The Wonder Woman Movie

So, Wonder Woman is the most important character in my personal canon. I think sometimes fiction can guide us, can ennoble our lives, and at her best that’s what Wonder Woman is to me. Some people have King Arthur, some people have Aslan, some people have Batman. I have Princess Diana of Themyscira. If, somehow, all fictional characters were going to be erased from human history, but I could save one, I would save Wonder Woman. In a Fahrenheit 451 situation, I would memorize and preserve Greg Ruka’s The Hiketeia.

So, I must be enthralled by the new movie, beloved by audiences and critics alike, right?

Not really. It didn’t do some of the things I’m most scared of writers doing to Wonder Woman, it didn’t hurt me in most of the ways I was sure it it would. But it still hurt me in other ways I expected. It got the details wrong, those little things that are easy to overlook, but that make Wonder Woman who she is. So, no harshing on anyone’s love for this movie, parts of it were great, and I did tear up. It was nice to see the Diana we got, but she wasn’t quite my Diana.

  • The Death of the First Amazon

She was cool, right, swinging down from the rock like that. That was a radical scene wasn’t it? But what, ultimately did her death accomplish?

The Amazons are limited in number, there are only a few thousand of them. Diana is the first child any of them have had in centuries. Her death should have been life-shattering. Diana should have cried out. They should have had a funeral for their fallen sister. They should have mourned her. We should have known her name.

Her death, and its dismissal, is part of a larger flaw with the movie. It preaches that “love saves the world,” that people are flawed but ultimately precious and worth saving. But the movie treats almost all people, all life save From Diana and Steve’s, as disposable, outside of grandiose speeches.

The Amazons are immortal. They do not age, and do not die of natural causes. They can only die in battle, as that Amazon did. How devastating that most have been, to see their sister die. Diana would never have seen human death before. And aside from a small sad face, we do not see her react to this life-altering tragedy at all. She would have known this woman her whole life. Everyone intimately knows everyone on Themyscira.They are all sisters.

When Steve Trevor dies, a man Diana has known for three or four days, she unlocks her power as a god. When a sister she has known her whole life dies, and is the first death she has ever seen, she frowns a little.

And so many Amazons die in this battle. We see them later, strewn out on the beach among the German corpses. This would be a population tragedy as well as a personal one. Again, Diana was the only baby they had in centuries, gifted by the Gods. And like, 15 people just died, and no one seems really all that upset about it. For all we know, their bodies were still out on that beach by the end of the movie.

I get it would go against the fairly light tone of this movie, but if you don’t want to bring down the mood by acknowledging deaths, don’t put in those deaths. Otherwise it’s weird and uncomfortable when we can see the bodies and know people died but no one in the movie will acknowledge that.

 

  • Antiope’s Death

She should absolutely not have died. Her death, much like her unnamed sister’s, fundamentally did not matter. It does not change Diana as a person, it does not motivate her at any point in the movie, it does not spur any change in Hippolyta, it is never brought up again the whole course of the movie, except for Hippolyta giving Diana Antiope’s circlet, which Antiope could have done herself. “I have trained you as best I can, now, as you go out into the world we have retreated from, I the best warrior of the Amazons, give you this last bit of protection, you, our daughter.”

Antiope’s death does not seem to affect her sister. We do not see her mourn, we do not see her funeral. Hippolyta’s position on Diana not leaving, not fighting, has not changed since the start of the movie, has not been visibly strengthened or weakened because of Antiope’s death.

There is a woman who runs to her body on the beach. The woman does not get a name. She is the only one who really seems affected by Antiope’s death, and we do not get to know why. Is she Antiope’s wife? How has her life just been changed? No time, the movie says, and hastens on.

Her death means nothing to the film and was unnecessary and unneeded. Imagine if Spiderman just shrugged off Uncle Ben’s Death. If Batman wasn’t really that torn up about Martha and Thomas Wayne getting shot. The adventures of Bruce Wayne, millionaire, and Peter Parker, regular college guy. If you had to kill off a member of Diana’s family, her Aunt, make it matter to her. Diana just kind of goes: “Bummer. Well, I’m leaving now, going to kiss this rando and be upset about death, just not yours, specifically, in any way.”

What if, instead of making jokes about Steve Trevor’s dick, we had used that time to see the Amazons mourn their dead family? Wouldn’t that have been important in a movie whose message is that human life is precious and valuable and that love will save us?

Nope, time to talk about how Steve Trevor is bigger than average.

 

  • Phillipus and The Black Amazons

I can not understate how happy I was to see them. Diverse Amazons! And Phillipus, a named character in the Wonder Woman movie! I briefly though I had made it to utopia. But then they barely get any lines. Most of you probably did not now there was a character named Phillipus in this movie, even though she was credited (played by Ann Ogbomo), let alone which background character she was.

Well, let me tell you, she’s my fave.

In the comics she’s a trusted friend and advisor to Hippolyta and Diana, and winds up as co-leader of the Amazons for a period, along with the Amazon Artemis (most of which occurred under Rucka’s run of the comics).

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Artemis, Diana, and Phillipus from the Trade collection “Eyes of the Gorgon,” by Greg Rucka.

She also, throughout the comics, has had romantic undertones with Hippolyta, in the way that gay readers immediately zero in on them and recognize what’s happening, while straight readers go “no, no, you’re imaging things.” Subtext, is what I mean. Comics writer Gail Simone was planning to let them get married in her run, but it never happened.

She sure is barely in the movie for being an important figure. She sure is also not Diana’s other mom and Hippolyta’s beloved wife. Which sure, fine minor character (it’s not fine, she’s the best). But this movie is oppressively heterosexual. Woman alone for thousands of centuries and none of them are in love with each other. None of them got married? Fuck off.

That’s one point, and the other is the Black actresses should have had more lines. We should have known their names. Niobe’s (Jacqui-Lee Pryce) name is said once. This is a problem for all the Amazons, we don’t really know them, or their names (imagine if Ma or Pa Kent or Alfred didn’t get lines or names. They’re Diana’s family). But this is worse for the actresses of color, who don’t get lines or character names in an industry where they barely get roles, and especially in a movie that is being lauded for it’s diversity (which, don’t’ get me wrong, it did do some things well, just not speaking roles for black women).

 

  • There is Literally a Homophobic Joke in this Movie I Have Not Seen Anyone Talk About This

When they’re in the boat and talking about sleeping next to one another Diana asks Steve if he sleeps with women, and he says no, and she follows up with a line like “You sleep with men, then?” and he exclaims “No!”

This man a few rows up from me thought this was the funniest thing, did this horrible derisive laugh. I’ve heard that laugh before, and I know what it means. I wanted to die a little, right there in the theatre, I know so intimately what that kind of laugh means.

Why couldn’t Steve Trevor have been gay? Why is the hypothetical of him sleeping with men funny? Why is it funny that he’s adamantly against of sleeping with men? (It’s homophobia.)

 

  • Let Diana Be Gay, You Absolute Cowards

The joke of Diana mentioning that she’s read all 12 volumes of that sex manual so she definitely knows what sex is, is that she’s never had sex. Again, an island of women living together for centuries. They have had sex. They have had romance. They have had breakups and marriages and the full range of emotions that one human can feel for another.

But nope, Diana has never had sex, never been romantically involved, never held hands before. Okay.

Let’s talk about my other favorite minor Wonder Woman character (I know, I know. I’m not even going to talk about my other other favorite minor Wonder Woman character, Diana’s personal chef Ferdinand the Minotaur, in this whole thing, let me have this).

My other favorite is Io.

God, Io. She’s the blacksmith on Themyscira. She’s bashful and brave and soft spoken and so devoted to Diana and the Amazons. In this particular run of the comics, the Gods have made it so the Amazons can not have weapons on their island, but Io makes sword after sword, only for them to vanish as soon as she puts them on the weapon rack. She does this to practice, and just in case, and because she is the blacksmith. I love her.

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Amazons doing their thing and rescuing people. Io is wearing orange pants and no shirt on the right. From the Trade collection “Bitter Rivals,” by Greg Rucka.

She’s another of the sub-textual Amazon romances that almost made it to full text. And her romance was with Wonder Woman.

Under Rucka’s run of Wonder Woman (which is my personal favorite), there’s hints throughout, little intimate moments that the two share.

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From the Trade collection “Down to Earth,” by Greg Rucka.

Their relationship never got to become fully canon, because Rucka’s run of Wonder Woman got swept up in the big comics crossover event of whatever that year was. The story he wanted to tell had to make way for the EVENT story, and all the Amazons (including sweet, wonderful Io) wound up being removed to a different reality, or disappearing, or dying in whatever stupid and confusing event that was. The Omnic Crisis? It may or may not be Batman’s fault? Whatever, it doesn’t matter.

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Look at this. Look at these panels of Diana saying goodbye to Io forever and tell me they weren’t in love. From the Trade collection “Mission’s End,” by Greg Rucka

It would have been cool to see Io in the background.

What if they let Wonder Woman be gay? What if they let anyone be gay? What if they had fulfilled the movie’s promise of  “love will save the world” in the most powerful way possible?

 

Also, Chris Pine was a miscast and uninteresting black hole afflicting the movie.

 

  • Wonder Woman, Alone in the World of Men

I loved baby Diana at the beginning. I loved watching her walk through the town, greeting her older sisters. After that, she barely interacts with anyone but her mother and Antiope on the island. That’s fine, the movie is crunched for time, got places to be.

And then we get Etta. How nice they’re bonding, they’re becoming friends, oh wait never mind, bye Etta! It was nice someone involved with the movie remembered you existed!

And then Wonder Woman tromps across battlefields with men for the rest of the movie. The movie has already failed the real, original Bechdel-Wallace test, not the fake, watered down version (no gay women here!), but there’s a weird split, where the first third of the movie Wonder Woman interacts with other women and then that’s it. Could have had a fifth member of the group, a lady member hanging around. Like, a lady ambulance driver or Red Cross nurse, a survivor from Veld who is sick of being passive and decides to take the war into her own hands (one of the grandmas, preferably), a German mother who has seen her country go to war and who is sick of the fighting and defects…

Nah, Wonder Woman gets no lasting lady friends, and ostensibly never goes home after the war to see her sisters again. Cool.

The men tagging along with her get to prove that there is goodness in the hearts of Men, but what about the women living in Man’s World? Why don’t they get to show the goodness in their hearts, to demonstrate that they’re as strong as any Amazon, even if their strength is of a different kind.

 

  • Wonder Woman’s Father

This is it. This thing, fifteen minutes into the movie, was where my heart broke, where I knew they did not understand her character. Wonder Woman has a father, and that father is Zeus.

In the comics, the good ones, the ones that really understand her character, she has no father. Other comics retell her origin story and give her a father, but these misunderstand what her character means in the same fundamental way the movie does. Diana of Themyscira is made from clay, and given life and gifts by the women of the Greek pantheon. Speed, grace, intelligence. Aphrodite gives her beauty, because of course she does.

That’s right, all your faves: Hera, Artemis, Athena, even often overlooked Hestia take part in Diana’s birth.

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The cover to George Perez’s Wonder Woman #1, and some arrows I included to point out all the women the movie missed.

The woman behind me laughed uproariously when Diana told Steve her mother made her from clay. What a funny, inconceivable thing, a woman with no father, raised by the support of other women.

Not only did the movie feel it was necessary to insert a man into Diana’s life, to insert a father, it had to wholly abolish any trace of a collective of women raising her. All the other gods besides Zeus and Ares were killed. Hestia, Artemis, Athena, Hera. Killed. All completely obliterated from the narrative. Diana has one father and one mother. This movie is oppressively heterosexual.

Wonder Woman, the real Wonder Woman, comes from no man. Diana, The Amazons and Themyscyra/Paradise Island show the power and peace women can achieve when they are liberated from an oppressive patriarchy. The Amazons have liberated themselves. And then Wonder Woman goes to Man’s World and both learns and shows the way that we can all live in peace and power and helps in everyone’s struggle for their own liberation. Wonder Woman’s feminist origins and message are obliterated by this movie the same way that Hera and Artemis and all the others are. The movie can only limp along, fulfilling a shadow of Wonder Woman’s potential after this.

 

  • Disfigurement Means You’re Evil

I’m actually a little appalled at Dr. Maru’s character. Way to use some of the sleaziest villain-coding possible. No other character’s are disfigured or need prosthetics. Just the bad guy, and in a way where her disfigurement is a metaphor for how evil she is. Ooohhh, what good, innovative writing.

When Diana is standing over Dr. Maru with the tank, and Ares is yelling about the darkness inside of humanity, Dr. Maru’s prosthetic face flies off, a visual confirmation of the rot Ares sees at the heart of humanity. Disfigurement makes you evil. If you’re ugly, you’re a bad guy, and are probably willing to kill millions.

Wonder Woman would not, and should not stand for such a hateful message.

 

  • Dudes Objectifying and Ogling Wonder Woman

So when she first meets Sammy, he comes on to her in a way that struck me as gross, in a “check out this hot CHICK,” kind of way. And then its supposed to be okay, that he treated her that way because she shows him up by speaking more languages than him and then they’re buds. I didn’t need this. I didn’t need to be reminded that you can be the most powerful woman in the world and men, good men, men who are ostensibly your allies, will reduce you without thinking twice about it.

I could speak the most languages, lift the most weight, know the most facts about Wonder Woman in the world, and some guy who also likes superheroes would reduce me, because of my identity, because of the way that I am, because I have opinions on the internet.

I needed a Wonder Woman where I didn’t have to be reminded of how unthinking and unsafe men can be in such a banal way, or where it’s supposedly made okay by a little wink to the audience. I needed Wonder Woman to remind the man of her humanity, and get him to recognize it.

 

  • Disposable Civilians, Disposable Germans

The Veld is a vast expanse of more pointless death. The stakes were high enough – millions of people at the front lines about to be killed. It doesn’t really raise your stakes to kill a bunch of people, be sad for a second, and then forget about them. it’s bad, manipulative writing.

Who cares about Belgium? In a movie that’s rewriting history you could have upped the stakes by having England or the U.S. in direct threat, but no let’s bomb a bunch of grandparents in the less-sexy part of Europe. English and American flags in the celebration at the end, but no Belgian.

More pointless death with the German soldiers. Diana says multiple times that they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re under Ares’ thrall. Sure doesn’t stop her from murdering them indiscriminately. In the trench scene she could have not stabbed a couple guys, liberated them from Ares. But nah, only those five Germans at the very end get to be saved, for some reason, even though, maybe the Germans directly making mustard gas are more culpable then the grunts in the trenches. Parts of this movie felt like the old black and white WWI movies that are a bunch of American chest-pounding. It’s weird.

 

  • Where is Lynda Carter?

Where is she? Where is Lynda!?

I’m devastated there was no Lynda Carter cameo. She was Wonder Woman in the T.V. series that ran from 1975 to 1979. I don’t want to reduce her down to just one role, she’s had a wonderful career and you should check out her music, but her Wonder Woman was so important and so inspiring.

If Lynda Carter didn’t want to make any more of an appearance than as a name in the Thank You scroll in the end credits, that’s fine, I fully respect her decision, even though it makes me sad.

But I suspect it’s more than that. I suspect the movie wanted to distance itself from Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. The DC cinematic universe is grim and serious, and there’s no room for fun, even in this movie that has been the most successful, in part because there’s a little room for fun.

Here’s my evidence:

No costume change spin.

“But Gabrielle, that’s silly and goofy.” Yes, and it’s also iconic. How many little girls grew up doing the Wonder Woman spin after seeing Lynda Carter do it? You worked Hestia’s Lasso of Truth in (thank god, although they couldn’t quite get in the Golden Girdle of Gaea, huh?), why not the spin? (The very best spin is at 3:00)

She does not once throw her tiara like a boomerang.

Yeah, you remember how Hippolyta gave her Antiope’s circlet? Would have maybe been cool if she used it, and like, made Antiope’s death and the gift of the circlet in any way meaningful.

Those two are the little ones. The third bit of evidence (besides just the fact of no cameo) is bigger and even uses cinematic language in a way the backs up my point.

When Etta and Steve take Diana shopping, she completes her ensemble by putting on a pair of glasses that bear a similarity to another pair of glasses.

In the 1970s series, Wonder Woman had a secret identity, working as a Yeoman for Steve Trevor, and later spy associate to Steve Trevor Jr (it’s complicated). her disguise entailed: normal clothes, big glasses. I was delighted when our new Wonder Woman put on those doofy things in the department store.

But then, minutes later in the fight with the undercover Germans, the glasses get destroyed. Not just off-screen too, there are multiple shots of them hitting the ground and being stepped on, completely obliterated. There is no room for old Wonder Woman here.

Lynda Carter inspired, and continues to inspire a generation of girls. And the little bit of that legacy that makes it into the movie is crushed under a thug’s boots.

Basically, all I’m saying is that erasure of Lynda Carter’s impact on the character is a crime.

 

  • Footwear

She has wedge heels on her battle gear, guys, come on. Also a crime.

 

On the one hand, you could dismiss all this as me being a pedantic comic nerd, upset that a multi-billion dollar company didn’t bother to learn all the minutiae of the lore. I’ll admit some of it is (probably like six other people care about Io, if I’m being honest with myself). But on the other hand, I think what I have pointed out, the things that hurt me about this movie are truly indicative of a movie that on many levels did not understand it’s main character or the themes she embodies. Wonder Woman is a feminist vision, speaking to the strength and love of women, envisioning a utopia of women loving and supporting one another. The movie undermines this, getting rid of Wonder Woman’s many mothers, making the death of her family cheap, avoiding her friendships with women, and only acknowledging any sort of gayness in order to make a joke. Wonder Woman is about seeing the good in humanity, unless you’re ugly and disfigured. Wonder Woman is about saving everyone – the most powerful line in the movie, Diana will save everyone – except not really, let’s not even name or mourn a bunch of people, who cares about her dead family, or those dead Belgian grandparents, written in for cheap drama and then immediately cast away.

We got a good movie. I know a lot of people are happy about it. But we didn’t get a great movie. We all, Wonder Woman, the nameless Amazons, the audience, we all deserved better. We all could be better, is Wonder Woman’s ultimate message, we can be great and kind and powerful and loving and supporting. We’ll get there, someday.

 

 


Ultimately, this movie came close, and we did not have to suffer through a movie based on  Joss Whedon’s horrible foot fetish, male gaze screenplay, and we all deflected a bullet with our Feminum bracers on that one.

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