Movie: Wonder Woman
Director: Patty Jenkins
Actors: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen, among a WHOLE lot of others.
Story: The movie tracks the story of Wonder Woman before she became the iconic super hero we know today, when she was known simply as Diana of Themyscira.
I went into Wonder Woman with trepidation. As many, many people have pointed out, the danger of a superhero movie with a woman as a lead character is that if it does not do well, people will simply stop making superhero movies with women as leads. This weirdly preemptive connection is almost never made with men: Batman vs Superman appears to be a prime example. But a brief glance at all the headlines Wonder Woman generated shows how much was at stake for it. The most frequently asked question was, ‘Is Wonder Woman the feminist hero we’re waiting for?’
And the answer to that is: I don’t know. But it was a bloody great movie nonetheless.
As I said for Doctor Strange, I am not a comic book fan. I don’t know much about the DC Universe either. I didn’t know anything about Wonder Woman, apart from her name. I wasn’t even interested in the implications of the movie for the rest of the DC Universe. I went to watch the movie for one simple reason: I had literally, literally never watched a movie with a female superhero as the sole lead before.
My favourite thing about the movie was that it wasn’t a woman’s movie.
The most horrifying thing a film with a female lead can do is to have its characters behave feminine, with feminine mannerisms and interests and modes of speaking and so on. It’s awful. It’s heteronormative, it plays into patriarchal gender roles and is just all-round a general cringeworthy experience for people watching.
This film didn’t do that. Perhaps it was inevitable, given that it was directed by Patty Jenkins, a woman. The absence of the male gaze was delightful: there were no gratuitous shots of boobs or butts or body; there was zero self-consciousness in the fighting, which portrayed pure strength. Where it was present, it was critiqued: from the men wolf-whistling at Diana once she lands in our world to the men who resented her presence amongst them. Even Steve Trevor, the most prominent male supporting character, is not spared: his comments about Diana being ‘distracting’, caused by his obvious attraction to her, is assiduously ignored by Diana and snorted at by the audience. That was one of the greatest aspects of the film: it showed that even ‘good guys’ like Steve can be sexist, and that this is, very emphatically, bad.
That’s not to say that heteronormativity was absent. The day I see a lead woman not fall in love with the lead man is the day I will believe Hollywood has rejected heteronormativity. I understand that even in the comics, he is not necessarily portrayed as a love interest but more as a friend, although since the source of my information is Wikipedia, this, I suppose, is up for dispute. As charming as Chris Pine’s Steve is, I would just be happier if the kiss did not happen, especially as in that case Diana’s eventual realisation of love (and not hatred) as the ultimate solution to war would be grounded in a motive a little less cliched.
Having said that, I very much appreciated the reverse-fridging (for lack of better words!) done by Jenkins; the subversion of tired, misogynistic comic tropes was great.
But here’s the catch: men for whom revenge is a prominent arc usually choose violence and anger as their path. Jenkins’s Diana chooses ‘love’, which honestly was a little hippy-ish for me. It wasn’t clear to me just why she didn’t give in to anger. How does she arrive at that conclusion, after her beloved is dead? Is it because women are more closely associated with softness and gentler emotions, rather than outright anger? Is it because women are ‘supposed’ to react in that way? Then does this make Diana fall back into the trap of patriarchal constructions of femininity, or does it make her wiser? Does it free her to choose emotions her male counterparts never could?
It’s a conundrum, and honestly, the line between the two are a little blurred for me. But the greater truth of the movie still remains: that it has done a pretty interesting job as far as representation of many different kinds of women goes. Steve’s secretary, Etta Candy, was one of my favourite appearances, even though the role was very brief.
The movie has also done a good job in terms of other kinds of representation.
As an Indian, a feature of the depiction of London in the Great War immediately caught my eye: there were so many Sikhs in the crowd! It seems like an odd thing to notice, but trust me, I’m so used to seeing white bodies completely erase spaces for other bodies to exist that it was incredibly jarring for me to see their presence. Any Indian history student will know the contributions of the Sikh regiments to the Great War and it truly was an outstanding, and extremely realistic detail to add. Even Downton Abbey didn’t do it.
Of course, of the three characters apart from Steve who accompany Diana on her journey, two are people of colour. Jenkins nods to their histories as well: the Native American Chief talks of his people’s genocide by Steve’s people, and the Moroccan Sameer (shortened to Sammy) points out that he is ‘the wrong colour’ to be an actor in London. Steve is never absolved of his privilege, simply because he is ‘good’.
The film also softens masculinity in multiple ways: Charlie, an Irish sharpshooter, suffers from shell-shock and likes to sing; he is comforted by his companions when he is frightened, and encouraged to sing by Diana herself.
The film did have its weak points.
This was especially evident in its incredibly cartoonish sub-villains (secondary villains? Little monsters?? Less important evil people???), Dr Poison and Ludendorff: there was this moment in which my friends and I literally laughed out loud while characters were dying on screen (yes, we are terrible people). I also honestly did not think much of Thewlis’s Ares; I don’t think anybody did, there was simply far too less for him to work with. The climax could have been better in terms of intensity of action, although the visuals took our breath away (I could hear people around us gasp at multiple points of Diana’s crashing-through-walls moments).
But the overall journey of Diana’s development, from innocence to experience, overshadowed these flaws.
I could relate to Diana’s belief in the intrinsic goodness of all people, and I could feel her pain when it was shattered. What she did, and what I may not have done, is what sets her apart as a hero much more than her powers ever could: she reaffirmed that belief in spite of its fragility. And I loved that.
Wonder Woman does a superb job of contextualizing its world amid greater forces.
Too many comic books are far too insular; they exist in a world of their own, ignoring reality or acknowledging it only through metaphors. This, for me, is a problem; it is also the reason I never really got into comic books, either as a child or as an adult. But this movie did not do that. It stared unflinchingly at the reality of the First World War, and the death and destruction it caused, even paying attention to the animals. It showed how impossible and overwhelming conflict is, and how there is no straight forward solution for any of it, not when the nature of human kind leads to its own demise. Nothing is ever as simple as killing a single super-villain.
Ultimately, I think that’s why I loved the movie so much. And I definitely want to see more.
To conclude I would have liked to screenshot a wonderful tweet I found the other day on my TL, but it appears to have been deleted now, so here it is in all its verbal glory:
“No wonder men think they can do whatever they want, I watched one female lead superhero movie and I’m ready to kick hella ass.”
Go watch this movie. You won’t regret it.
Here are some more amazing things my amazing friends had to share about the movie:
“Movies like Wonder Woman and Captain America: The First Avenger are a rare breed because they actually focus on heroes that save people only because they want to. The whole trench scene, with her crossing No Man’s Land (itself symbolic), rejecting oversight of pain and suffering in the pursuit of the greater good – because there can be no good without the smaller good deeds (was great). … The mythology was changed to make her a goddess, but it was done at the expense of her origin’s symbolism – in the comics, her being born purely of woman is important. The Born Sexy Yesterday trope was rejected while making her a fun fish out of water character. Plus, her being a female heroic lead also didn’t go hand in hand with being virginal (like how a lot of movies do).”
Anumita Ghosh of The Indian Artist:
“It had a very refreshing origin, unlike the others where it is mostly copied from the animated version or comic books. Also, in the animated film it mainly dealt with Diana’s physical strength and courage, but this live action version concentrated more on emotions and empathy.”
Priya Thakur, all-round lovely woman:
“I did not particularly like the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. The bad guy was underdeveloped and I somehow knew who he’s gonna be after the second half. Gal Gadot is beautiful, she acted well. Steve Trevor’s death was very touching, DC did the origin story well. I loved the overall pacing of the film,very tight. They never did explain the gas that the general snorted that made him somehow glow. The end fight sequence with the fire and everything was good but not rave worthy; I think it is just me but I thought the special effects at the end could have been better. All in all, 7.5/10.”
Jitsoma Banerjee, who accompanied me to the theatre:
“Probably the only movie in which the white dude died and stayed dead.”
(I may have said this as well).