When it seems like everyone and their mom is heaping mountains of praise on Wonder Woman for it’s supposed feminist themes and ideas, here I come to be the wet blanket. I’ll be honest with you guys: I wanted to like Wonder Woman, I really did.
If 3 of the 4 Chrises™ can have starring roles in superhero films playing characters far less iconic than the Princess of Themyscira, why can’t The Amazing Amazon herself have her own movie?
Like many others, I went into the theater expecting a welcomed change from the formulaic nature of the superhero movie trademarked by Marvel and a departure from the somber tones established by its DCEU predecessors, and while the film does indeed shift tonally from its darker counterparts, Wonder Woman fails to deliver in almost every other aspect.
Wonder Woman is an astoundingly gorgeous marvel to behold. Themyscira is the most colorful set piece in any modern superhero movie. The action is fluid and invigorating, and you feel every hit, every slash, every explosion when you’re supposed to. It was in those moments that I was the most enthralled.
Even though the films primary back drop was The Great War and war as a setting is prime real estate for melodramatics, the overall tone of the movie kept an air of optimism and hope, which are trademarks characteristics of Wonder Woman and her stories.
The supporting cast were phenomenal as well. Chris Pine as Steve Trevor was definitely my favorite part of this movie. He and his band of misfits are certainly where most of the personality of this movie comes from. Etta Candy was adorable and charming and she made me smile whenever she spoke or giggled.
While sorely underdeveloped, the villains, especially Dr. Poison, are noteworthy as well. Unlike most DCEU villains, with the exception of Zod, there was a palpable sinister feeling to them that instilled in me a sense of unease whenever they were on screen.
Nearly everything in this movies support worked well, but…
Acting wise, Gal Gadot is not Wonder Woman. She gave us a good Diana, but she lacked the fierceness that is The Goddess of Love and War. When she was on Themyscira and she was supposed to give us doe-eyed, soft, sheltered Princess Diana, Gal delivered in that aspect. I believed her as an innocent child-like figure that’s been kept away from the atrocities of modern warfare, but she does not convey any greater range of emotion beyond that. I never believed her when she was meant to be confused or frightened or sad or angry, which certainly makes her Third Act rampage difficult to remain invested in – I actually fell asleep during that part – and the model in her fully came through because she felt very posed in many scenes. Whenever she was supposed to emote beyond infantile fascination was when I was the most removed from the film.
I found myself constantly rolling my eyes every time she had a “fish out of water” moment. With the baby and the shopping and the revolving door and the ice cream and not understanding 20th century sexism, I found myself more annoyed than I think I’ve ever been at a female protagonist. I was never fully invested in Gadot’s Diana, therefore, I didn’t care too much for her journey towards becoming Wonder Woman. I was more invested Elena Anaya’s Dr. Poison and all I could see were her eyes, but those eyes made me feel something. The same cannot be said of Gadot’s performance. The one meant to be the emotional center of the film ended up being the character I cared the least about.
Appearance wise, Gal Gadot is not Wonder Woman. Gadot clocks in at about 5′ 10″, and though she did put on some weight for the role, she is not the Amazon champion that Wonder Woman is supposed to be. She is still within the acceptable physique that Hollywood allots for primary female protagonists: she’s muscular, but still curvy and slender. She’s nowhere near as thick and toned as Ann J. Wolfe’s Artemis was (even though she had no lines, more on that later) or the Amazon’s from Xena, who were partially inspired by WW’s Amazons, and she doesn’t even meet Chris Pine at 6 feet. Gadot is not Amazonian in any sense of the word.
The supporting cast truly were a supporting cast because they carried the movie far more than Wonder Woman herself. Steve, Sameer, Charlie, and The Chief were really this movie’s saving grace. They were funny, their chemistry was electric, and they felt like long time friends. Unfortunately, none of them could possibly return in a future DC film…
Friendship was something else that was surprisingly absent from Diana’s story. For all the white women championing this movie for its feminism, Wonder Woman is lacking any sense of solidarity between Diana and the films other female characters, even though a supposed cornerstone of feminism is supposed to be camaraderie between women.
Samantha Jo is credited on the movie’s IMDb page as Euboea, who’s Diana’s best friend, but I can’t recall seeing her in the film and she assuredly has no lines. As charming as Etta is, she really is not that important, and she and Diana never really have any moments that suggest they’re forming a bond. None of the Amazons outside of Hippolyta, Antiope, Diana, Diana’s governess (I’ll come back to her, too), and one of the senators have real dialogue and we’re never given a very good grasp of Amazon culture and customs outside of “Women Warriors”. It seemed like the DC crew really wanted to fast forward through that part of the narrative, and that unfortunately left us with a shallow shadow of what could have been integral character building moments for Diana as well as the Amazons as a whole.
We spend so little of the total run time on Themyscira that it could have easily been included in short flashbacks and it still would have had the same impact.
While I did appreciate that there were people of color dispersed all throughout the movie, I was disappointed that there were no prominent women of color in the film and aggravated beyond belief at the very particular exclusion of Black people from World War I.
The small window of time we spend getting to see Themyscira is entirely through Diana’s perspective and again we never see her interact with any of the other Amazons besides her mother outside of training.
Even from the movies opening I was put off with the film due to the many negative stereotypes of Black women that crop up. The very first scene on Themyscira we see a Black governess (read: Mammy) chasing after and calling out to the precocious young Diana as she runs through the market place. Ann J. Wolfe’s Artemis is seen later training and has a spear busted over her back and is completely unfazed. I’m sure I don’t have to explain what’s wrong with an image of a Black woman being impervious to pain do I? The other Amazons of color that we see (and there are a lot of them, which I feel was a deliberate choice) are nothing more than window dressings that might as well have not been included because they don’t speak and they don’t do much of anything besides walk around.
As for the erasure of Black people in World War I, it’s so interesting because the film thought well enough to include other non-Black people of color who were in the war like the Ottoman Turks, Romani villagers, and included The Chief (really?), a Native American, but Black people are mysteriously absent even though Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and Portugal had colonies in Africa during World War I. There were Allied campaigns in German colonies such as Kamerun, Togoland, German South West Africa and German East Africa as well as local rebellions against European rule led by Africans. There were also Black Americans that fought in the first World War – look up the Harlem Hellfighters.
Philippus, who is the one who trained Diana to be a warrior, is essentially replaced by Robin Wright’s Antiope in the role of mentor even though Philippus is technically in the movie – I say technically because actress Ann Ogbomo is credited on WW‘s IMDb page as Philippus, BUT SHE DOESN’T HAVE ANY LINES!!!
And all of what I just mentioned becomes even more ironic when both Sameer and The Chief (who’s never identified with a tribe or nation) make passing comments about racism, but they added nothing in the grand scheme of the movie. Those lines had no further impact on the story or the characters, so what was even the point of including them?
All of this goes back to this consistent pattern of people of color and black people especially being used as props and support in the name of advancing white women’s feminism.
And that’s possibly the worst thing about Wonder Woman. For a movie that’s being so lauded for its progressiveness, there are a lot of people being left behind. (C-)
Update: 26 June 2017
Here are three really good reviews that encapsulate other criticisms I have of the movie that I couldn’t articulate well myself. The titles sound very harsh, but the reviews are very good.
JustLatasha’s Review | Wonder Woman SUCKED!!!! ***SPOILERS***
The Devil’s Advocrits’s Review | Why WONDER WOMAN actually SUCKS! (SPOILER movie review)
Sensei Aishitemasu’s Review | So, About ‘Wonder Woman…’ Extended REVIEW (Brutally Honest + Unedited) ***SPOILERS***