In the wake of rave reviews and a record-breaking opening, is Wonder Woman already risking becoming overrated – or, rather, is it being over hyped? The hype is definitely real – audience positivity mostly matches the critics and unlike many big blockbusters with stacked pre-release excitement, the film saw little in way of box office drop across its first weekend Friday-to-Sunday – but as is wont from any qualified hit, though, we’re quickly getting into hyperbole.
There have been claims of “perfection”, multiple comparisons to The Dark Knight, and recently the movie has had its tiara thrown into the ring as the requisite big summer movie deemed worthy of a stab at Best Picture. And, yes, Wonder Woman is a good film. It’s a strong origin story that understands its hero on both a personality and ethos level, puts her in a fitting, equally nuanced backdrop and realizes her fight against Germans/Ares/War/the patriarchy with some sublimely directed action that actually justifies its copious slow-motion beats by presenting them as from the protagonist’s perspective. It’s a very hard film to dislike, in fact (which will play a part later), but when the phrase “best ever” is getting thrown around for what is essentially the DCEU’s Iron Man – a competent, exciting experience overlayed with future promise – it’s hard to not use the “O” word.
But, really, any claims of being overrated seem a bit off-point. What we’re dealing with more is less an overestimation of the film itself than a misreading of the movement around it. Wonder Woman is, put simply, an overhyped picture.
Are The Reviews As Positive As They Seem?
A major power behind the hype is the reviews. After positive word from early screenings, the social media embargo was pushed forward, giving a good few weeks for the notion of Wonder Woman as a great movie to sink in before the full influx of write-ups. As much as there’s been an anti-critic bent around certain tentpoles, especially those from DC, there’s no denying the impact reviews have. Positivity begets positivity, and so overwhelming assessments – especially from the vocal and increasingly more important online contingent (as opposed to Friday print journalists) – are going to massively influence the discussion. But that message can be distorted.
The best port of call to explain this is Rotten Tomatoes. We’ve already recently discussed the positives and negatives of the review aggregator in terms of measuring a movie’s objective quality (a notion that is in and of itself ridiculous), but there’s some very interesting numbers in regards to Wonder Woman. While at the time of writing the film sits at 93% approval with all critics, the actual mean score is 7.6/10, a good 20% lower. This disparity is a result of the site’s binary scoring system, but is still inflated compared to the likes of The Dark Knight (94% and 8.6/10) and The Avengers (92% and 8/10). Being hard to dislike means it does better on that system. Things are more pronounced with Metacritic, an altogether better composite scoring site that uses fewer but higher choice data points and averages out scores (but is mostly ignored due to it not being as handy to defend a film you like); there Wonder Woman has 76% approval.
Going beyond numbers (because as easy as it is to rely on a simple score and box color, that doesn’t truly convey opinion) and reading the reviews, you thus discover assessments of the film that feels much more measured; there’s a lot of praise for Gal Gadot’s full embodiment of Diana Prince and Patty Jenkins’ handling of many spinning plates (this is an origin story, period piece, war parable and shared universe prequel) but also an admittance that the third act loses a step, fumbling thematic culmination and being mostly a CGI-enabled beat-em-up.
Suddenly, everything makes a lot more sense. When viewed on this level, Wonder Woman is being regarded as a more modest success as a film, bolstered by metrics that reward goodness over greatness. But why then did the extreme wave of hype manage to dominate, and why were those universally understood criticisms roundly accepted or ignored? To answer that, we need to go deeper.