Wowee, it’s been a long time since I was last on here.
Anyway, seeing as I’m trying to get back into writing again I thought it’d be a good idea to flex my fingers and start the gears grinding by writing up some thoughts on Wonder Woman, after seeing it with my wife this last weekend. We talked about it afterwards for a long time, and these are a mix of both our thoughts about it.
I will start by saying it is a good movie, probably DC’s best in latest memory. Still suffered from the over-serious washed-out colour plates that make everything look like it’s been hidden inside a neglected swimming pool for too long, but eh, I’m used to everything being mostly shades of grey in theatres now.
Oh, heavy spoilers follow, by the way.
So, What Went Wrong?
Initially, it looked fantastic. Little Diana was the rebellious, battle-starved little Amazonian I hoped she would be, but very quickly after she entered adulthood, her agency and presence was taken away from some fairly lazy storytelling mistakes.
A Stronger Girl Than A Woman
Firstly, the establishment of her as a fighter was great, and we absolutely needed to see that. She has trained almost her entire life to beat people up and this culminated in her unleashing a small piece of her as-yet-undiscovered goddess powers on her beloved teacher. But the second a threat enters Themiscyra in the form of some angry Germans chasing Chris Pine, she is relegated to hiding behind a rock. Chris Pine immediately removes her autonomy and pulls her behind it, and she hasn’t even witnessed the effect of their rifles at this point. She has waited her WHOLE LIFE for a fight, it arrives on her beach, and she loses almost all of the passion which we’ve seen in her up to this point. She always defers to her mother, but she was throwing shields and arrows AT HER FRIEND’S FACES not minutes earlier and this one man who has proved nothing superior about himself except his lack of buoyancy manages to strip her of a chance to have stood on the beach and threaten the Germans away like she already has the power to do.
You could argue that she was shell-shocked from almost explodifying Cool Mom Antiope and embarrassing herself in front of Real Mom Hippolyta, but this brings up an inherent conflict in her portrayal. Here she is, demonstrably the most proficient and powerful fighter in all of Amazonia, brought up to know that Nobody Must Ever Find This Island and We Are Here For A Reason, and also from very early on that Men Are Very Corruptible and Ares Is Out There. She knows all of these things. It is literally in her very being as the God Killer weapon made by Zeus. But she became a deer in the headlights when faced with the arrival of men. Part of this may be due to the contradictory nature of the Amazonians themselves, a race of women eternally training for a war which their leader is in denial (or fear) of ever happening. That doesn’t make focus easy. But this was a Diana who was JUMPING OFF A FUCKING CLIFF just to avoid her babysitter. Tiny Diana was fearless, rebellious, and wanted to kick ARSE, Her behaviour at the beach doesn’t quite ring true, and while this is essentially the first step of Diana becoming the figurehead for the Amazonians and there needs to be some kind of growth to her emotions, at this point in the journey she’s far less headstrong than when she was a child. I’m not ever sure whether she really regains that over the course of the movie, either.
It is still a good movie.
Antiope is a tactician. The best Tactician Mom, if Worried Mom Hippolyta is to be believed. I wonder if the movie confused ‘tactician’ with ‘combatant’ though, because she is remarkably efficient at fighting, but it is very basic military tactics that if your archers have the high ground, YOU DON’T GET DOWN. Now, granted, they are facing guns, which they have never been up against before, but even then, assuming that the guns used are the German Gewehr 98, which were used a lot in the Ottoman Empire (I wasn’t paying that much attention to the rifles in the movie so they may be different models), with iron sights they only had an effective range of about 550yds, AND they’re firing up against gravity, which vastly influences their aim and the force of their bullets. Especially given the size of the cliff (we’re given an extraordinary view of Diana jumping off it to save Steve), a few steps backwards would have completely negated the German’s ability to shoot any of them at all, and they’d be completely at the mercy of intense cavalry and infantry charges.
But, Antiope, or whichever overexcited Amazonian had been watching too much anime that day, decided to try out her Attack on Titan moves to swing down and shoot the invaders first-hand, which not only lowers her into a more effective line of sight for her enemy, but also completely removes her advantages of angle and stability when aiming. There’s a lot of overchoreography of the fights in Wonder Woman, and this is probably the worst instance of it. Anyway, the Amazonian gets shot, and dies.
The Amazonian who has been training her whole life, is physically pristine, gets shot in the abdomen and dies by a single bullet. There are soldiers with absolutely zero training who are less goddess-like who’ve sustained multiple gunshot wounds and have still survived to kill dozens of enemies. It was just… it was very unnecessary. It was a plot-convenient death to spurn Diana into action. It should not have been this way. Diana should always have been ready to fight. If they needed to be shot on the beach, they needed to come directly to the beach, and not essentially remove themselves from a hugely tactical position. It’s just not very smart. And I would feel that way about any movie tactician/troop making that decision, not just because they’re women. If they are supposed to be military elites, especially incredibly well-read ones given Diana’s praise of their library, they need to be portrayed that way.
It is still a fun movie.
Princess on Parade
The movie continues with Diana’s trip to England, and this is where the worst betrayal of her character happens in my view, if only because it’s so consistent and subtle that you don’t quite notice it until you reflect on it.
An awful lot of Diana’s exposure to WWI London is played for laughs. Firstly, Steve (Chris Pine’s character) implores that she cover herself up. Diana, in her sacred armour of the goddesses, doesn’t even protest. She is given the meagre retort of ‘Well, what do women wear here?’, but is given no opportunity to be proud of her heritage, her body, or encourage other women around her to do the same for themselves. It’s so representative of what women actually go through that I don’t even know if it’s a commentary or not that she gave minimal resistance. She’s treated like a nuisance or an embarrassment and the excuse given (by Steve) in the movie is that she needs to abide by the UK’s customs. This is not how I wanted to see Wonder Woman treated. She should have strode right into London, armour blazing (which is hard to do when your saturation levels are set so low), and giving no apology to Steve for anything that she is. She is an Amazonian Fucking Princess. And she’s pushed and shuffled around by him like a confused relative, or an exuberant foreign exchange student nobody really wants to deal with. Which I guess is not that far from the truth from Steve’s point of view.
This diminishing treatment of her is further amplified when she walks into the meeting of the ministers. They all stop talking, appropriately, because she’s FUCKING WONDER WOMAN, and begin their sexist comments about how she shouldn’t be there, because she’s NOT DRESSED LIKE FUCKING WONDER WOMAN. Instead of using the silence to empower herself, sit on a bench and say ‘Carry on”, like the badass she should be and without being given the opportunity to approach them as she did the Themiscyran senators earlier in the movie, she just makes a few quiet noises and obeys Steve’s herding back into the antechamber.
Steve kind of ruins the movie for her. There’s so much focus being given to how he keeps trying to protect her outside of battle that she isn’t given a chance to show strength of character. She fights like the best of any superhero, but at any other time she plays right into the direction Steve is facing, because he is already facing that way. Exception is made to her infiltrating the gala, and her assaulting the German trenches, and these are the points there should have been more of during the movie. Not just her fighting, but her taking a stand instead of being ushered from place to place and being told that her mission to defeat Ares was all secondhand to Steve’s suicide mission in the war.
It’s still an important movie.
My wife mentioned this, and I hadn’t really noticed it before now; there’s only one woman in the movie who could be considered ‘normal’, the terribly British Etta Candy. Etta spends about as much time diminishing Diana as Steve does with downplaying her beliefs and habits as bizarre quirks that should be subdued for the sake of acting ‘properly’, although she does it in a much less insidious way because she appears ready to take her place as Angela Lansbury’s cheerful, bouncy, younger reincarnation. Her awkwardness is a stark contrast to Diana’s elegance, however. You’re either a goddess or a well-meaning bluster of tea and purple tweed and there’s nothing inbetween. Oh, or disfigured and undesirable, as is the case with Dr Poison. A play is made by Steve trying to seduce the Dr at the gala, and for a time she’s almost taken in, apparently because her disability prevents her from getting the affection she desperately needs. She begins to fawn, and suddenly snaps out of it when she sees Steve looking over her shoulder at Diana when she gatecrashes the ball (by knocking an old lady unconscious, we are led to believe). So here you have a woman who, despite having incredible knowledge of chemistry and a burning (hah) desire to further her work, is almost completely seduced by a man within ninety seconds of his arrival, and is so embittered by jealousy as soon as she sees another woman in his view, that she storms off. It’s such an awful trope straight from a high school drama.
Not even Wonder Woman HERSELF was safe from Steve’s ridiculous charms. What’s slightly disturbing about the way relationships like this develop in a story where you have a woman who doesn’t understand her surroundings or is very out of place, is it almost feels like she gets persuaded to have sex by a man who has secure footing. Steve knows his world. He knows he wants sex. He even mentions it their very second time alone together, on the boat. But Diana regards his nudity with an almost girl-like innocence when she sees him in the bath, and even though she delivers the fantastic line “when it comes to procreation, men are essential, but for pleasure, not necessary”, she still gets talked into bed with him at around the beginning of the third act. It’s just… yes, he’s the first man she’s ever met. She does not have to sleep with him. He’s obstructive and pushy and secretive and literally denounced her ideas as crazy, and yes, very attractive, but she’s WONDER WOMAN. Wonder Woman should not be that easy.
All of the other women on screen (civilians, mostly) are victims begging for help; even Dr Poison’s brilliance turns out to have been manipulated by Ares so we never even discover how much of her work is genuinely hers, or even whether Ares invented the ideas FOR her. All of their foundations, except the Amazonians, are based on the actions of others. And Wonder Woman herself acts so rarely on her own that the movie may well have starred Steve from the beginning.
So as much as Wonder Woman is a movie that needed to happen, there are no capable women who aren’t already goddesses. And that’s… not very feminist. There’s no Peggy Carter, who loved Steve Rogers so completely yet still held her own against him in an argument and beautifully in her own series. I wanted Diana to be Peggy. Unashamed of her goals and unafraid of what the world thought of her, even if it was one she’d never set foot in before. DC has beaten Marvel to the punch by making the premiere Hollywood blockbuster woman superhero movie that should always have been available, but they didn’t do the best they could. It wouldn’t even pass the Bechdel test (not that that’s necessarily the best indicator of a movie’s strength of character, mind you, but it’s something to consider).
It’s still a movie you should see.
Well, crap, did ANYTHING work?
There were three parts of the movie that were great.
First, young Diana. Awesome, every little girl should have that much spirit in her, and after seeing how eager she was to be strong, THAT’S how the movie should have continued.
Secondly, her busting out in armour to assault the German trenches because she’d FINALLY had enough of following Steve around for half a damn movie was amazing. Seeing her sprint and leap into enemy strongholds was phenomenally powerful, especially given the current political rhetoric that’s trying to limit or control women’s bodies and autonomy RIGHT THIS MINUTE, that image is something that should be seared into the mind of every woman when someone tries to infringe on their beliefs. And my wife was saying that moment, where Diana says “I must do this, there is no other choice”, that she herself has felt that way, it’s a very feminine thing to act instinctively when there’s a wrong that needs to be corrected. That’s the kind of empowerment I want to see from any hero, especially of marginalised race, sexual characteristics, weight, age, gender, anything.
Finally, the thing that I liked most about the movie was how Ares treated Diana. He knew from the very beginning that she was a weapon. Not once did he ever consider her less than an equal to him because she was a woman. He knew she was a threat, or an equal, which made his conversation with her even more powerful, and the climactic fight even more intense. If you can write a VILLAIN that treats a woman that respectfully, why is it so hard to get the PROTAGONIST to do it?
The bottom line is, it’s still a movie that will inspire millions. It’s a movie that should set a precedent that the formula CAN and DOES work, and that it can be done better than any time before. Women creators, POC creators, LGBTQIAP creators, young creators, ANYONE, should be able to see how a hero can be or do anything. And damn, if it isn’t about time we had some decent representation in superhero movies.
Just… do it a little more thoroughly next time, please?