I mean I just… wow. I’m admittedly a tad bit late to the game in seeing this movie, so coming into the theater I had already heard the raving reviews as well as the criticisms, and thought I knew what to expect… I was wrong. There is an almost unfathomably large gap that I discovered between hearing about something, or understanding it theoretically, and actually experiencing it. I knew I ought to expect a movie that was unlike any other I’d seen; I should have been prepared for scenes full of powerful women, scenes somewhat stripped of the lens of the male gaze I’d grown accustomed to seeing movies through (courtesy of the amazing director Patty Jenkins). But actually sitting through them, it’s almost inexplicable.
There were two times during the viewing when I truly got emotional, and I was very surprised to realize that they were both battle scenes. Though I’ve watched action movies and superhero movies in the past, I’ve never enjoyed the blood and gore and typical action type stuff because I couldn’t really connect with them. But these scenes were something else entirely. The movie opens with the first one – where Wonder Woman is a child watching the Amazons train. In that moment, I too was a child. I was right there with her, fascinated by their every move, pretending to throw my own punches, admiring the strength before me. I realized I had never seen something like this, where the women fighting were truly strong and powerful and not just scantily clad barbie dolls. There was real metal armor (granted not much) rather than leather leotards and heels, muscles and fat that weren’t edited out, real blood sweat and tears between a team of women who supported one another and relied on and trusted each other. It was incredible. And then to see them rise up against the invading Germans without hesitation, without question, not drawing back in the slightest or hesitating at the sight of guns, but just fighting for their home. I’d never seen anything like it before.
The second time was more of a moment than a full scene, the moment where Wonder Woman realizes her full ability and rises from the debris against Ares. I really can’t describe how it felt beyond the word inspirational. I saw a woman make a decision, go against the odds, believe in herself, and know her worth. She was not going to simply take a loss and she was not going to settle for anything less than giving it her absolute all. She was a force to be reckoned with and as I watched her plow through her opponents all I could think was “I want to be her.” The fact that she happened to be in physical combat in this scene wasn’t off putting to me nor was it capturing my attention, because I was entirely enthralled by the strength – mental and physical – that she was demonstrating. I just kept thinking how long it took me to recognize this same strength and power within myself in my daily life, and that young girls everywhere can see this and hopefully recognize it within themselves sooner. They won’t need to adapt to the new feeling of seeing a role model like this one on the big screen, but hopefully will have a childhood full of others like this one and better, and will be able to look back at this movie as just the beginning.
To reiterate, this can only be the beginning, and it is an imperfect one at that. I will always praise this movie as being extraordinary, and much like Hidden Figures I was absolutely blown away by the steps towards female empowerment it took. But it is still not without flaws, and to ignore them would be to settle for this as being a golden standard which I don’t believe it to be.
Firstly I thought there was an interesting portrayal of femininity in the movie, though I’m not sure I entirely agree with all aspects of it. To return to the costume design – Wonder Woman’s skin isn’t indestructible like her armor is. So why isn’t she wearing more of it? I also can’t imagine that realistically her hair would do anything but get in the way, yet she takes it out of a pinned hairstyle before each battle. With respect to these two things I understand that they were done in this way in order to match the comics, but I would hope that in the future we can continue to portray women fighting in a more practical manner. As I mentioned it was an incredibly welcome change to have her not portrayed in a sexual way during the movie just because of how she was dressed, and I appreciate that this is also empowering in the sense of saying “yes, I’m a woman, I have skin showing and I am beautiful, and yet I am still strong.” So for the purposes of this movie, great job, but for the purposes of the future portrayal of fighting women in action movies, I think we can do away with cleavage and long flowing hair and replace them with supportive sports bras and pony tails. With respect to the fact that Wonder Woman was driven by traditionally feminine emotions like love and compassion as opposed to the patriotism featured by other on screen heroes, I have a similar view that it is great to portray these emotions and qualities as strengths and represent them alongside accepted masculine traits like strength, but it would also be nice to see a woman who was unapologetically not traditionally feminine who didn’t melt at the sight of a baby or become distraught at the idea of pain.
The other main criticism I have is with respect to the various cultures and mythologies presented. We see Wonder Woman and the other characters interact with people from a variety of countries who speak a variety of languages. In a few of these scenes, particularly where Wonder Woman is speaking, she actually speaks the other language and there audience gets English subtitles. But throughout the majority of the movie, everything is spoken in English, perhaps with an accent. It would have been much more realistic to have the Germans speaking German, for example, and provide subtitles for all of those scenes as well. Steve Trevor shouldn’t have been able to speak at a German gala with only a bad accent if this were a realistic portrayal, and I’m sure there are plenty of other splendid actors who do in fact speak German who could have played the roll. Some people may complain that subtitles are inconvenient for them, but I am in general of the opinion that subtitles should be provided in cinemas so that those who are deaf or hard of hearing could also have access.
With respect to mythology, though I don’t proclaim myself an expert, my understanding is that the movie, and the comics which precede it, certainly stray from the Greek myths in almost everything aside from the fact that Ares is the God of war. The Amazons were traditionally much more aggressive; Wonder Woman is meant to be the daughter of Hercules, not Zeus; the golden age referred to before Ares brought war to the humans wasn’t actually full of peace and love, but was ruled by the Titans who treated humanity more like puppets or cattle. But this is far from the first movie to stray from tradition and I don’t reasonably expect that every detail be accurate. What did strike me as odd was that after the first few minutes of the movie, the polytheism which was supposed to be represented actually transformed into a judeo christian system. The multitude of Gods were never mentioned again, with the exception of Zeus, Ares, and Wonder Woman. Zeus takes the place of God, Ares of Satan, and Wonder Woman becomes a Christ figure. I actually managed to go most of the movie without noticing this (as I have unfortunately become normalized to this sort of thing in media), but it was during the very scene that I earlier praised for Wonder Woman rising against Ares in a show of strength that the way in which she rose struck me as odd. Throughout other parts of the movie she typically jumps or flies with one or both arms extended in front of her face to protect it, or with her arms down because that is how one would normally jump up, but in this scene she ascends with her arms straight out to the sides and her legs perfectly straight – a cross. And that is when I realized that throughout the movie she was serving as this figure who is prepared to sacrifice her own life at the defense of humanity and with the hope of saving others from the ungodly manipulations of the devil, essentially (as with Greek mythology I am not the best versed in Biblical studies, but I hope I know enough to be correct in this analysis). It definitely saddened me not only that the movie took this form and strayed so far from the polytheistic premise, but perhaps more-so that it took me roughly 2 hours to even notice. At this point in history I think it is about time to start accepting and portraying the plethora of other cultures and languages and religions beyond those in majority in the Westernized world.
To sum it up, I really did enjoy this movie. I felt empowered by it, and if nothing else its very existence serves to identify the gaping hole we currently have in the media when it comes to intersectional representations of people and belief systems. For every criticism I have there was certainly another praise, and overall I think this movie staring strong women and directed by a strong woman in a genre traditionally catered towards and run by men is a wonderful step in the right direction.