Wonder Woman: a tale of two movies

I’ve been waiting a long time to write this post, because I wanted to make sure that I was writing it for the right reasons. Reading this article by Tabby Biddle at Huffington Post helped me clarify that I was not just being a random crazy person, and that my feelings were shared by at least some women. I don’t agree with everything in the article, but I agree with the sense of confusion and anger the writer felt at this iconic movie.

It’s funny, how a movie about women’s empowerment made me feel like that.

As the Huffington Post article describes, if you’ve seen Wonder Woman, you know the beginning is full of badass women. However, the main plot of the movie actually starts when Steve Trevor crash-lands his plane into the island of Themyscira. The pace really picks up here. Diana makes the somewhat strange decision to leave the island that is her home. Her mother makes the decision to not send anyone with her, which is curious since she is constantly worrying about Diana’s safety. The world of women, the world of sense in this case, since the character’s decisions do not jive here, begins to fall apart.

Diana leaves Themyscira, and journeys to the land of the patriarchy. And this is where I get annoyed.

There were so many opportunities to do a movie about World War I, one of the greatest conflicts of our history and one that is often overshadowed by the more recent World War II, in a way that would really shed light onto the politics and issues of the times, onto the broad way that the “war to end all wars” affected so many people. Not just the men who went to the fronts, but the women.

Oh, you didn’t know there were women at the fronts in World War I? Spoiler warning: women are everywhere.

Now I will say that Wonder Woman did a decent job of showing more than the pressed, American white male hero for this movie. Steve was definitely a focus, but there was an attempt to express nuance. The reference to the genocide carried out against the Native Americans, while a bit pat, was at least a step in the right direction. But somewhere, Wonder Woman decided to embrace the “exceptional woman” trope. Diana is able to hack it in the trenches, but Diana is an exception. She has super powers. Her hair is always perfect. She’s not even human, actually, so why should she be held to human norms? This echoes pretty strongly as well with the “just one of the guys” trope we see in a lot of media. The only woman Diana encounters is Etta Candy, a secretary. When she is introduced, Diana immediately denigrates her  and her career. “Where I come from, we call that slavery.”

By itself, Diana’s relationship with Etta would not be problematic. Put in the context of all of her other relationships with human women, it becomes so. We get, in order: the refugee who has somehow crossed no-man’s-land to be hysterical in the trenches; the elite ‘German’ woman whom Diana presumably beats up and leaves naked in the woods; and the evil scientist who, in the end, has simply been the pawn of a man and a male god masquerading as a man for the whole movie, despite her genius. (I could go on about how the only physically disabled or disfigured person with speaking lines is said same female scientist, but that’s a whole other post.)

Even in Themyscira, Diana was held apart. In that case, it was because she was a god (unknowing, but still a god). When she comes to the human world, it is made clear that, though she is treated like a woman at points, she is in fact included as one of the guys because of her godhood. That would be a sticky thing to deal with no matter who else was on screen with Diana. The fact that only men are onscreen for ninety percent of the time skews this equation from sticky to downright uncomfortable.

So, back to those women of World War I.

A good place to start is talking about how much the economic landscape changed in places like London during World War I. All the men were at war, for the most part, which meant, as in the US in World War II, that women stepped up to fill their jobs. Women weren’t just secretaries or spending their time shopping – they were working in factories, featured in propaganda posters, and probably doing other jobs besides. Women were everywhere. Half of a given population is women, on average, and half of the men were at war. For every one man on the average street, it would be fair to say you should see at least two women.

And women were on the front, too, mostly in noncombative capacities. Women were ambulance drivers, nurses, doctors, and reporters. Notably, Flora Sandes even served as active military. She received seven medals. Many of these women were British citizens, but women from other countries – France, notably, and others involved in this sprawling war – played similar rolls. Not one of these women, or one woman like them, appeared in this film.

Wonder Woman has been praised as a feminist movie. Perhaps the first half of this movie was in fact feminist. There were several named female characters, and some really interesting backstory and character dynamics (that unfortunately did not get developed to my satisfaction). But feminist writing does not only include women who are exceptional or outside of the patriarchy. It must engage with the patriarchy not just by sending a character in to yell at some old white dudes, but also by refusing to embrace the narratives accepted as history.

There are other things worth discussing with this movie. Steve Trevor’s almost-fridging is notable, as is the question of virtue and womanhood. Why the decision was made to base the movie in World War I and whether it actually furthered the thematic content of the movie as argued is worth exploring. Also, I could write a whole post on how I almost convinced myself that I liked this movie after reading Joss Whedon’s rejected trashfire of a script and the way that women are constantly gaslit for wanting fair and equal representation in media. But just paying attention to historical context and opportunity would have made this the movie we deserved, so I’ll stop here.

Further reading regarding some badass broads who were on the frontlines, mostly in World War II:

Rejected Princesses

Clare Hollingworth

 

 

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Upcoming movies and some guest posts

We are so close to Wedding Day! And given that, my general ability to think thoughts is pretty depleted. Please instead enjoy this pulpy post.

But first, some housekeeping for all you lovely readers. I’m featuring a few guest bloggers over the next few weeks while I’m away getting married and traveling and such. I’m super excited to introduce you to these lovely ladies, who are going to be talking about a wide range of fantasy/science fiction topics. Please check in over the next three weeks and check them out!

Now, on to the matter at hand. What movies am I looking forward to in 2017?

Annihilation – Released ???

For those who haven’t read Jeff VanderMeer’s book by the same name, you probably should. An eerie, atmospheric tale where the horror is mostly in the mind, but not entirely, this story tells the tale of a scientist (unnamed) who goes into Area X, equal parts Area 51 and alternate dimension, to search for answers regarding her husband’s disappearance and death. They’ve kept the release date and any set pictures mostly under wraps, though there have been some very restricted showings of a teaser trailer or other footage.

The director is the same guy who did Ex Machina. That actually gives me some pause. His aesthetics are solid, but VanderMeer’s book has zero men in it for the vast majority of the text, and I’ve seen the casting list. It is not lacking in men. I’m assuming they are expanding on the timeline prior to the scientist entering Area X, which could be good or bad, depending on whether it swamps her character. I’m a little worried about the adaptation for that reason. Check out the IMDB link for more information about the project.

Wonder Woman – Released June 2nd

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So who hasn’t been waiting for Wonder Woman? This movie has been running trailers and promotional material for a while now, and you can tell that DC pulled out a lot of stops for it. They should. Wonder Woman is arguably their most iconic character after Superman and Batman, and before for many. In contrast to Marvel’s line-up, she is also a singularly iconic woman. This will be the first superhero movie to focus entirely on a female character, and DC beat Marvel to the punch (no surprise, since Marvel seems set on making mistake after mistake in this regard). Check out the IMDB link for more information.

I’ve been planning to rush the theater for this one, and I doubt I will be alone.

Atomic Blonde – Released July 28th

Holy shit, this move. Here’s the IMDB link if you haven’t heard of it. Take a minute to watch the trailer. I’ll wait.

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Really, what is there not to love about this? It’s all of the action packed, grungy goodness of a hardcore spy movie, with the kickass feminine lead from Fury Road. You have my money, sirs and madames.

The Dark Tower – Released August 4th

So I honestly didn’t realize that this was coming so soon until this lovely trailer came out. Holy mess, it looks good. The Dark Tower series is a sort of hit-or-miss thing for me, actually – I thought it ended up getting wrapped around itself somehow, if that makes sense, and ending was not my favorite. But The Gunslinger was an amazing book, and I’m excited to see what they will do with the story, as it looks…very different from the one I remember.

Hitman’s Bodyguard – Released August 18th

I have to admit that this movie is not my usual cup of tea. I wasn’t a huge fan of Deadpool, actually. I thought it was fun, and the graphics were obviously spot on, but it just didn’t quite click with me. That said, Ryan Reynolds is a fun actor, and he definitely brought life to Deadpool’s character with some trademark witticism that seems evident in this move. Plus there are lots of guns. If the trailer doesn’t make you laugh, well, we have different senses of humor, probably. IMDB link on the click-through.

Blade Runner 2049 – Released October 6th

Holy shit, guys, there is a new Blade Runner movie and the trailer is out! Harrison Ford is always a good bet for these kinds of movies, but Ryan Gosling joins him, which I am way into. The director is also the guy who did Arrival which is one of my favorite movies cinematically of the past year.

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Basically if you are a fan of cerebral science fiction, this is the movie you are looking forward to this year (well, in addition to Annihilation, but it’s hard to look forward to something we don’t even have a trailer for, yet). Check out the IMDB page here for more info.

Thor: Ragnarok – Released November 3rd

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So Thor. Thor is the hottest Avenger, probably. And his hair is part of that for me. Now they have chopped all of his hair off. I find myself…not dismayed? He is still really sexy? Alright, then.

Other positives to this movie: Hulk cameo, gladiator fights, and CATE BLANCHETT. She is my favorite. IMDB link and video link for those who live in a hole and haven’t seen the trailer.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Released December 15th

You had to know this movie would be on the list. I am solidly in the Star Wars fandom, and I am so, absolutely ready for this movie. Rogue One was a great appetizer, of course. I had some problems with the Leia cameo, which was goofy and too on the nose. But overall, it was lovely. I hope that they will bring some of that creative energy into this new film.

I also have to pause here and note that The Last Jedi was Carrie Fisher’s last movie. I desperately want it to be good and tie up her character well. There are a lot of hopes riding on this film for me, and it almost feels scary leading up to it, but the teaser trailer looks pretty good so far.

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That’s all for me! Let me know what movies you’re looking forward to. Next time I post, I’ll be married and talking all about marriage things!