I went to see Wonder Woman because so many women — feminist women — said they cried when they saw it. That led me to believe that, even though it was a superhero movie based on a mass market comic, it had some empowering moments. I didn’t expect to cry, but I thought I’d at least enjoy myself and maybe even feel the occasional impulse to cheer, as I did when watching The Force Awakens.
Well, no. I found the movie annoying and boring in equal parts. I was not moved to cheer. And I certainly didn’t cry, though I felt like crying when I realized we are so starved for stories about strong women that this movie passes for feminism.
Warning: there will be some spoilers in what I say. I don’t think it’s the kind of movie where knowing what happens will spoil your enjoyment. But some people care.
I should explain that I don’t really like superhero stories. I prefer a hero who can fight or lead or take action in other ways because she’s worked hard over one born with extra-special powers. I’d always assumed Wonder Woman was just a consummately well-trained Amazon, and that’s what I hoped to see. Apparently, my understanding was wrong: She’s a god.
Secondly, I’ve studied enough Greek mythology in my time to cringe when it gets mangled as badly as it was in this story. Zeus is a good guy? Also, he’s dead? Please! And by the way, if the gods are Zeus and Ares, why is our hero Diana and not Artemis? And if you’re going to mangle Greek mythology anyway, why not bring the goddesses into it since the story is about Amazons?
I also disliked the parts where Diana’s mother – Hippolyta, a great warrior — tried to prevent her from training. Given the underlying story, that was just silly; if she’s a weapon, she needs to have skills. But it’s also a constant trope in stories. Someone — almost always a woman — tries to convince the hero not to take those risks but just tolerate the bad guys and stay home.
And the sappy “love will save the world” ending made me cringe.
There were some parts of the movie that were tolerable. Gal Gadot certainly looked the part. It was fun when she jumped in to fight. I liked watching the Amazons train. Chris Pine is easy on the eyes and his character respected Diana.
But the only thing feminist about the movie was that it centered on Wonder Woman, who is – in the DC Comics Universe – a fabulous superhero warrior. Up to now, as I understand it, no one has bothered to make movies about any of the women superheroes from that comics universe.
Sure, she jumped in and defended the men and fought the Big Bad. Sure she insisted on doing the right thing. I would have found that a lot more compelling if she’d been human, but it was fun to watch if CGI fight scenes are your thing. But that’s was about it.
Of course, once you got away from the mystical land of the Amazons, what you had was Wonder Woman and a bunch of men. The movie post-Amazons just barely passes the Bechdel Test; most of Diana’s interactions of substance once she leaves home are with men. (Diana’s attempts to find something she could wear in 1918 London were amusing, and her conversations with Etta Candy, though brief, were entertaining.)
Gwyneth Jones wrote an essay some years back called “Shora Revisited” in which she points out that if the only thing that changes in stories is that women get to be the heroes, nothing changes. (That’s a bad paraphrase, based on my memory. If you want to read the essay, it’s collected in Imagination/Space.) If only one woman gets to be the hero – because she’s “exceptional” – that makes it worse.
I love adventure stories. Growing up, I always wished they were about me. I had to pretend not be a girl to identify with the heroes, and I somehow managed even though I never wanted to be a boy. I agree with what Gwyneth said, but I have found joy in stories where a woman got to do the hero bit.
Thirty years ago, I would have cheered this movie. Today, when we’ve got women astronauts and combat soldiers, not to mention many wonderful women characters in novels and short fiction, I need a lot more than one on-screen woman superhero amidst a plethora of male ones to feel inspired.