Review: Wonder Woman

I’m not the biggest super hero fan to begin with, and Wonder Woman ranks near the top of the list of super heroes that I’m just not interested in, alongside Superman, Captain America, and Aquaman. But the trailers looked surprisingly good, and the buzz has been excellent, so I decided to take a chance.

Gal Gadot as the title character in Wonder WomanFor or better or for worse, Wonder Woman has become an icon of feminism to the point where it’s impossible to discuss the movie without also discussing its significance as such. This is troublesome because any criticism of the movie could potentially be viewed as sexism — and I have no doubt that there are plenty of people criticizing it purely for its feminism — but at the same time it would also not be fair to avoid criticizing it.

I understand why my feminist friends are so in love with this movie, but I can’t bring myself to fully share their enthusiasm. Allow me to explain, and as always I will say that I am a guy and that you have every right to dismiss my views on women’s issues as worth less than nothing at all.

So basically Wonder Woman is a power fantasy. Diana is infallible in every conceivable way. She has nothing resembling flaws of any kind, she embodies every virtue you can possibly imagine, and she’s pretty much omnipotent.

My knowledge of the character is minimal, so going in I wasn’t entirely sure what all her super powers actually were. Based on this movie, the answer appears to be “all of them.” She’s indestructible and seems to be able to do basically anything. She effortlessly defeats every challenge she encounters throughout the entire movie.

Here’s where it comes down to perspective. This kind of power fantasy story is not  uncommon in our culture, but it rarely if ever features a woman. It’s always a guy who has the privilege of being this perfect and unstoppable. Superman is the best example I can think of — this does feel very much like a Superman movie.

Gal Gadot as the title character in Wonder WomanSo from that perspective I totally get why so many women are over the moon about this movie. It must feel incredibly refreshing to be able to see yourself in that kind of larger than life heroic role, and if we are to have a fair and equal society, then women should be able to indulge in power fantasies, too.

So in that way, it is a win for feminism, and I respect what this means to people.

But the thing is I’m just not a fan of this kind of power fantasy, regardless of gender. This is why Superman is one of my least favourite super heroes. He’s totally infallible, so there can never be any real drama.

In the same way, the Wonder Woman movie has no real drama, because Diana is simply perfect in every way, and there are no limitations on her power whatsoever. Never for a moment does it seem remotely possible that she could fail.

I’ll also mention that Wonder Woman is a bit of a role reversal in that the male characters are often forced into the kind of reductive roles women usually get. They tend to be quite incompetent and rarely contribute meaningfully to the plot, and Chris Pine’s character in particular is pretty much the archetypal shallow girlfriend boyfriend character that’s always shoehorned into these movies, gratuitous skin scene and everything.

There are lots of movies where men get to be the heroes, so it’s not the end of the world for us guys to get a taste of how women are so often ill-served by writers, though — maybe that was even the point. Maybe it was meant to be an education in how women feel when female characters are just props in stories.

A shot from the Wonder Woman movieNow, all that being said, this still isn’t what I’d call a bad movie. There is a lot to like, despite its flaws.

Something I absolutely was not expecting was the ruminations on the dual nature of humanity, our potential for both incredible tenderness and shocking brutality. For all that it can be quite mindless in some areas, Wonder Woman can also be incredibly smart in others.

I was also greatly impressed by how the film pulls no punches on showcasing the tragedy and brutality of war. In addition to being smart, this movie can also be very powerful.

And despite their sometimes poor writing — Diana’s over-perfection and everyone else’s incompetence — the characters still manage to be pretty likable and draw you in, helped in part by strong acting from pretty much every cast member. The quieter moments when the cast is at its most human are often the highlight.

Aesthetically, Wonder Woman is also excellent. The fight choreography, while wildly unrealistic, is gorgeous, and the special effects, art design, soundtrack, and cinematography are top notch.

As a mythology fan, I was worried I’d end up cringing over the film’s treatment of Greek myths, but while it heavily departs from the original mythology (unsurprisingly), it doesn’t do so in a way that feels cheap or disrespectful, which is more than can be said for many similar movies. My one complaint would be that in a movie about Greek gods and badass warrior women, there was somehow not a single mention of Athena. Missed opportunity there.

The Amazons in Wonder WomanFinally, I think the best part of the movie for me was the villain. Hard to say too much without getting into spoiler territory, but he is charismatic and surprisingly nuanced, and a major contributor to the surprisingly smart social commentary within the film.

As a comic book movie, I’d say Wonder Woman is okay but not great. As a milestone for women’s portrayal in the media, I’d say it’s a step in the right direction but that feminism deserves better champions in the long run.

Overall rating: 7/10

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2 thoughts on “Review: Wonder Woman

  1. I’m the opposite of you. A dyed-in-the-wool DC fan since before I could read, Superman was my favorite superhero for decades. My definition of a superhero is someone who not only never loses but is never even in real danger. In general, even outside of comics and genre fiction, I love stories where the lead character is all-powerful, all-knowing, even godlike. I have to put up with endless narratives filled with jeopardy, false steps, threat and – worst of all – challenge but all I really want is a hero or heroine who always wins and wins easily.

    Apparently this is supposed to be boring. Never bored me. Then again, outside of DC comics from the 50s and 60s, I never have been able to get enough stories like that to find out if I could get bored by them..

    As for Wonder Woman, she’s always been a difficult one to parse. Charles Moulton (real name William Moulton Marston) the psychologist who created her, did so explicitly to provide a role model for girls and yet from the very start Wonder Woman comics were rife with bondage imagery, while the storylines revolved around dominance and submission. Even as a child, reading Wonder Woman in the 60s, I found some of the themes and images unsettling. In the original 1940s run, according to Wikipedia at least, “One of the purposes of these bondage depictions was to induce eroticism in readers as a part of what [Moulton] called “sex love training”. Through his Wonder Woman comics, he aimed to condition readers to becoming more readily accepting of loving submission to loving authorities rather than being so assertive with their own destructive egos.”

    Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman… none of their origins bear very close examination. Probably best not to think about it.

    • I think there is a fascination in some circles with heroes who are entirely ordinary, and I find that tedious. I’m not interested in reading about normal people. What I like are characters who are exceptional in some way… but not in every way.

      This is why the X-Men are the main exception to my disinterest in super heroes. They all have their incredible powers, but most of them tend to be fairly ordinary people aside from their one special thing. The story becomes about them making creative use of their extraordinary but limited powers. That’s what appeals to me.

      Characters who are all-powerful and faultless, though, tend to rob a story of drama. The only medium where I think such heroes can work is video games, as there can be an appeal in being all-powerful when you’re experiencing it firsthand. As a passive observer, it does get boring fast.

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