Let’s start with the obvious: why was Wonder Woman in this movie? Is there any purpose beyond foreshadowing for the inevitable solo vehicle that DC’s been teasing us with for years now? I know the answer is no, but I’m dying to believe Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice wasn’t a weird too-long Batman film or a weirder too-long Superman film, but an 11 minute and 27 second short film about Wonder Woman with two hours of commercial interruptions. Yes, I timed it.
And let’s be clear, it was hard to know where to call the timer. Do we count the minutes when she’s standing around in the background of a party looking exotic while Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent have a pow-wow with Crazy Mark Zuckerberg? What about the brief cuts where we know she’s got her magic lasso tied around Doomsday, but we’ve been watching nothing but slow-motion shots of Superman for the last fifteen seconds? Or the three solid minutes she spends sifting through the metahumans file to apparently watch trailers for other movies?
Imagine the film like a big wedding cake where the bottom layer is a movie called “Batman Kills Superman.” Crushing that foundation entirely is a far-heavier layer called “Lex Luthor’s Long And Winding Podcast,” atop which is a cupcake called “Wonder Woman” with three little cherries on it marked “The Flash,” “Aquaman,” and “Cyborg.” I’d like to imagine this is the kind of thing you can get through if you just eat it in little bites, but none of it is fully cooked so we all get poisoned and die.
Even if we’re being liberal in measuring her screen time, it’s hard to add up Diana Prince’s scenes and come up with a coherent story for her character, even if it’s just a backdoor pilot for a real Wonder Woman adventure. I say “adventure” rather than “film” because I feel like these broad Chris Nolan / Zack Snyder explorations are approaching the territory of something you’d see in an Orson Welles visual essay. We hear endless ravings from every character in the movie about this or that beef with Superman, why he’s the best, why he’s the worst, why we need him, why we need to destroy him, is he God, is he the Devil, blah blah blah, and meanwhile a multicentennial Amazon warrior is kind of just hanging out in Metropolis because…? No idea.
We don’t know anything about her. We don’t know where she comes from or how she got here. We don’t know what she wants or what she thinks of any of the crazy things that happen in the film. We don’t even know that she’s called “Wonder Woman,” because like almost every major character’s name in this film, no one ever says it out loud. What’s with that? “The Bat” but not “Batman?” No namecheck for Jimmy Olson before he gets wasted mercilessly in the desert? I get that there’s a naturalism to the script, but there’s a difference between a morally ambiguous story and a story that’s just plain ambiguous.
I can only imagine how confused Wonder Woman is through all of this. She’s an ancient warrior with a sword and a shield and hundreds of years of backstory we don’t know about, and now two people she just met at a dinner party are wearing capes and fighting a mutant created by the host. Then one of them dies. OR DO THEY? Spoiler alert: they don’t.
I can’t figure out why she attended Lex Luthor’s shindig to begin with, and aside from “borrowing” Bruce Wayne’s USB dongle, I can’t begin to guess what she was doing at that party full of rich-looking extras drinking cocktails held for no specific occasion whatsoever. Is this all going to be explained in some sideways retelling of this scene later, like the reprise of the General Zod battle at the beginning of the film? Is that just how movies work now?
Why is she on a commercial airliner when she bails on her ticket to fight Doomsday? No invisible jet in this incarnation? It is invisible, after all, so maybe it’s actually in EVERY scene. I’m putting a question mark next to that one. Let’s go through the rest of the checklist: impractical outfit, check. Magic lasso, check. Sword and shield, check. I have to say that even without a namecheck, once she starts beating the crap out of Doomsday, she sure does look like Wonder Woman, even if a couple of the sultry cutaways make it seem like she’s just there because she gets off on a good fight. And maybe that motivation is enough since her section of the movie is conclusively a long teaser rather than an short story all to itself.
It’s hard not to see parallels on the Marvel side of the aisle, where we’re already trying to figure out whether or not this whole teasing-out-beloved-characters thing is for better or for worse. In Age of Ultron, it was a treat to see The Scarlet Witch at all, but was it necessary to shove her in a movie with sixty million main characters and a nearly omnipotent villain just to be a henchman? Like Avengers 2, Batman V Superman shows how difficult it is to half-introduce a superhero when the rest of the movie is being crushed by the extra weight of plot points from other movies. Between Wanda Maximoff and Natasha Romanoff and Diana Prince, it feels like we still haven’t met a single coherent female character, let alone seen an entire movie about a fully-realized female superhero.
This trend of random ancillaries stealing the screen in other character’s movies clearly has its limitations (looking at you, Underoos). Wonder Woman’s contribution to the plot is so small and adjunct that it’s hard to appreciate her as anything more than pure product placement. Her jungle-drum theme music is startlingly out of character against the stately scores of the Batman and Superman segments, and it’s hard not to get the feeling during her scenes that you’ve cut to a commercial that’s twice as loud as the actual show.
Is it right to expect anything more? It’s easy forget in the middle of all the cursing and bludgeoning and Nietzsche-esque waxing about the role of God on Earth that this is primarily a movie made to sell toys and comic books. No matter how dull the last issue was, the next exciting adventure is just around the corner! Be there or be square! We’re the wide-eyed children, eternally hooked, and no matter how skeptical we become as adults, it’s us going in and paying too much for IMAX and popcorn to see it, because, oh my gosh, is that Batman? AND Superman? AND Wonder Woman? Wowie!
Once Wonder Woman dropped the femme fatale dress and got into her Xena digs for some ass-kicking, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Could her own motion picture have more to offer than long speeches and shadowy corridors against a soundscape of choirs and church organs? Maybe we’ll actually like that movie, and maybe when we sit down and talk about it, we’ll talk about all the parts we liked instead of all the parts we’re confused about. Unfortunately, Batman V Superman is only a preview for that movie, lost in a montage of allusions, dream sequences, character deaths of varying levels of permanence, and trailers for other movies.
Wonder Woman will be released on June 23, 2017. Until then, there’s always Lynda Carter.