SO. The time has come to review this film. I’ve been waiting so long- actual months, in fact- to write about this. This is going to be a LONG review, I warn you. And don’t think that I’m going to get into a pattern of watching action-y type films, now- I’m only reviewing this because I have so, so many thoughts about what this film says about the place of feminism in the modern world. Get ready.
Is it a feminist film? A debatable question. Let’s start with the basic plot. A woman- Diana- has grown up on an island shielded by a big force-field-y-bubble-y-thing- yes, just like Violet does in The Incredibles. One day she learns that she has amazing strength-y powers, and decides that she is the one whose destiny it is to defeat Ares, the god of war. When an American fighter pilot crashes on the island and Diana rescues him, he tells her about the war that has broken out in the outside world (actually WW1) and she decides that the war is caused by Ares and that she must go to the front line to stop him. She does, and a whole bunch of stuff happens (no spoilers, remember!), and she falls in love with the fighter pilot guy. The end.
Right. So the problem here isn’t inherent in the plot- which, from the version I’ve described here (and the version you can find if you google “Wonder Woman plot”), sounds pretty damn cool. The problem here is that this film had to be good. It set itself up for too much. It’s such a big deal- that, in amongst all the muscled action-hero types that abound on 21st-century screens, and seem to split apart and spawn copies of themselves every year, like strange amoebas in Spandex- a woman, an actual woman, has been allowed to muscle in* and get a film of her own. And yet what should have been an amazing film has been turned into a terrible film, through a conglomeration of missed opportunities, terrible decisions and SEXISM. Yes, you heard me. This film- which was heralded as the feminist anthem that all feminists would swear by, like, forever**- features actual, real-life sexism.
First- missed opportunities. The first, I don’t know, twenty minutes of the film (I’m approximating here) are set on an island in the middle of the sea entirely populated by women, and apart from flashbacks, a man doesn’t even appear on screen AT ALL in that relatively sizeable portion of the film (it’s only relatively sizeable because if you compare it with the portions of many mainstream films, and especially action films, where there are no women on screen, it actually seems pretty damn small. But still.) This seems to be an amazing opportunity which will probably never come again in an action film, and yet the filmmakers completely chucked it in the bin by writing a hammy script that sounds like some rubbish out of an ancient fantasy video game, and then, instead of getting the large numbers of women actors they had cast COOL COSTUMES like something awesome immortal feminist women would actually kit themselves out in, they gave them all ridiculous bits and bobs they evidently found in a junk shop or got some toddlers to make out of cardboard. Ridiculous outfits made of fake fur that seem entirely designed for the actors to show large amounts of leg, even more ridiculous hats that balance on top of their stupid hairstyles like when a pigeon alights on your head and you don’t realise it’s there. Yup. This film’s got it all. Also the fact that instead of portraying this awesome feminist gang (or, well, what could, in a parallel universe where everything isn’t screwed up, be an awesome feminist gang) as clever and cool and just generally amazing, they portray them as total idiots, whereas the real ‘clever people’ of the film are some random (and, I might, add, mortal) pilot guy, some creepy sexual harasser, and a drunk Scottish bloke. More on this later.
Second- terrible decisions. The film-making process hasn’t got much to do with feminism, but I still think that most audiences aren’t going to be that impressed with a film, whatever its politics, that wastes huge amounts of money on dumb CGI fight scenes- for instance, the frankly quite disturbing one where a whole bunch of men with guns attack a whole bunch of women who can only fight with bows and arrows, and large numbers of said women end up being gunned down on a beach- but has nothing to say about them- for instance, that this is wrong, that it says something about the general treatment of women throughout history, that it should make us feel outraged or sympathetic. But the film just doesn’t have any comment to make. In any of the many, many high-budget CGI scenes in the film. The whole thing just feels, far too often, like an unpoliticised and badly-made video game, ostensibly about feminism but really just made for male audiences who don’t want to see women with agency, just women with skin.
Third- sexism. I’m not sorry about saying this- there are so many problems with this film, but for me this is by far the biggest one. It’s really difficult to list everything that’s wrong here- but something just is. Firstly, it is frankly not very credible for Diana to fall in love with Steve the fighter pilot, who has many problems:
- The first thing we see him do is drop a bomb on a factory to distract from his ‘daring’ escape, and also possibly to try and kill two people, but unfortunately the factory is full of hundreds of innocent people and also children, who presumably die because of him. Great! #fun #dashingrogue
- He is horrified by people who generalise him, but is perfectly happy to both generalise others and patronise Diana at the same time (a great multi-tasker!), as when some soldiers jump off a ship and Diana- quite reasonably, as she has no experience of the outside world- asks who they are. “I’m one of the good guys and those are the bad guys,” he replies.
- He is patronising to Diana (see previous quote, and also the whole rest of the film, which he spends physically steering Diana everywhere, and insinuating that when she gets angry and passionate about stuff she cares about, it’s essentially pointless and she should probably just go home and be a good housewife. (We get you, Steve! Diana would be a great housewife! Once, she, like, learnt what a tap is, and a kettle, and an oven, and a frying pan, and a saucepan, and an iron, and a million other general household appliances which she’s not used to, and forgot about that whole ‘incredible super-strength’ thing, and also just kind of stopped being immortal, because it would be just, like, such a downer if she stayed young and beautiful forever while you got old and wrinkly.))
But fall for him she does, with disastrous consequences- namely, the fact that once she meets him, she can’t do anything for herself any more, and without him, has no actual motivation in life. The film has one million and one other problems- the fact that, for instance, we are told to root for the ‘adorable’ Sameer, who wants to be an actor and can’t, and struggles with racism in his everyday life. But I can’t root for him if literally the first thing he does is harass Diana, can I? Newsflash, people: there are some situations in life in which it is appropriate to tell people they are beautiful. ‘When you have just met them’ is rarely one of these situations. And saying “You’re so beautiful” instead of the slightly cruder “Nice tits, love” doesn’t make it not harassment. It’s still harassment. It just doesn’t sound like it, to a lot of people.
The appearance of female characters in the film is another problem. I have literally no idea why Diana wears what she does- the aforementioned armoured swimsuit- seeing as how impractical and also useless for battle it is (apparently, Gal Gadot herself found her costume too tight until she hit the gym, which does inevitably suggest the question “Why can’t costume designers just make costumes for women actors which are the right size in the first place?”). Of course, Gal Gadot is very beautiful- no surprise there. There’s definitely a part of me which is surprised, if gratified, that they cast a woman in her thirties instead of some diminutive speck of an actor who’s barely past nineteen. But It isn’t just Diana’s appearance that I have problems with. A slight bit of exposition you will need here is that instead of the conventional ‘one villain’ trope of most superhero films, this film goes for the slightly less conventional ‘three villains’ trope. Two of them are a cackling German scientist and an even more cackling German General, who are developing a new kind of poison gas. Not much about that sounds new- until you consider that the scientist in this case is SHOCK HORROR GASP SCREAM FLEE THE CINEMA a woman. This immediately surprised me, and when she first came on screen, I was pleased because I am always going on about the importance of female villains as well as female heroes. Unfortunately she turned out to be pretty much a rubbish, cardboard stereotype- the cackling, evil German, the mad scientist, pick whichever one you like- but the point still stands. She is a woman. A clever woman. And that means a lot, in a big-budget action film. However, there is a teensy little problem, and it is in her face. On her face. Before the events of the film, this woman- whose name is Dr Isabel Maru, which in Steve’s voiceover sounds like “Dr Isabel Moo”, and whose cutesy affectionate nickname is “Dr Poison” (hey, original!)- has had some sort of accident where her face has been burned, and so has some sort of covering on her face*** to, well, cover up her scars. This whole thing is rife with issues- one, that they’ve equated being disfigured or scarred with being evil, in comparison to Diana with her perfect face- two, that even though they’ve equated being disfigured or scarred (read: ‘ugly’, which is another problem) with being evil, they’ve fairly obviously cast a very beautiful actor to play the part, which they emphasise by showing you a photo of what she was like ‘before’- and three, that some bits of plastic on said actor’s face don’t really make her any less beautiful, and when- inconsequential spoiler alert- said bits of plastic are whipped off her face by the wind (evidently stupid plot devices aren’t enough to hold some bits of rubbish onto a human face!), she STILL isn’t any less beautiful. She’s just, um, got some rubbishy makeup scars. Still, though- at every single point in the film I felt one million and one times more sympathy for her than I did for Steve, and by the end I decided she was probably my favourite character, depending on how I felt about Diana at any given moment. Which really doesn’t say much about Wonder Woman as a film, but still. It just goes to show that feminism can be found in unlikely places- and stupid cackling villains usually win out in the end.
Is it disturbing? There are quite a lot of fights, and some bits of the film revolve around stuff that happened in WW1, which could potentially be disturbing for a younger audience, but probably not. The worst thing that happens is still that fight near the beginning, but I’m so sensitive and squeamish when it comes to films that you can definitely trust me to be honest about this. If I can sit through this film, then you can sit through it. Hopefully. I don’t really like the idea that there are people out there who are even more sensitive about films than me.
And… does it pass the Bechdel test? Well, yes, that is one advantage to that whole ‘all-women’ palaver at the beginning- all those darned feminists will be happy, won’t they? *Sigh* Oh, sorry, that was just one of the scriptwriters, coming to vent *his* emotions on my blog. Because, didn’t I mention that before? Heaven forfend that a WOMAN should be allowed to help with the screenplay for a film about a woman! No, the script for Wonder Woman was written by… drumroll please… two men! Not just one! But two! (Actually, so much stuff about this film makes sense now…****)
I would like to point out that a few tiny snippets of this film here and there are good, but this really doesn’t go very far towards redeeming it from the swamp of monotony that it sinks into before the voiceover at the beginning is even over. Let’s face it, it’s up over its metaphorical ears in goo, and one or two moments when Diana temporarily deflates Steve’s massively over-inflated ego aren’t going to pull it back out again, but they’re still nice. Like for instance there’s a bit where Steve is clumsily trying to flirt with Diana while she’s trying to get some actual sleep (it’s tiring being awesome, y’know!) and so she astounds him with some early feminist theory she’s read. Or something. It’s not entirely clear but anyway it shuts him up, which is good.
There it is, then- an immensely long review. This is how I feel about this film, and that is fine. I actively celebrate any feminist people who feel that this is a good film, and I would love to hear their points of view as well as writing about my own. In this case, that opinion is that I wouldn’t spit on this film if it was on fire. I feel that it is poorly made, problematic in terms of gender, and just generally not a particularly impressive achievement. However, I understand that it is a big deal that this film got made, that it made a splash, and that it’s continuing to be talked about. In my opinion, this film is the red carpet, and when even better superhero films about women are made in the future, they will walk on it on their way to the recognition they deserve. This film is a building block. And it’s important. I just don’t like it.
*Not literally, though. Diana isn’t particularly muscular, which I find a bit confusing seeing as with most superheroes- Superman, for example- you can kind of see what makes them physically strong (as well as the superhero powers, I mean)- ie, actual muscles like living creatures have in their bodies. That’s just visual representation. Except muscles aren’t considered ‘attractive’ in women, and so Diana doesn’t really have any. (Mental note: the next female superhero film- which will, inevitably, be made in 2049, and be timed exactly to the day the Earth explodes so that no-one is able to watch it- has to feature muscly women.)
**The reason all feminists would swear by it forever is because it doesn’t feature any bras. Diana doesn’t wear a bra- instead, she wears a tiny armoured swimsuit which is frankly ridiculous for combat. (This will inevitably become the new feminist uniform, and only women who wear it will be recognised as real, true feminists.) But more on that (Diana’s wardrobe choices, that is) later.
***I’m sorry I don’t know the correct term for this.
****Please don’t take this the wrong way and think that I am suggesting that two men couldn’t write a good screenplay about an awesome, strong woman. In this case they didn’t. But that is not what I am trying to say. What I am trying to say is that if you’re trying to create a screenplay which convincingly portrays the reality of being a woman, then maybe, just maybe, you might want to get an actual woman in on that process.
Shout-out to Dr Isabel Moo! This is officially the only review where she’s ever going to be praised for character strengths! Enjoy it while you can!