Wonder Woman: Things It Got Wrong, And Stuff It Did Right

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.

Gray.Fullbuster.full.464204

Not this Gray. Although admittedly, it would make movies a lot more compelling.

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.

wwbarda

Regardless, Wonder Woman has nothing on Big Barda.

It is still a good movie.

Amaz-oh no-nians

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.

Ikakku wrong

The longer you look, the worse it gets.

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.

ww wet chris pine

And, disappointingly, his pants.

It’s still an important movie.

Blunder Woman

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).

sad WW

Yep, that about sums it up.

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?

exhausted

A new, potentially better, Wonder Woman movie could be built around this line alone.

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?

 

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Bright Young Things

So I’m really into Wakfu now. For those who don’t know it, it’s a French animated series based on an MMORPG (or MMPORG, if you get the reference), and stars a young Eliatrope (being who can control portals) called Yugo. He’s awesome. He hadn’t been on the screen for more than a few seconds (well, after we saw him as a baby) and I’d already decided I had enough of an affinity with him to cosplay him in the future, because he’s that damn cool. He’s kind and optimistic and capable, and I’m actually a little blown away by how taken I am with him. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised though, because I am still dedicated to the Mysterious Cities of Gold series, and Esteban was full of exuberance and adventure and good will, even if he did tend to get himself into danger a lot. Naruto is a similar character, albeit a lot more outspoken and defiant (and rude). And the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series followed Aang, who had nothing but compassion for the world, and struggled to see it brought to peace, and was dedicated to making his friends happy and safe. He’s my favourite part of that three-series journey, as he leads it perfectly.

He puts the AANG in Prot-Aang-onist. Wait, let me try again...

He puts the AANG in Prot-Aang-onist. Wait, let me try again…

It just brings to mind the reactions people have had to Legacy; specifcally to Tierenan, the deuteragonist (of sorts) who travels with Faria and follows her adventure.

A Hero Who Didn’t Know He Was A Hero

Without exception, everyone who’s spoken and written to me about Legacy has told me how much they like Tierenan. He’s run away with my audience, heh. And he deserves it- he’s a very cool guy, and I don’t think any of the other characters would complain that he gets as much praise as he does. The weirdest thing to me is that he was the character I planned least. He just happened. I didn’t spend ages constructing a specific development arc for him within Legacy or honing his personality. He came as he was and fit in perfectly. I’m really grateful for that, because if I’d tried to write him, I probably would have ruined him.

And we all know how that turns out.

And we all know how that turns out.

The people who know me have said that he’s me, but I always saw myself as Alaris; not a main character, for one, and also more of a support role and a play-as-much-by-the-rules-as-possible sort of person. The more I think about it, though, the more I realise there’s more in Tierenan than I first anticipated, whether it’s reflective of me or not.

When I first wrote Legacy I kind of brushed him off as someone to fill in the gaps between Faria, who carries the main narrative, and Aeryn and Kyru, whose story I had been invested in since the very early concepts (even before any of them were animals). To a degree, I figured that what he said either wouldn’t matter or would be there as a commentary to prevent the whole thing from being too serious. I always wanted him to be likeable though, and not as artificial as a lot of obnoxious Disney comedy placeholders are. But through spending time with him, I think specifically because he wasn’t constrained by preconceived plot ideas, he took a shape of his own that reacted to the environment and the other characters. It really was a more natural progression for him, and I wasn’t even aware of it.

One thing remained constant, though: his unfaltering hope. I’ve always wanted my stories to be full of hope, and he is the sole character that carries it from the moment we meet him. I think people fall into the trap of making stories dismal or harrowing or unpleasant, especially for young adults, and they focus so much on the loss of innocence and certain cruel realities of the world for no reason other than to be evocative. It’s probably what irritates me most about the direction the Harry Potter series went in, especially in the final book. War begets casualties, of course, but stories are such an investment for the reader. Killing off everyone you care about (and not even giving them a final justification or battle scene) doesn’t make you fulfilled as an audience member. Personally, I find it very unsatisfying. Especially for young adults who’re about to make their mark on the world, they shouldn’t be discouraged from trying, or from dreaming big or wanting to protect or include everyone. There’s already so much cynicism in the world, and I think the ones who will change it need to be given hope. Not promises, but hope.

Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”- Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I’m really glad that Tierenan is liked so much. It’s humbling to me. I want to keep his light going in the rest of the books, and it would be an honour if he was talked about in the same way that Aang and Yugo and Esteban and Natsu and Groot are some day. And not just by me :p

We're on the fence about you, boy.

We’re on the fence about you, boy. Haven’t forgiven you for the weird plot developments.