Few things baffle and dismay me like the big budget film industry. With that said, I’m about to share a very unpopular opinion, and I would advise those who think Wonder Woman is above criticism not to read it. This also contains spoilers galore. Take that into consideration and read further at your own risk.
It might surprise some to know that I love Wonder Woman, but I do. Having long loved graphic novels of the non-superhero variety and being a feminist, it was probably inevitable that I would grow affection for her. However, I never read any Wonder Woman comics. Not one. Not old, not new. It was the idea of Wonder Woman that really captured my interest, and led me to buy The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. Learning the history made me love her even more, and I knew I would have to go see the movie, even if it made me cringe. Which it did.
Wonder Woman is a bad movie. The writing is bad. The acting is bad. The story is bad. And it cost 149 million dollars to make. Now, I know that it is an important movie, being the first big budget superhero movie featuring a female superhero that was also directed by a woman. I know it’s broken records and boundaries and I don’t want to belittle the importance of women being represented in the film industry or the world of superheroes, but for fuck’s sake, it wasn’t good. And don’t worry, I’ll tell you why.
The movie opens with Diana in the modern world opening a briefcase from Bruce Wayne containing an old photo of her from WWI. This sets the movie up to tell her origin story, which begins with young Diana running through the streets of Themyscira to watch her aunt Antiope training the older Amazons for battle. I could have lived for this. I love the Amazons. What feminist wouldn’t love the idea of giant women warriors? Just moments after arriving to the training field, viewers are shown an anonymous amazon flipping in the air for a very prominent, slow motion ass shot. Which is fine, I guess. I mean, don’t get it twisted. I understand that part of Wonder Woman’s appeal is sexual. I would argue that part of every superhero’s appeal is…but maybe they could have proved to us that the Amazons were incredible warriors before they proved to us that they were sexy. It was clear to me early on that the movie was made with the male gaze in mind.
This instance also served as the first of, I’d guess, close to 30 different times that the slow motion action scene + 360 shot is put to use during the film. I didn’t count, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating. Further into the movie I was so sick of it that I wanted to shout out PEOPLE ALREADY SAW THE MATRIX! IN 1999! It’s a cool camera technique but it loses it’s potency when used more than once in every single action scene during an action movie.
The way the origin story was handled in this film was beyond disappointing. This was an opportunity to show a matriarchy of women warriors with dimension and depth, and yet the time on Themyscira felt rushed and lacked substance. The first portion of the time spent there involved Wonder Woman’s mother Hippolyta giving a heavy handed explanation of the island and the purpose of the Amazons, set to a backdrop of weird and slightly swaying animation of the things she described in her story. In a setting ripe for showcasing relationships between women, Wonder Woman missed the mark. The only relationships we’re even given a glimpse of (mostly between Diana, her mother, and her aunt) are clunky at best, awkward and unbelievable at worst.
Robin Wright was probably the best actor in the entire movie, but even she (with her small handful of lines) couldn’t salvage the mess that was this origin story. This is also the only part of the movie with black people in it, who seem to be there only to fill a diversity quota. One of them seemed to very clearly be Diana’s nanny or caretaker of some kind, which is obviously drawing on dangerous and tired stereotypes of black women. The other black characters are similarly put in lackluster and tokenizing roles and given almost no lines. In terms of acting and writing, Queen Hippolyta was especially bad. There was nothing sincere or believable about anything she said or did, and even Gal Gadot didn’t seem the least bit moved by her poor attempt at expressing sadness that her only daughter was leaving their home, never to return. It kind of seemed that the writers were relying far too heavily on the mechanics of the story to provide the emotion, rather than writing it into the character’s personalities (much less their lines).
Things only worsen when Steve Trevor arrives on the island, but to be perfectly honest I was mad about Steve Trevor from the moment I saw the preview (in which he had multiple lines). The love interest, the supporting male character, had more lines in the PREVIEW than the star. Imagine a Superman preview with multiple lines from Lois Lane, or a Spiderman preview with multiple lines from Mary Jane. It’s hard to imagine any superhero movie elevating the love interest the way Wonder Woman did. His role went way beyond what it ever should have been.
To the purists wondering if I understand that Steve Trevor is part of the original Wonder Woman story from the 40s and 50s, I know. But don’t give me that crap now. His character certainly served a purpose in this film, but if you honestly think it had anything to do with staying true to the original comics you’re kidding yourself. Steve Trevor was there to protect and defend fragile masculinity from a powerful woman, and probably also to make an inherently feminist concept more palatable to the masses. The taste in my mouth was something like, “Sure, Wonder Woman is a superhero and all, but Men Are Also Tough!” and “We know you feel like a pussy for seeing this movie, but Steve Trevor is here to put Wonder Woman in her place!” Gross. If the goal of including him had anything to do with staying true to the original comic books, why did the movie take place in WWI instead of WWII? Why did it take place during the past at all?
Wonder Woman has been a comic book character since 1942. After more than 70 years, she has undergone several changes to her origin story, the universe she lives in, and even whether or not she marries Steve Trevor. There’s one alternate timeline in the comics where she grows up as in orphan in New York after Themyscira was destroyed. Point being, they could have done absolutely anything they wanted with this story. It could have taken place in 2070 or 2017, but instead they made a period piece about WWI that focused far too much on the hunky American pilot and not enough on the heroine and supposed star.
Many critics have favorably reviewed the Wonder Woman movie for being funny, something that other DC superhero movies apparently aren’t (I wouldn’t know because I don’t usually see superhero movies). The first real joke took place when Wonder Woman walked in on Steve naked. He’s embarrassed of course, until a vacant look of wonderment came over her eyes like a veil of thirst. She then asked if he was an accurate representation of his sex, to which he replied, “I’m above average.” And this wasn’t the only reference to Steve’s big dick, in case you were worried that his dick didn’t get enough attention during the first Wonder Woman movie. This is a movie that gave the main character less than 10 seconds to mourn the death of Antiope (her aunt and combat trainer), and yet immediately after dedicates an entire scene to showing her positively captivated by the sight of a dick, for the sake of a dick joke. Oh, OK then.
This leads me to my next gripe, which is that the love story in this movie was more stale than dumpster dived bagels.
I couldn’t tell you why Diana fell in love with Steve, because there wasn’t a drop of chemistry to be found. On top of that, he was kind of a prick. Once they arrived in London he spent most of his time shushing, correcting, and talking over the main character. Funny that the first Wonder Woman movie sloppily rushed through the time on women-ruled Themyscira to then take place during WWI, a time when women had little to no agency. And not funny haha, more like funny ha-hot tears of anger. It was painful to watch Diana, a character who surpassed Steve in absolutely every way, get led around and belittled by him in the world of men.
A part that particularly irked me was shortly after the couple arrived in London, when Steve tells Diana they are going to drop off the notebook he stole from Doctor Poison to his superiors in the Imperial War Cabinet. She stops him to argue against this plan, saying (among other things) that a promise shouldn’t be broken. This makes sense because she saved this dude’s life under the premise that he would take her to the war so she could fulfill her destiny and kill Ares. So how does Steve convince her otherwise? He just says, “Hey, I know I said we would do that, but let’s do this other thing first.” And she agrees. Just like that. But fuck destiny, right? Who needs convictions!
How is she expected to be taken seriously as a positive role model for girls when the strength or her beliefs is swayed with such ease? But rather than make this about role models, let me say this: it was a disservice to her character. Wonder Woman wouldn’t do that. Not the Wonder Woman I believe in, anyway. In fact, for basically the entire portion of the movie that took place in Man’s World (which was most of it) I felt like Wonder Woman was on Steve Trevor’s adventure. It was Steve Trevor’s movie, and Diana Prince was a guest star.
I would be very curious to know exactly how much screen time each character got, so if someone else wants to measure that let me know (because I’m sure as shit not paying to see this movie again). I would even go so far as to say that if Wonder Woman was removed from the movie entirely, the main tenants of the plot would stand on their own without her.
But anyway, back to the love and the staleness of it. In spite of the fact that Steve Trevor is kind of a bro who talks about his dick too much and spends more time controlling Diana then getting to know her, she catches feelings for him. And I’m left wondering two things: 1) Why? and 2) How?
One of their most romantic scenes takes place outside a tavern after she has braved the front lines and rescued a village. Steve offers to teach her to dance, and she sees snow for the first time. Everything about this should be romantic, and yet it feels more like two cardboard cutouts shuffling around than two multi-faceted adult characters falling in love with each other. He somehow doesn’t even kiss her after she says that the snow is magical and looks at him adoringly for some fucking reason. I really have to praise the (all male) writers who penned this script for their wordsmithery during this scene when Diana asks Steve what humans do during times of peace. His initial response? “Uhhhhhhhh”
Later he adds that people enjoy going out to breakfast and having kids. Then they have sex. WOW. Romance! It took 5 male writers and 149 million dollars to come up with this.
Perhaps even worse than all of this, Steve Trevor doesn’t even believe her story. That one stings a little. I guess the idea of a man becoming sexually and romantically involved with a woman who is his physical and intellectual superior not taking her destiny seriously hit a little too close to home for some reason.
Continuing in the vein of tough and smart women giving up on their convictions when bonehead Steve talks to them, Doctor Poison almost tells him everything after he butters her up during the German gala scene. Only noticing him checking out Wonder Woman convinces her not to show him her work. I’m not totally sure why that scene was included at all, except to showcase Doctor Poison’s seemingly inherent feebleness, which I’m guessing needed to be shown because she’s a woman. And I guess the first Wonder Woman film needed to heavily feature Steve Trevor’s story set against the backdrop of WWI because otherwise who else would have gone to see this movie, right?
I want to say there were redeeming qualities, but that would mostly be a lie. Though some of the action scenes were cool, the last 30 minutes really tested my faith. After killing Luddendorf and realizing he isn’t Ares after all, Diana is joined by Sir Patrick as played by David Thewlis, who informs her that he is the actual god of war. And somehow, in spite of copious amounts of CGI, I really don’t buy it.
Plus, in their epic CGI battle, she’s losing. Bad. He quickly destroys her sword, the supposed “godkiller,” and informs her that SHE, not the weapon, is the true godkiller. Diana seems a bit baffled by this information, and instead of being emboldened by it, she continues to lose. It isn’t until she sees Steve Trevor commit self sacrifice by blowing himself up in a plane full of mustard gas that she is able to summon the strength to beat Ares, the god she was destined to destroy since her mother molded her from clay. Adding insult to injury, the words she says to Ares while she destroys him are the exact same ones Steve said to her in a previous scene. So not only is her love for a man the thing that gives her the strength to fulfill her destiny, but she can’t even utter a thought of her own while doing so. Wow.
But hey, it was directed by a woman. And it only cost 149 million dollars. One hundred. And forty nine. MILLION. Dollars.
With a price tag like that, couldn’t they at least make a good movie? Don’t answer that. Big budget films are such a flagrant display of wealth that the very least, the absolute LEAST they can do is provide us with lasting and meaningful art. And don’t tell me it can’t be enduring and significant because it’s for kids. That isn’t an excuse. There are good movies made for kids. Don’t tell me it’s because it’s a superhero movie or an action movie, because Dark Knight is a masterpiece and I thoroughly enjoyed Die Hard. I believe it’s possible to make a fun, action packed, and entertaining movie that doesn’t suck. Maybe even with a female hero who isn’t limp in her convictions and bland in her personality.*
*I think Gal Gadot’s 2014 comments regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine are deplorable. I realize that my ability to see past her service in the IDF is a facet of my privilege, and I wanted to dedicate this space to acknowledging that. I do not consider myself qualified to write intelligently on the topic of Zionism, so I did not include the controversy in this piece. #freepalestine
This originally appeared on Medium, and has been reprinted with permission.