Wonder Woman…is the definition of “okay.” Not good, not great, not “the worst thing I have ever seen in my life.” Just “okay.”
Actually, no. It’s also a sad testament to the low bar that is modern female empowerment. It is too aware of itself, feels the need to make you constantly aware of it, and thus lacks any kind of subtlety in its execution.
To tell you that DC is trying to be Marvel is the equivalent of telling an Olympic swimmer that water is wet, so let’s not even dwell on that. But no, they still haven’t figured out the formula, let alone how to make it their own.
As a main character, Diana of Themyscira…doesn’t really have one. She’s a classic fish out of water, much like Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in his first movie (or Crocodile Dundee, He-Man, Tarzan, etc. for that matter), but the only dimension they added to her is that she’s extremely naïve about mankind and the world he inhabits. She thinks that humans are only corrupted by presence of Aries, the Greek God of War, so it comes as quite a shock when she explores London for the first time and realizes that good and evil are not so black and white after all.
We’ll have to come back to that plot element later. Other than that, Diana’s job is to be a “strong, confident woman” who shakes up 1910’s society with her outspokenness, strength, and passion. Oh, and to fall in love with a guy, of course, because we can’t have prominent female characters who don’t hook up or are heavily motivated by a man in some capacity.
Gal Gadot is pretty and plays the role well…such as it is. But she deserves a better character with better writing, and a cast that actually compliments her personality-wise, in addition to needlessly covering her in fights.
Speaking of men and other characters, nobody else in this movie has much of a character either. They’re just kind of walking stereotypes with barely-mentioned backstories, mostly there to gawk at Diana for being hot, powerful, and generally unorthodox. The fat, comic-relief secretary is introduced and then quickly disappears for the rest of the movie, and you wonder why the writers even came up with her at all. Chris Pine cares a lot about marriage and propriety in some scenes, and then in others, he’s awkwardly joking about his penis for agonizingly long moments with Diana.
The cool Amazonian women feature heavily in the beginning, but only get mentioned once in the second half of the film, basically so that one of the male characters can creepily wish that he could go to “an island full of women like Diana and not a single man among them.”
Umm….Ewww and good luck with that, Buddy.
Some of the fight scenes are hilariously nonsensical, and the forced slow-mo moments don’t highlight how badass Diana is to me. They’re just annoying and gratuitous and, as you might imagine, slow things down. Keep the scene moving, Zack Snyder! I know it’s hard, but you can do this!
Along those same lines, at one point, Diana remarks that her new man friend Chris Pine (who can’t hold a German accent if his life depended on it. Just throwing that out there…) should take her straight to the war so she can kill Aries. It’s not a great sign when my boyfriend and I are both sitting there thinking, “Yeah, can we get to the action now? Please?”
The plot is extremely predictable. The writing and dialogue within it can be absolutely cringe-worthy, especially when it comes to Chris Pine and Gal Gadot being alone in a room together. I have so many unanswered Greek Mythology questions, and yet I never even studied the subject that hard in school. Character motivations make no sense when presented the way they are, particularly for Diana’s mother; she is implied to be extremely world-weary, but we never figure out how it happened, and her approach to “protecting” her daughter from Aries is illogical and flip-flops within about ten minutes anyway.
Speaking of Aries (MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS INCOMING), wouldn’t it have been much more interesting if he was proven to be a myth after all? Diana builds him up as this scapegoat for why human beings do bad things to themselves and to each other, and then there’s a fake-out where she thinks she killed Aries, but nothing stops or changes after the fact. Instead of focusing on that, which would have strengthened the movie’s message so much more, Aries turns out to be some other guy who was barely in the movie at all, who we didn’t have a fair shake at figuring out in the first place. The writers threw in a red herring and third-act twist, but couldn’t be assed to set it up in a way that would make it feel poignant or clever.
And, more importantly, it weakens the idea that a man has agency and responsibility for his own destructive behavior. They try to hand-wave this away during the epic final battle, with Aries spouting off a bunch of bullcrap about how “he didn’t make men this way! They did it themselves!” But come on! You still could have made a cool final battle scene without this silly, monologuing supervillain, and instead exploring a different direction. One in which Diana doesn’t have a five-minute existential crisis, but instead has to wrestle with it for the rest of the movie and come to terms with the loss of her childhood innocence.
That would be really relatable and interesting, but I guess we can’t ask for too much depth in beat-em-up summer blockbusters.
At the very least, if I can’t have smart or competent writing, I would settle for less shallow, meaningless feminist pandering. Reminding me constantly that Wonder Woman is – gasp! – a woman, and yet look at how awesome she is…it’s like listening to a guy explain a joke over and over again and demand that his listeners laugh at it, rather than just telling it and letting it speak for itself. It loses its impact and just comes across as forced, and the fact that I still felt empowered by it is…kind of sad, really.
Fair representation is a tricky thing. A person’s womanhood (or race, sexuality, etc.) tends to look good when it’s incidental to her greater character, because it implies that this is – or should be – the norm. A woman kicking ass shouldn’t be all that surprising or noteworthy, at least not to the point where it requires constant acknowledgement.
But at the same time, making a bigger deal about such a character can also be truly groundbreaking, pointing a purposeful finger at our current societal flaws and status quo, as if to say, “@$%& that! We’re running the show now!”
So there’s no easy or concrete approach to female characters and their framing (personally speaking, I tend to prefer the former option), but I hope we can at least agree that how this movie approached the subject was clumsy, awkward, and unintentionally insulting. It’s damn-near insecure.
There is so much more to say about Wonder Woman, but while it was similar to Beauty and the Beast with its hollow simplicity, I didn’t take it nearly as personally because I didn’t care about Wonder Woman at all prior to seeing this film. I did really enjoy moments of it, unlike with Beauty and the Beast, but I can’t point to any deep or compelling reason why for any of them. I relate to being told “you can’t do (insert activity here).” I like watching a girl kick ass and prove nay-sayers wrong. That’s about it. I can get pretty much the exact same feeling out of watching A League of Their Own.
One thing that I like that is fairly unique to Wonder Woman is that Diana isn’t embarrassed by the attention of guys, and has a blasé, almost amusedly detached attitude towards sex when it’s first brought up. Sadly, a lot of female characters in media have one of two settings when it comes to sex and romance: “ultra-virgin” or “ultra-slut,” so it’s nice to see some middle ground in that regard, outside of something like I Spit on Your Grave. But the rest of the romance subplot is predictable and cliché, and it’s too bad the majority of the scene I mentioned is awkward as hell and drags on for forever.
One last thing before we go: at one point, Pine and his secretary are trying to get Diana to wear normal, human clothes so that she will blend in more. Makes sense, right? But besides being confident and forward, she is also (admittedly) gorgeous, so much so that men everywhere become brain-dead protoplasm at the very sight of her.
Pine’s solution? He puts glasses on her to minimize and dim down her distracting beauty.
THERE IS NO MIDDLE FINGER BIG ENOUGH, ZACK SNYDER.
*None of the images used in this post belong to me.