Feminists: stop kidding yourselves about Wonder Woman. It was a C- action flick at best.
My Facebook feed, and probably yours as well, has been flooded with articles praising Wonder WomanTM as a milestone for the representation of women onscreen. What is up with this collective amnesia? Since when is 2017 the year of the first female-led superhero flick? When one looks at the actual cinematic history of female action heroes, one sees that problem lies much more with the corporations of Marvel and DC, rather than with films in general. Whereas creative directors and writers have been making films with strong female characters for decades, DC was just the most successful at advertising this fact with a strong marketing plan —stronger than any character in the film.
In order to promote the film, Marvel has capitalized on the belief that there have been no female-led action films, and we as women just have to go see this, as it has never been done before. Hence the ‘female-only’ screenings: a celebration of this fantastic achievement. What? Sigourney Weaver is the one star throughout the entire Alien franchise (1979, 1986, 1992, 1997), fighting awesome battles against freakish and legitimately scary creatures. Luc Besson’s Nikita (1990) and The Fifth Element (1997), are cinematic masterpieces with fantastic women who save the day; his Lucy (2014) gives Scarlett Johansson extra-sensorial powers which she uses to stop a dangerous drug from reaching Europe. Is Aeon Flux (2005, directed by a woman) not a superhero? What about Lara Croft (2001, 2003), which I watched over and over again as a child, my favorite martial arts archaeologist? They have superhuman acrobatic skills, strength, and access to high-tech weaponry, which makes them as much a superhero as Batman. What about Ultraviolet (2006), who was infected with a virus which gives her superpowers, the typical origin story of many the Marvel hero? And everyone seems to want to forget that a DC character was already represented in Catwoman (2004), a film, which, despite its flaws, has the most believable villain: a fashion corporation that sells a skin cream which destroys the skin, unless women keep using it. If I have a daughter, that’s the villain I want her to hate, not some scrawny mustached pseudo-god with unclear ambitions.
And yet, there seems to be this collective desire for female superheroes to not to be represented just by artists, but by megacorporations. Because the superb cinematography and direction of Luc Besson isn’t enough. The world doesn’t want a female superhero; it wants a female superhero with a brand. The feminism behind this trend is the pop corporate feminism in the style of Ivanka Trump: feminism to sell accessories. It is not interested in art, story-telling, or messages. It’s interested in consumer trends, ethnic and gender marketing, and how many toys they can sell from the movie.
Keeping with corporate feminism, the film passes the Bechdel test only as much as it seems it was purposely designed to do so. Diana speaks to her mother and to the other woman on her home island, and indeed, these female characters are named. Yet once she leaves the island, they contribute in absolutely no way towards the rest of the film, which is dominated by the overwhelming presence of men, men, men. The whole purpose of inserting the first 30 minutes on female island seemed to be: look, we have Diana speaking to other women, they are named, and we are passing the Bechdel test, now let’s move on to the actual story. Once the actual story begins, no woman other than Diana plays any significant role (oh, there’s the evil scientist who doesn’t say much and is just making chemicals for the true villain, who later turns out to not be the true villain). The way people gawk at her at the street, and Chris Pine calls her ‘too distracting’, one would think there were no other tall, beautiful, intelligent women walking about in 1918 London (there were female police officers, suffragists, and just average working women going about their day). The only mention of the suffragist movement is made by Chris Pine’s secretary (the strongest female character after Diana once we leave Amazon Island, who does nothing significant), in passing. When Diana chooses a less feminine dress over the uncomfortably tight and frilly outfits presented to her, Pine sighs and says she wasn’t meant to be ‘distracting’. He then gives her glasses to make her look less ‘distracting’ (meaning glasses would make her less beautiful, beauty being distracting– much to the dismay of any woman in the audience wearing glasses). The ironic thing is, the outfit Diana chose was precisely the kind of thing working women would wear on a 1918 London street unless they were going to some gala. In trying to convey a dramatic opposition to the free, natural state of Amazonian women, the representation of women from 1918 London falls to a misrepresentational caricature.
Aside from its shallow representation of women, the film isn’t great at representing men either. All male characters seem to be made of cardboard, with obvious responses that only dull the viewer. How many times must we hear: ‘A woman? What’s she doing here?’ so the writers can drill into our head that men were prejudiced at the time. And the one character who’s meant to be the ‘nice guy’, Pine’s, only has the role of telling Diana over and over again that she can’t do things. Anything. Don’t wear that. Don’t go there. Don’t do this. Stop Diana! There is no character evolution: in the final act, when Pine sacrifices himself (having me thinking: couldn’t he have flown the plane over the ocean and dumped the chemicals there), he tells her that he is the one who has to do this, and not her. From ‘no’ at the beginning to ‘no’ at the end, the film unwittingly describes what it’s like to try to be a Wonder Woman in the world of today.
And as for cardboard man’s cardboard sidekicks? There’s an Arab/Ottoman who wears a fez into battle (how does that thing not fall off, and why is he wearing a strong ethnic marker when they keep telling Diana to stop being distracting), a random Native American smuggler called ‘chief’ who talks about how Pine’s people killed his people (fine, but that was randomly inserted into the dialogue. There could have been an Armenian saying the Ottoman’s people killed his people. If a Palestinian showed up and pointed at Gal Gadot and said ‘your people killed my people’, it would have been no less random), and a Scotsman who sings in Scots at some point, only to point out that he too is ethnic. These characters serve no purpose other than highlighting their own ethnicity, despite these ethnicities being odd in the context of all being together smuggling Wonder Woman in the middle of WWI Europe, and deserving of explanation of what the hell they are doing there. We never get any. Representation in corporate films, thought up by teams of executives in a business room, consists in putting a tick next to an ethnic group. Do ya think we’ll please the social justice ladies if we randomly stick in an Indjun? Tick!
Finally, we must turn our attention to yet another grossly misrepresented group: Greek gods. They are not scrawny Englishmen, and they do not have mustaches. Zeus wept. Speaking of Zeus, he’s not the one who gave Diana life in her origin story, it was mighty Aphrodite. What was the necessity of cutting out a female goddess? Mighty Minerva! Furthermore, since there was so much talk of the god of war Ares, one goddess should instead have been written in: the goddess of just war, Athena. She, and not Zeus, is the mythical counterpart to Ares, and the rationale behind Wonder Woman’s killing: one only fights when fighting is just. Which is why it made no sense when Ares, suddenly in ultra-pumped-up bad-CGI final-boss mode (not Greek god-like!), tells Diana to kill the evil chemist and turn to the dark side of the force. She has already killed hundreds of people, for a just cause. Killing the evil chemist would have made no difference, except for ridding the world of an evil chemist. It would make her no darker (and when was this movie ever about the dark side of the force?). I think the writers (Zack Snyder) got confused about what film they were making.
So Wonder WomanTM wasn’t such a great film. Who cares? As stated above, there are plenty of other actions flicks with female leads. This is not in any way a milestone. Pretending it is great, and elevating it to some kind of representational pedestal, only works as a setback. Feminists who promote the film are sending out the message: we want more shit like this. We don’t want great story arcs. We don’t need competent special effects. We don’t care about character development, male or female. Give us more Wonder WomanTM: the female superhero for a tasteless pseudo-diverse consumer-friendly society. For there is one more chain for the Wonder Woman, the one imagined by BDSM-and-feminism-friendly Charles Moluton, to unshackle: capitalist greed.
Addendum: That was World War I. Wonder Woman kills Ares, the god who provoked humans into committing atrocities, in World War I. Am I the only one who was thinking throughout the entire film ‘What the fuck, that can’t make any sense because there’s World War II’?