Wonder Woman: Female empowerment or just a brass bikini?

***SPOILERS ABOUND***SPOILERS ABOUND***

When I discussed this movie yesterday, I alluded to some frustration and disagreement about whether and how this film succeeded on a purely female empowerment level. To really discuss that meant massive spoilers, so I avoided it. However, after many more conversations IRL, it seems like I should dive into it all, best I can, but with the proviso that you should see the film first in order to make up your own mind and to not have anything revealed.

I will try to avoid all discussions of acting ability and dialogue in this conversation and concentrate solely on the plot points of the script and the scenes that made the cut. Because, truth be told, I think the root of my issues lay there not just in the unbalanced acting ability onscreen.

Let’s acknowledge that, yes, there is a strong woman pounding the tar out of bad guys. Let’s also acknowledge that a very gifted female director is behind the scenes and that she has cemented her legacy with this film alone, even if she hadn’t already with her previous efforts.

That said, there are two main issues that I think throw this film out of pure female empowerment and both grow out of a single root cause. They also both occur in the final act of the movie and are interrelated, but separate issues.

The root cause is the well-indicated, without crossing the PG line, of Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman’s night together. We should all have known at the moment that if they had sex, he needed to die. Honestly, I didn’t put it together at that point, but I did wonder at why the heck they did. Not because I’m a prude. And we know Wonder Woman knows the pleasures of the flesh from their conversation in the boat, so it wasn’t out of the question. However, crossing that line between these characters fundamentally changes many things that have implications later that weaken Wonder Woman’s decisions to my mind.  At the very least, it muddies the waters. Also, the way it is filmed, it appears to be his decision, even if he seems to acknowledge some unspoken nod off camera. Had the shot been from her POV it may have mitigated the issue, but it didn’t appear to be a POV shot to me. And, beyond that, I still think the scene shouldn’t have happened. But, if it had to happen, it should have been 100% with her in control on screen, not even in the implied control of a man. This moment ultimately colors two other major decision points.

First, Trevor sacrifices himself. The question here is why? There is an argument I’ve been involved with that claims Trevor is only at the front because of Wonder Woman and, therefore, all of his actions are in support of her. I disagree. We know Trevor never just follows orders from Etta’s comments to are Ares-in-disguise. He would have gone anyway in order to hunt down Dr. Poison/Maru, even if he hadn’t ever considered gods in his midst. But he also chooses to sacrifice himself both as a humanitarian and because he thinks he’s saving the girl he’s fallen for, not really fully believing she was a goddess and invulnerable (despite the earlier moment at the village). More importantly, Trevor taking the initiative diminishes Diana’s ownership of the resolution of the fight. Sure, there is a bigger fight going on, but that still isn’t his focus or what he really quite believes at that moment, by my and other’s estimation and even by the flashback/fill-in (cheap, BTW) of their conversation. And keep in mind that Ares, a decidedly male entity, is arranging all of this through his nudges, so who is in control?

Second, the final motivation for Diana’s ability to beat Ares is driven by…. and here is where the Fifth Element comments from my earlier post come in… love. But is that universal love, the capability to love humankind and go beyond the Amazons-first mentality, or is is the love of Steve Trevor, specifically, that drives her? And this is where their night together matters. Had they not been together, the moment of epiphany for Diana would have been chaste and unencumbered by the personal and physical love of a man. It would have been a realization about herself and, more generally, about all those around her. Instead, it comes off as a grief-stricken response about a relationship because there was a relationship. Legit? Sure, but it diminishes her into emotional woman, not a super hero defending the human race. In fact, it makes her no better than the petty Olympians to whom she is related in this tale who kill each other for personal sleights, damage and death to Earth below be damned.

Still not with me on this. OK, consider the final scene before the brief coda. Diana thanks Bruce for “bringing him back to her.” She doesn’t say, “thanks for reminding me why I do this,” nor “I miss all of these great heroes.” Nope, this is all about Trevor in the script, no one else and nothing else mattered in this reverie.

I don’t want to overburden a popcorn film with too much analysis, but Wonder Woman has been long anticipated for so many reasons and the reaction has been so strong, that I wanted to at least put on some critical goggles and consider the implications before we christen it a guide for all girls. It has some great aspects as reference, but I think the end was weakened in ways that could have been easily avoided.

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