I like feminism when it's sexy
(This review is lousy with spoilers.)
Best super hero movie so far. Hands down.
Not that there weren't some narrative problems. Wonder Woman's powers got a little conveniently non specific near the end, in a special effects showdown with Ares, making it hard to get invested in the struggle.
What I mean is, if someone points a gun at Wonder Woman, and she grabs it and crushes it, I know how super powered that is because I know exactly what guns do and can appreciate how fast you'd have to be to grab it before it was fired and how strong you have to be in order to crush it. But when two gods are throwing big bolts of light at each other, I have no idea how powerful a white flash of light is compared to a golden flash of light. To make the stakes in that fight work, you have to outline what these powers are metaphors for. Which, to be fair, they tried to give us by having Wonder Woman realize mid fight that love is stronger than war, or hate, or that humanity are more than just barbarians, or something like that. The attempt was there, but it was a little fuzzy.
I enjoyed watching throngs of strong sexy women running around in paradise and beating each other up in sporting ways, and then defeating well armed Germans with a ballet of gracefully impossible mid jump archery. But... I think the movie would have been so much better if it started at a point after Diana left Themyscira. What if, say, Steve crashes on just some random shore, not Themyscira, just some isolated place. He's pursued by maybe not quite as many Germans, and mid chase, out of nowhere comes this crazy strong woman who helps him defeat and escape his pursuers. She’s impressive, but she doesn’t do anything that’s wildly outside of what a human could do. Then she tells Steve that she's come from a mythical paradise and is here to find an ancient Greek god named Ares.
In that context, Steve would have some truly legitimate doubts about her claims. In the movie as it was, he's seen a magic force field around an island, and he's experienced magic truth bondage, so he has enough to pretty much seal the deal that she is as mythical as she says. I think it would have been a more compelling journey if she had to earn his trust without him having already had the evidence of his own eyes. Then the scene where she rushes the German troops in No Man's Land would have way more impact when Steve realizes, holy shit, this woman is playing on an entirely different level.
As well as letting the audience see Diana through the eyes of a more skeptical Steve, the problem with seeing Themyscira and getting the bedtime story about how Diana was made out of clay and her granddad is literally Zeus is that it makes for some really weird in-universe juxtaposition of cosmologies. I mean, if Zeus literally exists, then does that mean that the ancient Greeks were exactly right about the nature of the universe, and that Christians, atheists, Hindus, and everyone else are all wrong? If we don't see it so directly, then it's a lot easier to leave it to speculation. If it's just Diana claiming to be a demigod, then, like the characters around her, we can suppose that maybe she's from aliens that took on that mantle, or maybe it's a super powered ancient race of humans, or something. But, now that we've seen the Greek gods in action, it puts the onus on the audience to do the work of dismissing possibilities, which pushes our suspension of disbelief a little too far. I mean, we're already just going with her speaking every language there is with perfect modern day grammar in spite of no exposure to the culture, and speaking as someone who has cracked my head against Japanese for the better part of my life, that's a stretch.
I also think it would have been better if Ares had stayed as a shadow figure, reflected in the glass, something Diana can't just punch out with magic light force. Isn't that a better metaphor for war? That it's orchestrated by detached power brokers who send the less privileged off to die but never go to the front lines themselves? Diana even mentions that in the movie, when she chastises the British generals as cowards. Not only a better metaphor, but also narratively interesting because it means that Ares didn't just sit at the bottom of a cave for thousands of years with his face humorously Photoshopped onto a body builder's physique. Instead, he evolved, becoming a more insidious threat.
And that raises the challenge for Diana, who, as an immortal crypto-deity, can win any face to face fight. But how does she defeat the spirit behind the enemies she fights? I know they were setting Dr Maru up for future sequels, she's clearly a future Nazi war criminal, but I think they could have flipped it. Make the gassy woman the proxy that Wonder Woman can punch for now in some kind of battle involving steampunk death robots or something, and make Ares the bogeyman that Diana has to chase through sequel after sequel, war after war, a continuing journey to make the world a peaceful place.
So that's how I enjoy movies, by taking mental notes on how I'd fix them. But, I should make it clear that there's no such thing as a movie I wouldn't tweak, because it satisfies my ego to think that I know more about how stories should be told than the people who are clearly wildly more successful than me. This is no less, in my not at all humble opinion, the best super hero movie to date.
Honestly, I cried a lot through the movie, because I'm a crier at movies. I cry more at movies now than when I was younger. I thought my cynicism and apathy were symptomatic of the strength to be unmoved. It made me oh so cool to be immune to the banal manipulations of Hollywood movies that are the opiate of the mundane masses. Partly, I just lacked empathy. That scene in Inside Out when the little girl gets on the bus and almost runs away? Almost killed me. If I was twenty, I would have been like, "so what? She just gets on a bus... it's not like they wouldn't have eventually found her, and she didn't even actually leave anyway." I just didn't get it. No one who was like me then reading this now will get it. Go out and live more, then you'll get it.
Partly, I was just bad at enjoying movies, because, why not open up to all the dimensions of experience an emotional conduit can provide? Now I allow myself to just fucking cut loose and cry, because I'm in a dark room where no one can see me anyway, and by opening the door, I create a richer experience. Fuck 3D, and the new weird ass shit they do where they have machines kick your seat and spit in your face and all that stuff to try and make the movie more of a virtual reality thing. With just a little humanity you can save a few bucks and get a better movie anyway.
So yeah, I cried a lot during Wonder Woman. I cried when Diana insisted to Steve that she should go over the top and try and help a village. It was just so fucking human.
One of the successes of this movie, I felt, was that it created a context in which Diana was breaking out of the frame of men's expectations of her without making any of the men cartoonishly sexist foils. Well, okay, there were the British generals and ministers who harumphed through their moustaches designed for harumphing when she spoke out of turn. But, they were clearly comedically anachronistic and got very little screentime. Just a side show.
No, when Steve was saying that they needed to stay on their mission, that their mission was contributing to stopping millions more people suffering and dying, and that the western front on the whole was not going to be affected by one instance of crossing over to save one village... those are all very good points. Solid logic. He wasn't just saying, "look honey, you don't understand," or anything patronizing. His arguments for not deviating to where Diana wanted to go and why were extremely compelling.
Which is what made it equally compelling when Diana made the counter argument that, essentially, his frame of reference and hers are different. It's not that she doesn't agree with Steve's overall plan, after all she's relying on Steve to take her to Ares, but she also has another objective which is to do what she can to save people that she comes across. It's a close equivalent to the scene in Saving Private Ryan, when the main characters come across some stray German soldiers and the team is of the opinion they should just leave them and continue their mission. Tom Hanks' character says no, that they have another mission, which is to win the war, and that means taking out the enemy whenever and wherever so that other soldiers don't have to face them. Similarly, Diana is saying she has another mission, and it's not Steve who gets to decide which mission she is on at any one time.
The deciding factor at this crossroads is, of course, Steve's lack of awareness of just how capable Diana is. He has one other very compelling argument for Diana to not try and save the village, which is that as far as Steve knows, going over the top is suicide, pure and simple. At this point, he's seen Diana do some spectacular things, but, fighting thugs in an alley is on a vastly different scale than facing off against the full military might of a modern industrial power. So, his concern for her safety is valid. In my mind, super extra valid because when I think of World War One, I think of Dan Carlin's amazing podcast series on it, which conveys the true horror of the Western Front. My mind was filling in details too extreme for a movie partly aimed at kids, so when Steve was saying crossing No Man's Land was suicide, I was thinking, "suicide doesn’t even come close to describing the nightmare."
Anyway, valid concerns and absolute truths are different, and Diana says fuck it, if you aren't down with my plan, then I'm going my own way, and she climbs the ladder, poses for a moment to look smoking hot, and then rushes the German line in a heroic display of feminist metaphor. The point being that hey, sometimes women could accomplish more than you expect if you don't keep them in a box. But note she didn't go all the way herself. With a little help, everyone wins. Except Germans. Fair enough. Whatever. Did you see that moment when she casually swatted the mortar shell to the side with her shield and then it exploded a few metres from her? Holy fuck, that scene was awesome.
The other success of the movie was that as bad ass as Diana was, she didn't sacrifice being multidimensional. And by "multidimensional" I kind of mean she was still feminine at times, but if I say "feminine," then it means I'm declaring some qualities as being the ones that women "should" have, or maybe men "shouldn't." But that's a sticky mess and I want to stay out of it.
The point is, there have been plenty of bad ass women characters before. Sarah Conner in the Terminator series, for example. Or Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones. But the trend is for those characters to achieve badassness at the expense of qualities that might be considered feminine. Arya stays a tomboy to become an effective killer, you can see what she’s not in Sansa, her sister who goes from from archetype of little girl princess to the archetype of Lady MacBeth.
Sarah Conner was a terrible mother because of her obsessive prepper mentality. Brienne of Tarth acts like a dude in a largely futile attempt to earn the respect of dudes. Interestingly, Cersei on Game of Thrones is both a Machiavellian empress of war and a devoted mother, but somehow those qualities together have made her bitter and evil. We've also had the good hearted female badass like, for instance, the TV Wonder Woman from back in the day when I was awakening sexually and Lynda Carter made a lasting impact on me. That version of Wonder Woman was so naive about the world of men that she was effectively an alien being. To the degree female characters are tough, they lose empathy, whether it's through sociopathic commitment to violent problem solving, or soft hearted bewilderment at how other humans do all the things they do.
This incarnation of Wonder Woman is excited to see a baby without it making her biological clock start ticking like an Al Queda suitcase. She can appreciate a little ice cream without turning into a sad diet-and-figure obsessed Cathy-esque stereotype. She can fuck Steve all night long and the next day it's not even mentioned, because... why should it be? There's a god of war to assassinate, so get on task. I appreciated that they demonstrated she is engaged with every aspect of life that a person can be, without beating me over the head with it. I didn't lose any of the slow motion action choreography that caught Gal Gadot at every flattering angle, which is what I paid my money for.
I went to the movie because I wanted to see an über-hot woman in thigh high boots and a mini skirt beat up a lot of dudes in super powered ways. That's my jam. What I got was a fully realized character that I could identify with as a person, which made me see a little past my sexualized frame, and that was cool too.
I'm totally psyched to see Wonder Woman part two, which I predict will be set in World War 2 with a powered up Dr Poison as a vile Nazi foil. Wonder Woman three will probably be a cold war thing where she narrowly prevents global nuclear Armageddon. It's totally predictable, but all art is porn anyway.
What I'm not psyched for is the upcoming Justice League movie. Even though Wonder Woman will be in it, and possibly a contingent of multicultred Amazons, it's mostly going to be a bunch of tough dudes grudgingly getting past their differences in order to fight a super bad guy. Like every other ensemble super hero movie. I'm looking at you Avengers. Weak. Also, I just can't take Ben Affleck seriously as Batman. He's less of an embodiment of the darkness that comes with living for vengeance through justice, and more of a frat boy past his prime. Any movie with Ben Affleck isn’t worth watching, he creates a chasm so deep that even Gal Gadot’s presence can only elevate it to maybe a future check in on Netflix where I can fast forward to all the Wonder Woman parts.
Anyway, bottom line, consider my ticket for Wonder Woman 2 already bought.