The Wonder Woman movie had to carry a lot on its shoulders. At the time of its release in 2017, it was the first female-led superhero film in decades, and considering DC movies’ track record at the time, it’s no surprise that people were concerned. What ended up happing was that the film—directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Allan Heinberg, and starring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman—became not just the most critically acclaimed female-led superhero movie of all time, but the first from the DCEU to be a critical and commercial darling, and so far, the first to be getting a real direct sequel (eventually).
For me, Wonder Woman, as a character, is iconic because of her place in comic book history, but is also so very inconsistent. A lot of characters change over time, but of the big three of DC, Diana’s origin has changed several times, from being literally born of clay, to being a child of rape, to being the daughter of Zeus or Hercules, all depending on who’s writing her. As a result, we sometimes get the Diana who once snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck without a worry, and we sometimes get a champion of love.
All of this is why it’s so hard for me to connect, on a pure character level, with the Wonder Woman movie. It feels very safe in all of its choices—which I understand, considering its place in the world, but which is also somewhat disappointing.
I understand that for a lot of people, especially women, this movie made them feel seen and strong. I don’t want to take that away from anyone, and I don’t think addressing some of the issues of the film means you’re doing that. The unfortunate reality is that Wonder Woman had the pressure of being a movie for every woman when no one film has that burden for every dude. Yet, when you think about that aspect of Wonder Woman, you sort of realize that without the Amazon part in the first 20 minutes, the film would hardly pass the Bechdel Test.
You realize that literally almost every man comments on how beautiful Diana is, but her foils are Doctor Poison, a woman with facial differences, and Etta Candy, who also comments on how she’s the most beautiful woman ever, and is relegated to a supportive, comedic role. Etta and Diana’s interaction is just them shopping together because, to quote The Bechdel Cast, “women be shopping.”
I also think it’s very interesting that Zeus gets credit in the movie for creating humans and the Amazons, giving them the island of Themyscira, and being Diana’s father (bleh), when in the comics, post-Crisis, the Amazons were created by Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hestia, and Aphrodite. The female goddess gave them their island and Diana was born of clay from their power (plus gay icon Hermes), and so many other things that have nothing really to do with men.
Also, in the film, the fact that the island is filled with women but homosexuality is never spoken of out loud feels like a mistake, especially since Diana is canonically bisexual.
Wonder Woman is a triumph, but sometimes it feels that way because we have been given so little—not because the film is particularly exceptional. The fight scenes still get me pumped, and I think this third re-watch was the first time I really enjoyed this film. I just wish it did more with the amazing source material they have to mine from when it comes to Diana. I wish it had been more inclusive of different women, they way it was of different men.
With television in the ’90s and 2000s filled with exceptional women, mostly white and straight and gorgeous, I think I needed my Wonder Woman to just be a little bit more than just that. I have Xena. I have Buffy. I have scores of women in pop culture who filled that role. I’m glad Wonder Woman exists, and I also accept that a lot of what I wished it had been doesn’t mean the movie is “bad” as it is. It just isn’t for me.
(image: Warner Bros.)
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