“Be careful in the world of men Diana; they do not deserve you.”
I’m not too proud to admit that I cried at this line. With the above words Hippolyta, Queen of Themyscira, (Connie Nielsen) sends her daughter Diana (Gal Gadot) off into the outside world to fight in a war that the Amazons have nothing to do with. But she knows that Diana will go no matter what, that she cannot stay now she has heard of the horrors. It’s the moment that Diana starts her journey from princess to superhero; it’s the beginning of becoming Wonder Woman.
Before I went to see the film I had half a piece written about the apparent lack of advertising for Wonder Woman and the ridiculous controversy over the size of Gal Gadot’s boobs. I’ve scrapped that. This film deserves better than that. Wonder Woman has been accused of being too cheesy. Too earnest. Too full of emotion. But isn’t all of that just what we could do with in these dark times? Full of joy, compassion, and hope, Wonder Woman is different to every other superhero film or TV show I’ve recently seen.
I’ll admit it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a DC movie, but I watch almost all of their small screen offerings and they have been dark recently. Even Supergirl, a show I adore, has become grittier over the course of its second season. Wonder Woman, by contrast, doesn’t feel the need to be gritty or grim. That’s not to say that it sanitizes war or takes its setting of World War One lightly. It unflinchingly depicts the horrors that Diana is confronted with, allowing her to be horrified by them but never overcome. There is no lingering on pain, gore, or death. That’s not what it wants to do; that’s not the effect it wishes to have.
A lot has been made of this being a superhero film directed by a woman. Patty Jenkins was not the first choice for this movie, but as far as I am concerned she was the perfect one. The script may let us down from time to time but the direction never does. For all the issues with the plot, for which the scriptwriters are to blame, her direction is faultless. The camera angles never distract from the action. On the whole, the slow motion scenes add to the fights instead of being annoying. We can actually pay attention to everything going on (a major gripe I had with Avengers: Age of Ultron).
Most importantly, Jenkins treats our heroine with respect. Despite her skimpy outfits and obvious beauty, the camera never lingers on Diana in a voyeuristic fashion. Diana is powerful, strong, and yes, even sexy, but never sexualised. Her beauty is not used as a weapon or as a tool with which to suppress her. We do, however, get a nearly nude shot near the start of the film of marooned spy Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), for which I am grateful. Let every white cis man in the audience get to feel what it’s like, even if the shot is fleeting, to see a representation of your own body sexualised onscreen in front of you. To make it even more perfect, it is Steve himself that does the sexualising. Diana barely notices his anatomy; she much more interested in his watch.
One of my favourite parts in the whole film came after the montage in which Diana tried on, and dismissed, a range of different outfits ‘suitable’ for London wear. Steve moans to his secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) that the point of the trip was to make Diana less distracting – the dude has been making heart eyes at her from the moment he saw her – and so adds glasses to her look. Etta’s response, “Really, specs? And suddenly she’s not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?”, is a witty take down of one of my most hated tropes. In fact, I just want to take a moment to appreciate Etta Candy. Why didn’t we get more of her? She’s funny, she’s smart and she’s kind. Plus, she’s probably a suffragette! She tells Diana that women in England fight with “principles! It’s how we’re going to get the vote.”
Funny feminist one liners run throughout the majority of this film. From Diana telling Steve that men are essential for procreation, but unnecessary for pleasure, to Diana’s gentle rebuffs of Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) when they first meet, there is much to love about the dialogue of this film. And whilst I’ve mentioned Sameer, I want to note the diversity in this film. The Amazons come in all shapes, sizes, and races. Captain Trevor is the only white member of his team, allowing for a discussion of racism, sexism and colonialism in a simple manner, opening the way for more exploration of the topics in further films. The background characters are ethnically diverse. When Diana and Trevor are walking towards the boat that will take them to France through a crowd of soldiers, we see black soldiers, Asian soldiers, even an Indian regiment in their distinctive khaki turbans. It reflects the actual make-up of the British army better than many other films I’ve seen set in the period.
Alas, the setting of World War One means that this film haemorrhages female characters towards the end. The fact that Diana is the hero of the tale is still pretty revolutionary for a film set in the thick of the fighting, but the marvellous first twenty minutes of the film more than makes up for it. The opening showing the society of the Amazons will probably have a different effect on different people. There was a great piece on how it impacted on a male viewer.* For me, it seemed a little bit like heaven. These women did what they wanted for themselves. Seeing tiny Diana mimicking the Amazons as they trained warmed the cockles of my heart. Here was a young girl growing up believing in being fierce and strong – not worried about being dainty, quiet, making herself smaller. Her role models were fighters and wise women and rulers. Being beautiful was not something she worried about.
The society of the Amazons is not depicted without flaws, of course. It is insular and full of secrets. The film wasn’t flawless either. But nobody and nothing is ever perfect. Picking holes in this impressive offering won’t force the film industry to do better if it doesn’t want to. Supporting it will. They can’t argue with something that makes a lot of money. Persuading production companies that films like this can be successful and deserve big budgets and more creative freedom is the end game here. Shitting all over Wonder Woman isn’t going to achieve that, but buying into what this film is trying to do, will.
In the current climate of hate, division, and discord, Wonder Woman’s message of love and hope, of unity against those who seek to destroy, is exactly what is needed. Diana truly believes everyone can be saved. Steve reminds us that none of us are blameless. That all of us can choose to act or choose to do nothing. Inaction does not remove complicity – it just prevents you from being a part of the solution. Diana cannot stand by while others suffer. We could all do to learn from her.
The scene in which Diana first truly becomes Wonder Woman made me weep. A walk across No Man’s Land in order to rescue villagers being terrorised by the Germans could have been something over the top. Ridiculous. A distraction from the rest of the plot. Instead, I had a reaction to it quite unlike something I’ve ever experienced. I saw a young woman learning about her powers, finding herself to be stronger than she thought. I saw her face down evil and win.
Ultimately, this is a film about female empowerment. It’s about little girls dreaming of growing up to be a heroes and then going on to do it. Compassion and love are not weaknesses in Wonder Woman’s universe – they’re strengths. No man may go into the space between the trenches, but Wonder Woman does. She believes in the sanctity of life too much to stand quietly by. She loves too fiercely to give up.
“It’s not about ‘deserve’; it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”
So do I, Diana, so do I.
*But for the life of me, I can’t find it to link. I saw it on twitter, so if any else knows which piece I’m on about please do let me know!