, the third-best comic book film of the year.
Again: I quite liked “Wonder Woman”! But it is strangely deficient in ways that matter to comic books. Just as a for-instance: Explain, citing examples from the film, the limit of Diana’s powers and the extent of her vulnerabilities. I don’t need to know how those bracelets work, exactly — I’ll save that level of pedantry for Neil deGrasse Tyson. “Magic” is a fine answer — but it would be useful to know how often she can use them, how limited their range is.
As far as storytelling or filmmaking goes, there are other, superior options in the genre. “Logan” was a surprisingly poignant meditation on the ravages of old age and the pain of letting go of elderly loved ones. (As a bonus, it too had something to say about our times.) “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” meanwhile, was funnier than “Wonder Woman” with a better finale, a more absorbing and relatable villain, and a more impressive supporting cast.
And, honestly, “Atomic Blonde” is probably the most absorbing film adapted from a comic book starring a woman released this year: The Cold War action-spy flick — “Tinker Tailor Soldier John Wick,” if you will — starring Charlize Theron is intricately plotted and shot with a sort of garish beauty, half blinding neon, half brutalist decrepitude. It also has the single best fight sequence of the year, a 20-or-so-minute, faux-single-shot scene staged in a way that makes you feel the exhaustion that comes with extended hand-to-hand combat. It’s a technical marvel, one of those real “wow, how did they do that?” sequences, the subtle fakery and hidden edits of which put the CGI bluster of “Wonder Woman” to shame. Plus, for those of you looking to check off more identity politics boxes, it’d be one of the few films to garner a nomination that starred a bisexual lead character. So it’s got that going for it.
I know we fans of comic-book movies have been clamoring for a flick like “Wonder Woman” to break the pulp ceiling for years now, but there’s an important question we need to ask ourselves: Do we really want the third (or fourth) best comic-book movie in the year it was released to be the one to do it? I’m not saying “Wonder Woman” doesn’t deserve some nominations or even the odd win — I could be persuaded to throw Chris Pine a statue for his stirring supporting work — but, as someone who quite enjoys both comic-book movies and the Oscars, I do hope we could hold off on politicizing and devaluing the award in quite so naked a fashion.