Really Not the Story We’re Looking For

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.



Really Not the Story We’re Looking For — 13 Comments

  1. It was a lot more tentative and conservative than I’d expected, but it’s a start. I’m hoping that the “It’s all about the money” guys who have such a stranglehold on storytelling in Hollywood see the money this film is making and green light some more innovative stories.

    • That’s a good point. And it’s probably why I’m so often disappointed in movies these days. Maybe the box office on this and Hidden Figures will at least increase the opportunities for women in Hollywood.

  2. Himself now wants to see it — because all those mens who cried that four theaters held women only screenings a few times. Somehow he thinks its important.

    Myself, I loathe superhero comic book flix — just for starters non-stop pointless action as loud as they can mix it bores me silly, and predictably, so oft repeated in other flix lines that some incomprehensibly take as both witty and funny, and I find to be just stupid.

    I know he’ll want to leave within minutes.

    How to talk him out of this? Help, please?

    • You can show him my blog post. But maybe he should see it, if only to realize just how divorced those men are from reality.

      Did he see Mad Max: Fury Road? I didn’t enjoy that movie much either, but during the 15 minutes that was story rather than extreme car chase scenes, it was considerably more feminist — albeit in out and out dystopia — than Wonder Woman. (Don’t know if that will help as an argument.)

      • Nope. He hates movies in general, and movies like this forever. (I dislike most movies too by now, and thing television has taken over for screen time that used to be fiction time.)

        But — he is adamant about showing his colors. We went to Ghostbusters last summer the opening day. He loved it. Laughed all the way through. Liked it better than the first Ghostbusters that we and all our friends saw together, back in the days before movies with their gore, loudness and violence and just general meaninglessness, lost him forever. He was a mad movie and television fiend as a child and teenager, btw. Though never as mad about this stuff as he was about music, for which he’s never lost his passion (or making his living from).

        • I enjoyed Ghostbusters, too. But I’m with you about movies these days — TV is so much better.

          I’ve also seen some valid criticism of Wonder Woman on the diversity front, if that might move him.

  3. I went with a woman friend. I liked the movie, in the way I like most MCU movies, which is to say my expectations about the backstory/mythology have been lowered. She didn’t like it that much. So I introduced her to Kill Bill, which is still a fantastic movie.

    • Hmm. Been a long time since I saw Kill Bill. I recall liking it, in a perverse way (a feeling I have with all Tarantino movies). What did your friend think? Were her objections to Wonder Woman similar to mine?

      • She didn’t articulate it that way, it just was a little flat for her. This is in Colombia, so some cultural differences, but I had kind of the same feeling. She LOVED Kill Bill though. I was forced to stay up late because we had to watch part II right away. I would recommend re-watching.

  4. “And the sappy “love will save the world” ending made me cringe.” – I have to say, I agree. Walking out of the movie theatre on that note just did not put me in the frame of mind that they clearly intended me to leave on – I didn’t walk out all starry eyed and going oh wow LOVE LOVE LOVE – rather, thinking back and trying to distill the feeling, it was a mixture of “oh, really?” (call me snarky and cynical and disillusioned if you have to but – really – if all it took was love this world would REALLY be a much different place…) and a rather stubborn recoil against a sense of this superhero who just implied that she was going to go out there and “help me” whether I wanted her or not. The fact that I might well want it is neither her nor there – it was an implied attitude of “you poor little humans I’ll save you in spite of yourselves”…

    And yes, the mythology kind of drove me RIGHT out of the story. Frankly, if Ares was able to KILL ALL THE GODS… *ALL* of them, Zeus included… then I simply do not buy that a demi-goddess, and a naive one at that, like Diana would have stood a chance against a being like that. She would have been obliterated in the first minute of that fight…

    • What bugged me most about the mangling of the Greek mythology is that it wasn’t necessary at all. You could put together a perfectly good back story with the real thing.

      • Unfortunately, one of the consequences of forcing a shared universe on these various comic book characters is that each background has to be downgraded to fit alongside the others. So, because we have Thor, we need both the Greek gods and Aesgard. But obviously the source mythology conceives of the gods as being more absolute. Add to this the balancing that has to occur between, say, the daughter of a God and someone who just got bit by a spider. I feel that each of these story worlds would be much better on its own.

        • That explains some of it. Still, it would make more sense long term to keep the original myths more or less intact so that when they create new riffs off of them, they’re coming from the same place.