I remember liking Wonder Woman on television (with Lynda Carter) and I really wanted to like the film – strong female role models and all that. And I did like it well enough, in the first half. The plot was hardly bulletproof but Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was, and I was merrily bumping along with it. The climax of the first half arrives in the trenches scene where Wonder Woman is told by love interest Steve (Chris Pine) not to stop a particular battle and to focus on the war. Wonder Woman defies him, removes a cloak to reveal who she really is, and steps onto the field. By drawing the opponents’ fire, she provides inspiration and an opportunity for the people she is helping to emulate her and fight back too. And they do. It’s beautiful (in a superhero movie way).
Then something shifts in the second half. Wonder Woman and Steve get together, and suddenly I found myself watching a romantic adventure film. Chris Pine is a commanding presence on the screen, and a frequent one. He is also downright heroic, to the point where his heroism rivaled hers.
I’m not a superhero movie aficionado, but I can’t recall any other superhero movie in which the female love interest plays such a prominent role. She may be significant (or not), but she isn’t prominent. She may be brave, but usually it’s in the throw-a-lamp-in-a-bumbling-way category, distracting a villain just long enough to let the male superhero recover and do the heavy lifting of battle.
But in Wonder Woman, Steve is her equal in bravery, competence, and effect. He does not stay awestruck by her for long, and soon initiates a romantic relationship with her as he would any other younger woman, with experienced confidence and no nervousness. Steve is the one with the unwavering belief in doing what’s right, and his sacrifice is what empowers Wonder Woman (somewhat inexplicably) to defeat her opponent.
But Wonder Woman is the superhero! Was the movie called Steve and Diana? Why was I watching so much Chris Pine? It’s true that only Wonder Woman undergoes any character development, but it’s so entangled in her love affair that it detracts from her as her own being. Why not more about her origin story, her relationship with her mother and aunt, or even her foe? Why not round her out? I wanted to be inspired by an independent, mission-driven female superhero, and ended up watching a star-crossed lover.
I was frustrated, not least because Wonder Woman’s relationship with Steve is otherwise good. It’s a decent comic book representation of how we are influenced and motivated by love, all of us, and ultimately defined by it. But after watching decades of male superheros who are neither developed nor defined by their love interests, I wanted to watch a Wonder Woman who wasn’t either. It’s our turn (many times over), dammit.
It occurred to me that the makers of Wonder Woman knew they would capture a female audience and wanted to still draw in the boys, and ensure they could feel good about themselves after the film. But since this consideration isn’t extended to female audiences watching male superhero films, I was peeved.
I wanted Wonder Woman to break new ground for women and girls. If it did that, it was only due to the fact of it being made, that a female superhero got the lead at all. Other films have done a much better job – think Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy or Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill – and my biggest feminist takeaway from Wonder Woman was to be grateful for these other films.
What do you think? Can you help me like the film more?