The action scenes are serviceable, but those hoping for a feminist superhero film will be bitterly disappointed.
June 02, 2017
As with most DC universe superhero stories, Wonder Woman isn't aiming for lofty heights. Which is probably a good thing, because it hits right in the middle. We saw the superheroine appear briefly in Batman vs. Superman, where she was far and away the best part of the film. Now, in her origin movie, we get to see where she came from.
Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, or Princess Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot), is raised on the secret island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons. When American soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes up on their island, Diana defies her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) by freeing him, before setting out to help humanity escape from, what she infers must be, the wicked influence of Ares the God of War (the Amazons are supposedly tasked with protecting humanity from Ares, although they seem to mostly just chill on their island). Diana and Steve sail to London in a dinghy, and travel to the front of World War I to find the wellspring of evil and end the war. Rollicking adventures soon ensue.
As a narrative, Wonder Woman leaves plenty to be desired; a standard hero's quest but without elegance or depth. Words like 'love' and 'innocent lives' and 'protect humanity' are thrown around until they lose all meaning – although apparently, German soldiers do not count as humanity since the film sees them slaughtered in droves. The horrific trench warfare of WW1 is once again co-opted as gritty texture in an otherwise textureless film.
Director Patty Jenkins manages to tick all the boxes of the worn out genre: fast-paced fight scenes, goodies versus baddies, a smattering of humour and a dramatic final showdown. If you're into caped crusaders, Wonder Woman is still probably worth your time. It's also good to see a superhero film with a strong female cohort – Gadot in front of camera, Jenkins behind, an island full of Amazonian warriors, and Elena Anaya playing the wicked Doctor Poison.
And yet it's still basically impossible to call Wonder Woman a feminist film. For all the buzz about female empowerment, the movie falls prey to the same tired, sexist tropes that define all male-dominated movie franchises. We're talking blatant objectification, lack of agency, and outdated stereotypes. Diana is superhuman, with a whip that compels truthfulness and magic wrist guards that deflect bullets. She speaks over a hundred languages and has literally been raised from birth on an island surrounded by fierce fighting women. And yet everywhere she goes, she's greeted with comments about how smokin' hot she is. Can you imagine anyone doing that to Batman?
Steve Trevor helps her off a boat and steers her through the streets of London with a possessive hand on her arm. He bosses her around. The men in her ragtag gang see her destroy a church and flip over a tank, but they don't quite believe she knows what she's talking about when it comes to strategy. They simply refuse to let her infiltrate the gala seething with German high command. At the end of the day, the woman is saddled with the same old shit – just as a protagonist and not a one-dimensional narrative device.
At the end of the day, if you're just looking for another superhero flick, Wonder Woman should suit you just fine. But if you were hoping to see something revolutionary in terms of the representation of women, prepare to be bitterly disappointed.