We interrupt your scheduled programming to bring you (totally not spoiler safe) news that I just saw Wonder Woman and LOVED IT.
I do not think I have ever been so gleefully, earnestly and unself-consciously invested in a film as I was with this. On an intellectual level, I will happily grant that there were definite flaws that could have been addressed and that detracted from it overall as a film. On an emotional level though… IT WAS JUST FANTASTIC. That’s it. Nothing more. Just absolutely wonderful on many many levels.
So we often talk about representation, and I’ve definitely always agreed on a reasoning level that seeing yourself (in whatever axes of selfhood you wish to choose) in media is a really affirming and satisfying feeling, especially when you (whatever group you’re using) don’t get portrayed in the media very often, or don’t get portrayed in particular roles or types of media, or if those portrayals have fundamental flaws and biases. And I have definitely got it, to an extent, both emotionally and rationally – as anyone who saw me reacting to Ginger Linguist Protagonist in Arrival will agree – but not… totally. And definitely not as much as I did while watching Wonder Woman. Because we’re getting a woman who is being a Strong Female Protagonist… but without having to abandon the fact she’s also a woman. She’s not abandoned femininity to become a male protagonist with boobs. And when does that happen?
There are two scenes that really spell this out for me, and there’s no way to do this spoiler-safe, so my apologies guys if you’ve not seen it (seriously, go see it).
Firstly, and for me more prominently, there is a scene in which the Amazons fight 20th century soldiers on a beach. Now, what really makes this for me is the context I have around it. I read an article telling me that a fair portion of the women playing Amazons are not actresses, but in fact professional athletes and other sporty types. These are women who really look like this. It’s just who they are and what they do. And they have scars and normal faces and for all they are wearing make up it’s toned down… and they look like just, real women. Amazing women, sure. But real ones. And they are led by women who have been allowed to be old on screen! When does that even happen either? And then… and then… they get attacked by a load of soldiers. Who have guns, when the Amazons have bows and arrows or swords or whatever. Surely they will be outmatched by th- NOPE. You get the sort of overblown, gloriously dramatic action scene that women never get, and never women older than… what, 25? 30? Certainly not ones allowed to look in their forties. The actress playing the Amazon general* is over fifty! We get slow-mo shots of them taking out multiple enemies each in ridiculously dramatic ways. We get the leader of the Amazons** getting off her horse and just being the most badass… there was some top cloak-swooping action going on there, there really was. It was the sort of scene I am generally totally in favour of in most films… and yet when all of the people doing it are women… sure, let’s just turn the happiness dial up to 11.
The second scene, for similar but slightly different reasons, is one that I happen to have read is the director’s favourite. Diana and the menfolk are in the trenches, and a women is crying and saying that her village is being attacked and terrible things are happening there. Diana is obviously distraught, as is her way, and wants to go help. The menfolk are all “no, we must continue our mission, it is sad but such is war”, because they’d have to cross no-man’s land. And no man can do that. Hint, hint. Diana… is not taking this. She sheds her modern costume, puts on her diadem of Amazon-ness and slow-mo steps out onto the field. She deflects bullets with her cuffs. She starts to run across the field, inspiring the menfolk to follow after her, while the soldiers in the trench provide covering fire. The enemy breaks out the machine gun, and she withstands it with her shield. The menfolk manage to catch up and distract, allowing her to leap ridiculously into the air and destroy the machine gun, spurring the soldiers on into no man’s land etc. etc. glorious victory lies ahead. Like the previous scene, it’s the sort of overblown drama you get in a lot of male-centred hero movies. It’s the scene the director has said she
considers to be the one in which Diana “becomes Wonder Woman”. And it’s that focus of personal development, that allowance for her to have that space to Become… it was a beautiful scene, beautifully done, with bonus “I AM NO MAN” undertones. It’s the point at which all the men travelling along with her accept that she’s just… something more than they are, for all that they’ve seen her fight a little before and allowed that she’s competent. But she’s not just “competent”. They leave the trench and she says she’ll go on ahead, they should wait, then runs off. And there’s a moment of them all looking at one another, of “a woman just told us to stay behind… what”. And then they all decide… you know what, yeah, she’s probably got this.
They’re both scenes that in some way take something tropey and familiar, and by making it female, make it much more meaningful to me as the viewer. And the second one specifically plays with that inversion. The characters see it… and they accept it.
I will admit, there are flaws. The use of disfigurement as shorthand for the female chemist being a baddie is lazy and insulting. There’s definitely a struggle after the no man’s land scene to keep up the pace toward the finale (the scene was just too good). And the finale itself is somewhat undermined by the return to the old “love is the solution to all” schtick. But even in that there’s some joy. In order for Diana to have her epiphany that allows her to go from losing her final battle to becoming her true and strongest self etc. etc… well, they fridged the male love interest. And for all that fridging is lazy, lazy writing, I’ll allow it this time, again, just for the inversion. And while the big battle at the end was very CGI and not particularly choreography (not that I’m hugely complaining, I quite enjoy the OTT CGI god battle thing, as a rule), to have a female protagonist of equal status fighting on equal terms with a male bad guy… eh, it can be cheesey and badly choreographed and I just don’t care. I was 100% invested, and it made me hugely happy when she won.
Overall, if I’m being sensible about it, it wasn’t the perfect film. There were definite issues*** and some of them were quite iffy. But at the same time, I have honestly never felt so fully invested in a film, and I can’t quite get on board with being critical while I’m sat here loving it so much. On a feminist glee level, it scores very very highly indeed. I loved it, and I don’t think that is just the “I JUST GOT OUT OF DARK ROOM” hyperactivity talking, so I am going to carry on loving it. I will buy it for my iPad, I suspect. And I will commit to watching Justice League for the sake of more Diana. It was everything I wanted it to be, and it did it harder and more gloriously than I’d expected or hoped.
Also, at one point, she solves something because she can read Sumerian. And what was written there legit looked like Sumerian.
What more could a hyperactive linguist want?
*Robin Wright. I really liked her as Antiope.
**Connie Nielsen, also over fifty, also fantastic.
***There’s a scene supposedly in the Louvre, and we definitely start in the Louvre… then we get a shot that is DEFINITELY FROM THE BRITISH MUSEUM. I know those wingéd bulls, I tells ya. And the BM is listed in the credits. So either one of her powers is teleportation or somebody decided there weren’t any good old statues in the Louvre to frame a shot. For literally a second. GUYS. COME ON.