[Content note: Here be spoilers]
People...Wonder Woman is here. If you haven’t seen the film, please don’t waste time reading this article; go straight to your nearest cinema and watch the shit out of this film. If you’ve seen it and are unafraid of spoilers, then proceed. This is more of a recap about some things that we at Smut Buttons found interesting as both sex nerds and comic book nerds. I mean you don't really need a review, because let’s face it, we all know it’s fucking amazing.
What I’ve noticed from a lot of reviews is that many women are raving about this film, while many men are declaring it to be just another superhero movie. This is particularly interesting since it perfectly highlights the issue of representation. Straight, white men have the luxury of viewing Wonder Woman as just another superhero movie, because they have seen countless other superhero movies that show themselves up on the big screen. They have seen themselves as a loveable dag like Star-lord, or they’ve had the opportunity to hero worship Tony Stark’s snarky womaniser, or even indulge in nine movies of masculine wish fulfilment through Batman. And this is without mentioning the litany of other comic book and superhero movies, TV shows, animated movies, video games, etc all targeted at straight white men. Queer people, people of colour, and women don’t get such comprehensive coverage though. Sure, there have been female hero movies before, and there have been heroes of colour, but these have always been incidental factors. Elektra is not a movie about being a woman while being a superhero. Blade is not about killing vampires and being black. They are movies where the lead happens to be black, or a woman, without actually dealing with the issues that being these things brings up.
What Wonder Woman has done, and the reason so many women are feeling the way they are about it, is because at its core it taps into the experience of being a woman without ever becoming a victim. The World War I setting is a reminder of all the sexist bullshit women have dealt with for years, but without becoming mired in it. Diana gets on with her fucking job; saving the world. So, as a woman, when I watch this movie I’m reminded that the world treats me differently because of my gender, but also that this won’t stop me from being fucking awesome.
A Tumblr user by the name of “creativewordspowerfulideas” summed it up incredibly well when they wrote:
Watching a super hero movie directed by a woman is like putting glasses on for the first time. I didn’t realize how much I had to squint through the “male gaze” till suddenly, miraculously, I didn’t have to. There were absolutely NO eye candy shots of Diana. There were Amazons with ageing skin and crows feet and not ONE of them wore armor that was a glorified corset. When Diana did the superhero landing, her thigh jiggled onscreen. Did you hear me? HER FUCKING THIGH JIGGLED. Wonder Woman’s thigh jiggled on a 20-foot tall screen in front of everyone. Because she wasn’t there to make men drool. She wasn’t there to be sexy and alluring and flirt her way to victory, and that means she has big, muscular thighs, and when they absorb the impact of a superhero landing, they jiggle, and.that’s.WONDERFUL. Thank you, Patty Jenkins, for giving me a movie about a woman, told by a woman,so I can see it through my eyes, not some dude bro who’s there for boobs and butts.
So what I’ve noticed is that men are reviewing this as a comic book movie, while women are reviewing it as a feminist movie. And if I break it down that way, I can see both sides. As a comic book movie it’s a pretty solid film but it’s nothing spectacularly out of the ordinary. It starts with an origin story, the big bad guy is introduced, then the supporting cast, then there are a few awesome battles before we finally conclude with the big, epic battle scene. It doesn’t do anything unique with the genre and it’s no different to most superhero stories you’ve seen half a dozen times on screen before.
As a feminist movie however, it is jaw dropping. For a start, it’s taking a genre that has been absolutely dominated by straight, white men and inserts not just a woman, but a woman born into a society of women. The movie more or less opens on Themyscira, a paradise populated by Amazonian women. Literally the first act features only women; not a dude in sight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a film, outside of a lesbian gang bang porno. While so many mainstream films are purely populated with men, to the point that we literally have a test for whether or not a movie has two speaking women in it, this film showed us a world of women. I’m not ashamed to say I cried, because this shit just doesn’t fucking happen in movies. Because movies aren’t made for me. But this one was. That’s what made it so special.
Despite all of the Amazons being dressed in leather armour that features short battle skirts, or strapless bustiers, none of it is actually sexualised. I wasn’t looking at a male fantasy of what an all-female island would be like. I was looking at my fantasy of what an escape from the world of men could be like. Their fighting aesthetic was stunning and so much like ballet, because unlike most female action heroes they aren’t simply masculinity in women’s bodies. Their femininity is embraced, not as weakness, but as strength. Their fighting style is elegant and distinctly feminine, unashamedly so.
The film’s approach to toxic masculinity is perfected by the character of Steve Trevor. Not once does he question the capabilities of either the Amazons or Diana. He doesn’t quibble about having a woman accompany him, or make obvious jokes. When the Germans invade Themyscira he doesn't try to tell them what to do, he fights alongside them. He watches their techniques and respects their strategy, to the point that later in the film he's able to utilise it to help Wonder Woman take out a German sniper. That scene that gave me goosebumps, because that's exactly what Marston saw Steve Trevor as embodying.
Not to mention his scene in the healing spa is some delicious eye candy, made even better by the fact that it's completely gratuitous. Of course it’s unnecessary for his character to be naked, but as down payment for every woman we’ve had to see in various states of undress for no goddamn reason in every other film ever made, I’m fucking grateful to Patty Jenkins for gifting me the sculpted abs and cupped penis of Chris Pine.
Even Diana and Steve’s introduction to each other is a perfect counterpoint to the typical male gaze fuelled romances we’re used to. Diana, obviously fascinated by this new creature she’s never seen before, remarks, “You’re a man” and rather than one of a million tired old jokes that could have been trotted out, Steve replies, “Yeah...Do I not look like one?” It’s a perfect moment of vulnerability, where instead of being predatory he’s insecure about himself. How often do our male heroes do that? How often do they admit to being afraid of all the things we’re all afraid of on a daily basis? This theme continues throughout his stay on Themyscira, almost as though time in a society without patriarchy is enough to help undo some of the bullshit he’s been socialised into.
When Steve and Diana leave the island on a boat together, we get to see how chivalry should look. Steve makes up a bed for Diana and explains that he’ll sleep sitting up. Diana asks why and he more or less says he didn’t want to presume she would want him to sleep next to her. She gives her consent to share a bed with him so they can both be comfortable. It’s not about them having or not having sex, it’s about Steve showing Diana respect, and it’s wonderful. They do get onto the topic of sex and procreation, at which point Diana tells us that she knows where babies come from and how sex works, and that she’s read all the books about it, but the implication is that she remains inexperienced. It makes sense for Diana to be a virgin; since she was the only child to exist on the island, everyone would have seen her as the perpetual infant. It would have felt wrong to have sexualised her, even if she was of age. Because, you know, unlike man's world the Amazonians don't sexualise children or fetishize youth.
The boat scene has been discussed quite a bit in regards to queer representation and I seem to differ from the general consensus. Diana name drops a particular volume of books about sex, and says that having read them all the books conclude that while a man is necessary for procreation he is not necessary for pleasure. Some people are assuming that this book was written by an Amazon, while I assumed it was one of the many books in their library from Ancient Greek authors. Assuming it was an Ancient Greek author, I took the scene to mean that the Amazons are kind of sexless and are fine with reading theoretical books about pleasure but don’t actually engage in it themselves. While others, who believe that it was written by Amazons, say it points to them being a lesbian society (along with a character who grieves the death of Antiope, implying that they were lovers). So who cares? Who cares which way it gets interpreted? I care. I care because I grew up watching films that use ambiguity like this to pay lip service to queerness without explicitly stating it. I grew up with friends and family who would take any opportunity to interpret this vagueness in the straightest possible way. To me, this is not queer representation. This is not confirmation of anything. If you want to make Diana queer, be explicit. Be inescapable. Because anything else is a cop out. Your media will be viewed by queer kids in communities without queer visibility and if it isn’t obvious to them, I promise you no one else is going to point it out to them; and they’re the people who need these heroes the most. Want to shield yourself from people shooting insults at you like "dyke”, "poof" and "fag"? Point to the biggest fucking hero around and say “Yeah I am, and so is she.”
By contrast, even though we never see Diana and Steve even kiss, we still know exactly what’s happening with their relationship. I’ve seen many people frustrated by the inclusion of a romance at all in the film. I respectfully disagree with this position. As a feminist work, it’s more important to me to see a romantic relationship built on mutual respect and equality than to see a message that women don’t need men. Of course we don’t, there’s a whole island (and a 12-volume treatise) proving exactly that point! But Diana is about to have her whole world turned upside down, entering a place she's only ever heard about in bedtime stories; of course she’s going to fall in love and fuck. It’s what we all do when we're growing up; exploring and discovering new experiences. It’s the most human response ever, which is why it’s important to show it in the right way. Steve and Diana have conversations, they learn about each other, about each other’s worlds, and it’s only after a massive battle halfway through the film that they actually bone. And even then, it’s done with so much respect. Steve enters Diana’s room tentatively and waits for her reaction. Diana isn’t some withdrawn virginal damsel, she’s confident and calm and indicates that this is exactly what she wants. Mutual respect. None of this virginity as frailty bullshit. We don’t see them actually fucking and the scene isn’t referred to again during the film. Why? Because nothing has changed. Consensual sex was had, and they go back to treating each other like respected equals. Like...holy fucking shit, did I just type that sentence? I can’t remember the last time I saw that in a movie!
Literally every time Steve engages with Diana it’s in a way that is non-toxic and supportive. The film is a perfect example of how to create a non-problematic relationship between a male and female character. Steve Trevor is a perfect role model to men. His respect for Diana never once diminishes his strength, his competence, his independence or anything else integral to his character. Steve Trevor proves that respecting women does not emasculate you.
When Diana gets to London there’s a scene where she’s given an ice cream. Massive nerds like me know exactly what’s coming because it’s a reference to an animated Justice League movie.
Diana responds by telling the vendor that he should be very proud. And he should, ice cream is the tits. But compare this to Thor, when he first tries coffee and then smashes his mug and demands another. Both are great fish-out-of-water scenes that help to remind us that these characters aren’t from here. But while Thor’s reaction is inherently masculine and destructive (like so much of what he does) Diana is all about building people up and acknowledging what makes them great.
Getting to see Etta Candy on the big screen was a goddamn delight, since she’s been a personal hero of mine since I first discovered her on the page and realised she’s a 1940s Pam Poovey.
I would have loved for her to have had a bigger role, especially since we won’t get to see her again in future films (you know, cos everyone is dead and it’s a hundred years later). Etta’s patience and kindness with Diana is gorgeous, since as far as Etta knows this is some random woman who has shown up with Steve, barely dressed and carrying foreign weaponry and Etta’s just like “Eh, you’re alright.” And the line about only a woman with a flat tummy would ask why we have corsetry was such a beautiful nod to the fact that while Etta is as body positive as they come throughout all the comics, that doesn’t erase her need to fit in with the man’s world she lives in.
Even the dress changing scene as a nod to “chick-flicks” and their make-overs, complete with “You can put glasses on her and she’ll still be the most gorgeous woman in the room” was delightful (dealing with Laney Boggs and Clarke Kent in one go). It was especially affirming when the glasses were smashed during the fight in the alley, as if to say “You don’t ever have to pretend to be less than what you are.”
Diana’s initial eagerness to get to the front and start fighting could easily fall into the trap of becoming a “strong female character” trope; simply giving her masculine qualities in a female form, making her nothing but a broad with a sword. Instead, we see that her eagerness is to stop the suffering and pain of war and once she starts seeing the true atrocities of the front all of that naive, childlike enthusiasm is replaced with grim determination. It helps to remind us that this film is about Diana growing up, it’s about explaining how she becomes the woman we see in Dawn of Justice, and presumably in Justice League.
Then there’s No Man’s Land. If there is any justice in this world, that scene will be the last thing that flashes before my eyes when I die. As she scales that ladder, and steps onto the battlefield, while Steve is shouting, “It’s No Man’s Land!” all I could hear was Eowyn replying, “I am no man.” Because Wonder Woman may walk where men fear to tread.
From No Man’s Land through to saving the French village, I found it to be utterly and completely engrossing. These were the kinds of battle scenes I’d been hoping for, with their beautiful dance like choreography and the throwback music from Dawn of Justice. It was all pure empowerment porn; I felt like I could walk out of the theatre right then and take on an army.
But by the time the boss battle came with Ares, I honestly felt like they’d hired another director. Ares himself was kind of ludicrous. That fucking moustache? Like, even in the flashbacks. Jesus. Did the Greek Gods not have razors? But more than that, the whole thing seemed to last for fucking ever and resorted to the tired old superhero fight sequence tropes. It was literally a clash of two gods, and yet it felt like a child playing with action figures and just smashing them together. There was no strategy, no nuance or subtlety at play whatsoever. The premise of having the God of War reveal that mankind had opted in to this kind of slaughter, and all he’d done was give them the tools to perform it, was great. But after that point it just devolves. I found it particularly disappointing because when you’re playing with gods, you have so much scope to be creative. It’s not just The Hulk vs Solomon Grundy, you can play with conceptual stuff or world creation or whatever. But it was remarkably similar to the other god battle that occurred recently in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Or in fact could have simply been deleted scenes from her appearance in Dawn of Justice.
The fight conclused with a brief nod to Wonder Woman’s origins when Ares binds her by wrapping her up in steel, which is where she has her epihpany about the power of love, which at this point felt so tropey as to be completely undermined. Instead of feeling like I was getting to the real core of Wonder Woman's character, I felt like the whole thing was being rushed to a particularly twee conclusion.
The other disappointing factor in the boss battle was that Diana remained pristine. In fact her makeup actually seemed more noticeable. Others have argued that this is because she’s a god, but so is Ares and he looks gritty and rubbish. Or perhaps it’s because she represents the side of “good” and so is all pristine and filled with light. But I would have liked to see her cut and battered and bruised to remind us that even when you’re fighting for the light, you will get dirty.
Then we have Dr Poison. In the comics she was a Japanese Princess who disguised herself as a man so she could work with the Nazis on chemical weapons…like, holy shit did Marston know how to write a character or what? It was also disappointing to see Dr Poison have such an underwhelming role in the finale. If ever there was an opportunity for Diana to demonstrate the qualities that Marston gave her, it would have been here. Take the time to talk to this woman who is clearly a brilliant chemist and a genius, and convince her to return to Themyscira and use her knowledge for the betterment of the world. But instead she just runs off into the night, probably to go and invent Zyklon B or some other massive chemical atrocity (you can’t just let genocidal maniacs go Diana...rookie mistake).
When the big fight culminates with Diana’s shouts about love, it does sort of feel like they got the intern to do the visual effects. Or maybe it was meant to be a nod to old episodes of She-Ra, but it all felt a bit over the top and ham fisted. Steve’s death didn’t have the emotional impact I would have thought, since everything felt a bit over dramatised. Which is a shame, because that was a poignant turning point for Diana and her understanding of the world. Instead all I could think was, “Oooh, this feels familiar...a guy called Chris, playing a guy called Steve in the middle of a World War goes down in a plane and makes a pretty woman sad but changes the course of the war.”
So while the rest of the film built me up, escalating to higher and higher points of feminist awesomeness, the ending left me feeling a bit flat. Especially when being reminded that the next time I see Diana she’ll be in an ensemble cast that’s a total sausage fest.
You may notice I haven’t mentioned the supporting cast yet. Well, that’s for a couple of reasons. One, the Scottish guy annoyed the ever-loving fuck out of me and he was such a stereotype that he almost convinced me that it’s possible to be racist against white people. But, more importantly; Wonder Woman is a phenomenal feminist film however it is not a good intersectional feminist film. For every moment that I felt powerful and awesome, I was reminded that women of colour do not have a Diana in their life. And I know that just getting Wonder Woman made, was a Sisyphean task, so asking them to allow the casting of a non-white actress would have been next to impossible. However, I do take issue with the casting of Gal Gadot. Aside from the fact that I've never felt that she's representative of the Amazonian physique at a time when I would dearly love to see bigger women represented, there's also the issue of her politics. I generally avoid having opinions on any situation involving the Middle East since I don't consider myself educated enough to know what is happening, and feel that it's not my place as a white western woman to have an opinion on it, but rather to listen to the experiences of the women and men living through it. But when casting a character who represents peace, love and the protection of all people it's a bit of joke to nominate someone who has politics like Gadot's. I'll let Ruby Hamad do a better job of explaining the situation than I can.
The supporting cast also served as a poignant reminder of the white feminism at play. There’s a scene where Sameer turns to Diana and explains that he wanted to be an actor, but couldn’t because of the colour of his skin, and that everyone around her has struggles like this. It was a nice reminder to the audience that yes, we’re seeing ourselves as Diana and that comes with white privilege by the bucket load. And if we truly want to be like her it’s our responsibility to fight for better representation for everyone.
Equally, while it was great to see Eugene Brave Rock (a Blackfoot from the Blood Tribe) playing The Chief, the fact that he was called The Chief was a none too subtle reminder of how far the battle for representation has to go. Although the fact that he took the opportunity to point out that colonialism is a thing, and that it’s a thing Steve Trevor absolutely benefitted from, was a start I guess. I always hope that in films like this, scenes with people of colour calling out privilege are a subtle nod from the director that they would have liked to have done more. Studio interference is a big issue, and I know the budget was also limited (it felt like a few explanatory scenes ended up on the cutting room floor as well); so hopefully if we get a Wonder Woman 2 we’ll see an expanded role for characters of colour like Artemis and Phillipus (both amazing characters in the comics and beautifully cast in the film). Until then, bring on Black Panther!
Wonder Woman as a superhero movie: A solid effort, with no real surprises. 3 stars.
Wonder Woman as a (white) feminist movie: Fucking amazing. 5 stars and tears of joy.
I hope that everyone gets the chance to see this film and feel as fabulous and empowered as I have all week since it premiered. We need more films like this, and I desperately hope that its success will be a wakeup call to Hollywood that there is a massive market for female-produced content for actual women. We deserve more heroes. We all deserve more and better representation. But ultimately, it’s not about deserve...it’s about what you believe in.
I believe in Wonder Woman.
That is all.
You may go now.