Overview: Princess Diana of Themyscira is the only child on an island of Amazon woman. Her mother, Hippolyta, seeks to keep her safe and away from the art of war that all the others on the island are adept at, as they await the return of Ares, God of War, to destroy their island. But in keeping her safe Hippolyta is also keeping secrets, such as the true nature of Diana’s birth and her very purpose for being.
When a mysterious man washes up on shore, equally mysterious for BEING a man, and warships behind him many on the island are slaughtered and Diana feels the urge to go and enter the war to find Ares and thus, as her legends say, end war forever so they can come out of hiding. In the process she learns her true nature, love, and just how messed up humans are.
The Good: Themyscira. I teared up in those opening scenes seeing the women, old and strong and scarred and beautiful fighting and living together and loving the world. They may not have been allowed to be really old women on screen, but showing Connie Neilsen and Robin Wright as warriors, when I grew up with them in various other roles, was amazing. Watching them all warrior out when the men with their guns attack was so energizing! Sure, I may have wanted them to have more scars or wrinkles but still, that many women in one place? Just great.
While DC movies like to be dark both in color and in tone, I could actually see the action that was going on here, unlike some of their other films. Dear DC – sunlight exists and is wonderful, use it more often please. There were also great touches of humor throughout, such as with every line the horribly under utilized Lucy Davis as Steve Trevor’s secretary. The story touched on PTSD and other aspects of war as well. The subversive nature of Steve Trevor was also great, and I’ll talk about more in The Female section.
The Bad: The CGI fight scenes were pretty damn bad. It was like it switched to a 90s video game with some of Diana’s moves, and especially within the final battle.
The Female: While the opening scenes are magnificent and filled with women, we then go back to having only one woman in each circle. For the Germans and thus, bad guys, it’s Dr. Maru – the woman creating the poison to win the war. For Steve’s work world, it’s his secretary and for the battlefield it’s Wonder Woman. While there are elements that elevate those women beyond the norm in movies (that fact that at least in Dr. Maru and Wonder Woman these are women of power, but at the same time that reinforces that to be allowed into a man’s world you have to be beyond exceptional and, in Wonder Woman’s case, a literal gorgeous God). Below are reviews of each of the women in the film. Steve Trevor is there because he gets attributes generally given to women in films.
Princess Diana, AKA Wonder Woman: She plays two roles here, the innocent holder of emotions who is shocked by the world, a role traditionally given to women, and a warrior and leader of men.
In her first role she shows the emotions others have become inured to to the point of inaction. When villages of women and children are being destroyed, she cries and is horrified but then leaps to action, leading the men who are telling her not to bother into battle, and a winning one. Most of her role is reactions to the world around her, and mainly sorrow and disbelief. However, where this role becomes powerful is how it DOES lead to action and results. Traditionally, emotions are relegated to women as a weakness with this idea that if you are crying you can do nothing else and that by being moved to emotion by the plights of others means you can’t objectively assess the situation and come to a positive conclusion for change. Think clinical distance in doctors, and why women couldn’t be doctors for so long, this idea of emotions as a hinderance.
Yet, here, it’s Diana’s emotions that become her strength throughout, and even in the final battle. It is through her emotions and connection to them she CAN see and assess what everyone else (AKA – the MEN) have ignored in preference of ‘the plan’ they have created, or had handed down to them. She gets past the ‘This is the way it has always been’ and ‘this is the way it is’ to actually act and move forward.
In Warrior mode she leads the men to battle on multiple occasions, and becomes a leader to the point where the men ask where she is before going forward,
The Amazons: They are awesome, if only shown in the beginning. Strong warriors protecting ‘The God Killer’ and preparing for when Ares shows up again. However, by living in isolation they are also woefully behind the times when it comes to being warriors so are taken down by men with guns, which was disappointing. Strong women are shown as an anachronism and not integrated into the world, which is what makes Princess Diana such an anomaly that amazes men.
Dr. Maru, AKA Dr. Poison: She is the woman on the ‘bad people’s’ side. The evil genius working on a poison to not just kill others, but to make her side stronger. Ares whispers to her and she takes it as inspiration to move forward. She has a deformity and wears a mask, and it’s an interesting dynamic to have the ‘good’ woman be the most beautiful in the room and the ‘bad’ have a disability. It’s also very structuralized to have the ‘bad’ women be ugly and the good beautiful. So there’s that reinforcement. If there was any backstory given to her, I don’t remember it.
Steve’s Secretary: She is comic relief, the bumbling bustling secretary who does what she’s told, although with Diana around she gets to be feisty. Still, not much backstory or agency shown.
Steve Trevor: I’m putting Steve here because he gets the role most often given to women. The hero rescues him – multiple times. First when she dives into the water where he has landed, ala the Little Mermaid, and brings him to shore. Then when bullets are fired, she’s there with her wrist bands to deflect the bullets. She saves him multiple times throughout the move.
Steve also introduces her to new emotions, and traditionally it’s the woman who, by her existence, allows the man to have feelings. Steve teachers her, through his existence, about love and that helps her move forward. Again, this is something mostly given to women. Think, for example, of the 5th element where the trope is so on the surface in the ending when we discover ‘the 5th element is love’ and that is embodied by LeeLoo. This allows the male hero in 5th Element to save the world. Well, here Steve teaches Diana about love and that helps her save the world.
*SPOILER for next part*
Steve, as the love interest, dies and this spurs the hero to save the world. Again, the dying so the hero has anguish to fuel the fight is saved for women in about every other film. Think of the Bond films and how many times his wife/girlfriend has died. It’s a common trope and here, the roles are reversed and it’s through his death that the hero, Princess Diana, can win the battle against Ares.
Final thoughts: I’d see it again. It’s a good film and was a lot of fun and, though women are still not allowed to interact outside of an island, it’s definitely a step forward from other superhero franchise films! Here’s hoping they stay the course and Wonder Woman doesn’t get overshadowed or relegated to a more traditional role in the Justice League movie(s).