Wonder Woman: A Return to Compassion

There’s a quote from Gail Simone (a very well-regarded comic writer) that’s been going around a lot since the new Wonder Woman movie came out. “If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman.” I’ve always liked this quote and I think it encapsulates all three heroes well. I was a little dubious about the new Wonder Woman movie – DC hasn’t exactly had a stellar track record with their recent movies. But then I started seeing the early reviews and I began to hope.

Needless to say, I loved it. I was deeply affected by it. I wept multiple times. It was just a damn good movie. Early on, I saw reports of a lot of women finding themselves crying, especially during the fight scenes of the movie. I sort of expected to be among them, and then I was still surprised by how emotionally overcome I was by it. Seeing an entire army of impossibly badass warrior women absolutely destroying a bunch of evil Germans (not technically Nazis, because this is WWI, but let’s be real, they absolutely served the same narrative purpose as Nazis here) was so cathartic, and I didn’t expect it to be so cathartic. It’s like not realizing that you’re starving until you take that first bite of food.

When the movie ended, I kind of needed to take a minute to breathe; I was still shaking a little bit, my cheeks were covered in tears, and I felt like I needed to cry some more. Needless to say, I was pretty displeased when my boyfriend, who I saw the movie with, said that he thought it was “okay”. Couldn’t he see how affected I was by it? Couldn’t he understand how much it meant not just to me, but to countless other women? I said he was wrong, and even if he wasn’t wrong, his opinion mattered less than a woman’s on this. I stand by that, to be honest. I spent a solid moment contemplating the headline of the Reductress article I would want to write about breaking up with my boyfriend over Wonder Woman. But, you know, sometimes men are just wrong and we can allow them that wrongness as long as they don’t take it too far.

The thing is… it wasn’t just the sight of hundreds of badass woman on screen that affected me so much. It wasn’t just that this was the Wonder Woman movie I’ve been waiting for my entire life. The moment that put me completely over the edge was when Diana is confronted by Ares, showing her all the weaknesses of mankind, and when she chooses to fight for us anyway, in spite of these human flaws, she says “I believe in love.” She says it without a hint of irony, without self-consciousness, without shrugging off the weight of what she says. She says it with conviction, with sincerity, and with an extraordinary degree of compassion that has always defined Wonder Woman.

The DC cinematic universe so far has been, well… pretty grim. And also dark. It’s trying to capitalize on the success of the Nolan!Batman movies, which distanced themselves from the “cheesiness” of earlier Batmen (confession: I… didn’t really like the Nolan Batman movies). Grimdark has been the thing for quite a while, but I don’t think that’s what people want anymore (and it’s never what I wanted). But there’s areas where grimdark works – epic fantasy, your zombie apocalypses, etc. But I truly don’t think it works for superheroes. Superheroism is not about gritty realism; it’s about challenging humanity to be more than it is.

There’s a recurring motif in this movie of people telling Diana “they/we [humanity] don’t deserve you”. In her darkest moment, Diana says that they’re right – we don’t deserve her. The movie takes that and responds “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe.” But… I can’t help but shake the feeling that one of the entire points of the Wonder Woman character is that we legitimately do not deserve her. She is too good for humanity. I think that the idea behind Wonder Woman is to make us want to deserve her. To make us want to better ourselves to be worthy of the Princess of Themyscira. I think that’s a lofty goal for a fictional character, but it works so well here.

I think, after seeing this, the actual Wonder Woman movie that was made, one of the things that makes it stand out in such stark relief to other superhero movies is reading the spec script that Joss Whedon wrote for it. Now, granted – he wrote this in 2006, a full 11 years ago. It’s entirely possible that he’s learned his lesson since then. After all, the first Iron Man movie didn’t come out until 2008; none of this superhero cinematic universe stuff started until well after that. But I mean… he was still a successful and well-known writer and director at that point. Buffy had ended its run, as had Firefly, and Dollhouse was likely in pre-production around that time. But holy mother of god, this script is horrendous.

It almost feels like a glimpse into an alternate world where this is the Wonder Woman we got, instead of Patty Jenkins’ vision. And it SUCKS. Diana is constantly demeaned and condescended to – and she’s hardly even the main character. The plot focuses more on Steven Trevor than on Diana’s character development. She has no backstory, no personality, no…substance. She’s just a sexy image for the audience to play out their Strong Woman fantasies. This is not a compassionate heroine; she’s not a heroine really at all. Arthur Chu had a great series of tweets about how this is why dudes shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near iconic female characters, even and perhaps especially Genuine Fans. The characters mean something different then.

At any rate – I loved this movie and I am so hugely beyond glad that it was what it was. I love Diana and I love what she represents, both in-story and in meta. I hope that the success of Wonder Woman is a good indicator for future superhero media.

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