--**Contains spoilers about the film Wonder Woman**
Confession time: I have never read a Wonder Woman comic book. I have never seen the Wonder Woman TV show. My ignorance of comic book characters, lore and universes is probably second only to my ignorance of professional sports (hockey is still happening? STILL????) and I regularly make my more in-the-know friends shake their heads in consternation with my confusion of the DC and Marvel universes.
That being said, I was still pretty darn excited about the fact that, after 76 years, Wonder Woman was getting her own live-action feature film because, as our own Erin Carr said, representation matters. I mean, how many Batman reboots does it take to get to the center of Bruce Wayne's brooding? I don't need to fork over $15 every two years to see the same story retold with more explosions and worse acting (sorry, Ben Affleck - stick to directing). But a film exploring the backstory of a different, under-represented character who happens to be a woman? In the words of Fry, shut up and take my money.
Because of my general ignorance of Wonder Woman, any expectations or skepticism I had of the film were hinged on broader concerns of how Hollywood would treat her as a female character. Would she be oversexualized? Would she somehow be undermined by the male characters? Would there be some bullshit love story because we all know that all women really want is a dude with a strong jawline to sweep them off their feet, saving the world be damned?
Those concerns turned out to be both founded and unfounded. Sure, Wonder Woman’s costume is short and tight, but it actually provides more coverage than Lynda Carter’s costume from the 1970’s TV show, and it’s undeniably more functional than the more period-appropriate clothes Diana tries on during the London shopping spree scene. Additionally, Patty Jenkins’ direction doesn’t fetishize Diana’s body – I can’t recall a close-up of a heaving bosom or slow-pan of Gal Gadot’s statuesque frame. The male characters may be initially struck by Diana’s beauty, but they quickly learn that there is a hell of a lot more beneath the surface.
Likewise, the male characters quickly learn that their attempts to undermine her, however well-intentioned, are unnecessary and ill-advised, which is a pleasant subversion of expectations. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) starts off the film by mansplaining war to an Amazon warrior goddess, but by the end, when she is locked in her epic final battle with Ares, the God of War (Professor Lupin! Say it ain’t so!), he knows there is nothing he can do for her that she can’t do for herself, again subverting the insinuation that, even though she’s a superhero, she still needs a man to bail her out.
And as for that love story? Yeah, it’s there. In the words of Liz Lemon, "Commencing eyeroll sequence." It's not the main focus of the plot, so I'll at least give it that. If they're going to continue shoehorning romantic storylines into the plots of future Wonder Woman features, here's hoping that they use them to explore Diana's bisexuality next time.
But what I really want to talk about is the way Wonder Woman shows war through a woman's eyes. The movie is set in the last days of World War I, which at the time was known as "The Great War" and the "War to End All Wars." While Diana has been told stories of war and trained for war her whole life, her arrival in the trenches is her first real exposure to actual warfare, and her immediate response is "Holy shit, this is awful, why do people do this to each other? How do we save these innocent lives from this hellish destruction?" (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) My point is, Diana enters the field of battle and sees the human toll of war, something that is often lost in movies told from a male perspective, whether they are superhero or actual war movies. In Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor represents that point-of-view - he is also on a mission to stop the war, but he's not going to let a little thing like innocent civilian casualties get in his way. As is often the case in superhero and war movies, these innocent lives lost are collateral damage, an unfortunate sidenote in the hero's journey to save the world. But it's Diana who points out, these people are the world. If the mission is to stop the war to save humanity, you actually have to give a fuck about humanity. And mind you, this is not a sheltered, squeamish little lady offering naive morals in the face of massive destruction; this is warrior goddess who has been training for slaughter and self-defense since she could walk.
I'm reminded of something my mother used to say: "If women were in charge, there would be no wars, because no mother wants to send her child into battle." Sure, that's an overarching statement in many ways, but I think it speaks to the heart of why Diana sees war in a different perspective than her male counterparts. Too often in movies and life, we lose sight of what the human cost of war actually is. Diana shows that you can be fierce, and fight for justice and peace, but ultimately, if we're not fighting to preserve the dignity and safety of human life, what are we fighting for?
-- Kristen Scatton