Ten Years Later, the 2009 Wonder Woman Movie Doesn’t Hold Up
I really wished I enjoyed this film.
I was first introduced to Wonder Woman properly with Patty Jenkins’ 2017 live-action take on the character. While the film has some problems, it’s one of my favorite superhero movies and made me love Diana, Steve Trevor, and the Amazons.
I’m obsessed with the G. Willow Wilson run of her comics and have been playing catchup on more recent issues so that I can speak more knowledgeably about the subject. So, when I found the 2009 animated Wonder Woman film on DC Universe, I simply had to watch it.
And then I watched it again, with a growing frustration as it turned out not to be what I expected.
I feel almost bad saying that I dislike the film. It has a female director in Lauren Montgomery, and Gail Simone received a story credit on the project. But with the work of screenwriter Michael Jelenic, the film feels almost like a parody of what a Wonder Woman film should be. I’ve seen criticisms that it’s too feminist, but it doesn’t really feel overly feminist save for a handful of scenes. Instead, it feels dated.
The film, for those who have not seen it, follows a few familiar beats. Ares, the God of War, is up to his usual shenanigans, plotting to destroy mankind and whatnot. Steve Trevor crashes on Themiscyra, and as a result, Diana leaves the island to return Steve home and to track down Ares after the god escapes Amazonian custody. Culture shocks ensue, the Amazons wind up leaving their island to aid Diana, and we see the heroine emerge triumphant against Ares.
If you liked Chris Pine’s take on Steve Trevor, you might not like the Steve of 2009’s film. He’s a cocky, flirtatious jerk who ogles a bunch of bathing, naked Amazons when he firsts lands on the island and whose immediate thought when wrapped in the lasso of truth is to blurt out a rude comment about Diana’s chest in front of all the Amazons, including her mother.
He tries to get Diana drunk. He yells at her, when she’s mad at him for saving her rather than stopping Ares, about how not all men are terrible and he has feelings for her. They kiss, but for what reason I couldn’t tell you.
I’m not overly familiar with Steve’s earlier incarnations, but if this is what he’s like there, I’ll probably skip those comics.
More egregiously, the film takes Etta Candy, Diana’s close friend, and turns her into someone she’s most definitely not. Maybe I’m just used to Etta’s modern comics incarnation, or Lucy Davis’s spunky take from 2017’s Wonder Woman, but here? I cannot imagine anyone being happy with her role.
She’s turned into a slim blonde who plays at being helpless and needy to try to gain Steve’s affection; she’s cold towards Diana, obviously viewing her as competition. Etta is one of Diana’s closest female friends, so what was the point of changing her character like this?
As Ares, Alfred Molina gets a little more to do in this film than David Thewlis did as the live-action incarnation, but he’s still not a really compelling villain. Again, he just wants to kill everyone and cause war, and he doesn’t even get the more interesting element of “oh, I give mankind evil ideas but they are the ones who act on them,” like he does in the live-action film.
Here, he just yells and wants to kill everyone, and apparently he and Hippolyta had a kid? That was a wild plot point that lasted for two minutes in the film’s opening scene.
Finally, the Amazons are not treated well at all by the narrative. Persephone (the Amazon, not the goddess) falls in love with and frees Ares from his imprisonment, and then is completely submissive to him for the rest of the film. When she is killed by Hippolyta, she blames the queen for her actions, saying that by denying the Amazons the chance to marry and have children, she somehow stripped them of their womanhood.
There’s a lot to unpack there.
Persephone should have been given more motivation for her turn than just lusting after the only man she was around, and there are so many problems with the idea of womanhood being inherently tied to patriarchal expectations. The worst part is is that the film seems to give legitimacy to that point of view by not framing it as wrong but as a tragic part of Persephone’s downfall and what helps inspire Hippolyta to let Diana live outside of Themiscyra.
The Amazons also get a charming description when a presidential aide describes them as “supermodels in armor.” Say what you will about the emphasis on Diana’s looks in Wonder Woman 2017, but here it’s a constant stream of comments about character appearances.
I wanted to love Wonder Woman, but it just doesn’t hold up amid modern takes on the character and the Patty Jenkins film. I hope that the upcoming animated Wonder Woman:Bloodlines film, set to be released this year, will rectify some of these mistakes and give us a more modern take on the character.
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