Let me introduce myself as one of the only moviegoers in the western world to see Wonder Woman— on the big screen, in 3-D — and not come away thinking she was wonderful.  Fun!  Fantastic!  At last!

No.  I came away sad and sorrowful.  Men have won.  The push for women’s equality, empowerment, since my grandmother marched with the suffragettes, to consciousness-raising groups in my tender manhood to second wave feminism of recent years has brought us to this: women can be murderous at the same level as men.

I get that physical prowess and competition is exciting, that women’s tennis is equally exciting as men’s, that individual excellence and team work is necessary to the development of all humans and should not be suppressed by child rearing practices, cultural shibboleths or whippings in the public square.  Neither should it be warped to conform to overwhelmingly masculine values, built over millennia.  The peak measure of courage, valor, endurance should not always reside in war, in the willingness to kill others, on a massive scale, and if possible with as many explosions as possible.

I’ll admit that I was never a fan of the cartoon genre, and never became one.  The world itself, as it is, has always been magic enough — in its good and its bad– for me. I probably read no more than 5-10 Superman comics in my life, a couple of Wonder Woman — as I recall, less for the fighting femme than the exciting costumes.   [Designed by men for men’s eyes, by the way.] I don’t think I’ve seen any of the Super Man movies, and surely none of the Spider Man; perhaps two of the Star Wars consortium.

I sort of remember in the comics big graphic POWS! and the bad guys hurtling through the air with furious scowls on their faces, but really, did Wonder Woman plunge a sword — with authority!– into the chest of a supine enemy?  As Brent Staples noted in a NY Times column,

“…those of us who were weaned on the comic books of the 1950s and ’60s recognized right away  [the magic sword down the back of her dress] as a sign that the filmmakers had discarded the original conception of Wonder Woman as an easygoing avenger who pledged not to kill even as she battled abject evil.

At one level I get it, when I read that women watching began weeping [ Meredith Woerner,  Caroline Framke, Olivia Truffaut-Wong, and many others ]  as Wonder Woman led the charge across a very realistic WW I battleground, no longer left in the rear to patch up the wounded or comfort the dying.  At last!  She too can fight for peace by killing.  The opening scenes, less rooted in human experience and in fine synchronicity with romantic one-on-one battles kids still thrill to, were, I have to admit, exciting.  But what’s wrong with me that I though the best part was the impossibly high dive and high-speed planing through the ocean to rescue the handsome flyer?  What’s wrong with me that I thought the shoulder muscles of Robin Wright,  Wonder Woman’s trainer, were a fine show of equality, nothing more needed?

I get the fun, in a kind of way: an Ivanhoe mixed with Ang Lees’ Crouching Tiger Leaping Dragon, movie.  I did notice, however, that the whirling fighters were not dressed in comfortable karate-cottons or camies or even woolens of the war,

but tight fighting, body huggers, every woman with mountainous mammaries, some with nipples pushing through the shining armor, and not one even passingly ugly or wearing plus sizes; I did notice that a swinging kick revealed plenty.  Maybe I’m old fashioned, but so were the men who created Wonder Woman in the first place.  The original author, William Moulton Marston,  may have been  a sensitive psychologist, plumping for women’s rights and reproductive rights, but  his imagination of women’s forms suffered nothing.  There weren’t any plus size women in the comics either, as I recall. Ugly always means Evil. Although I’m no expert in male genre action films or comics, I believe they are all fully dressed, some even with masks.  None like this or this.

 

It was the WWI scenes specifically that turned my special effects loving curiosity — how did they do that?– into a sadness that would not let up.  We are in the third year of the centenary of that great and brutal war — over 18 million casualties, soldier and civilian, men and women, children. Eight million horses. Dead.  I’ve been reading almost non-stop about it — in histories, memoirs, novels and poems.  There are a few, like Ernst Jünger, who admitted to liking the war.  Not many have.  Let me share a quote or two.

From Fear, 1930, by Gabrielle Chevallier

“At twenty we were on the bleak battlefields of modern warfare, a factory for the mass production of corpses, where all that is asked of the combatant is that he is a unit of the immense and obscure number who do their duty and take the shells and bullets, a single unit in the multitude that they destroyed patiently and pointlessly at the rate of one ton of steel per pound of young flesh

From A Long Long Way, 2005, by Sebastian Barry:

“He missed him when he was killed.  He missed them all.  He missed them when they were killed.  He sorrowed to see them killed, he sorrowed to go on without them, he sorrowed to see the new men coming in, and to be killed themselves, and himself going on, and not a mark on him, and Christy Moran, not a mark, and all their friends and mates removed.  Some still stuck in the muck, or in ruined yards, or blowing on the blessed air of Belgium in blasted smithereens…

The film got that battle field very right.  It was no cartoon as the opening scenes had been, or even those following, one massive explosion after another, a frothing meringue of destruction and death.  It was dark and muddy, trenched and body littered, leafless skeletons of trees.  Wonder Woman, convinced that Ares – the God of War is on the other side, goes off, bullets ricocheting off her magic bracelets.  Oh what fun!  But. Behind her come French and British troops, now encouraged, given heart, ready to kill Germans!   By chance she had rescued a British flyer and so was leading Allied men against the Germans; as well she might have rescued a German.   Like those who believe in gods, around the world, she, without investigation, knew that Ares was over there!

The scenes with poison gas were even more disturbing.  Maybe it’s the puritan in me but I think one doesn’t make jokes about things one doesn’t  know. “Ha! ha! Poison gas! Ooooh! Amazing!  Face reduced to charred tissue and bone.  Great Special effects!”

It’s true a woman directed the film.  So did a woman direct Zero Dark Thirty, and Hurt Locker, as well as Punisher: War Zone and a host of others. It’s great that women are finally allowed to take-up, and succeed at what was once strictly a man’s prerogative.  Their sex does not, however, make me stand up and shout: We’ve got it!  Equality!

What we have is women being declared equal to men, not the other way around, not by a long shot. The bar to meet is men and men’s behavior, men’s attitudes and men’s qualities.

To be a Wonder Woman she has to exhibit all the qualities we associate with Super Men – slashing, bashing, invulnerable, callous and answerable to no one.  And, by the way, no PTSD in sight.  She has to talk about peace and wage war.

It’s a cage our minds and hearts are caught in,  and it looks like there’s no escape.  We are all in it equally.

I don’t think Wonder Woman should be relegated to “womanly virtues,” wonderfully consoling, or empathetic or intuitive but why can’t physical prowess and moral strength be shown in different ways — rescuing a wounded soldier, child, horse from a raging river, overturning a blazing tank,  vaulting though no man’s land leaving both sides gape-jawed and their fingers off the triggers for a fucking moment or two?  Why couldn’t some of Marston’s original idea be kept?

“His Wonder Woman hated guns, and her battle gear consisted of golden bracelets that deflected bullets and a magical lariat that could force bad guys to tell the truth.”

The drive to help others is deeply embedded in all of us, men and women, but gets very short-shrift in the story telling world, unless appended to a good killing or two

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The technical effects and athleticism of Gal Godot and others is stupendous.  I enjoyed it all. Wow!  How on earth…?  I’d just rather see it in a soccer game, or winning a foot race against the Nazis, or saving more lads at sea, or rounding up the lying Generals with her magic rope and making them all tell the truth: I’ll ceasefire if you will!  She could go to the Dardenelles, and instead of killing more Ottoman Turks, lead both sides into an exhausting circular game of hide and seek until they all fall into a deep, and peaceful sleep, bringing down the half a million casualties and changing the course of history.

I did like the script, mostly.  The double entendre-lines, the sly put-downs of men  (necessary for procreation but not for pleasure) were fun, adult.  The production values are great  — from the beach fighting to the sumptuous party in which Wonder Woman appears in a gown she got from another attendee – by nefarious means?  The sword hidden in a dress though?

No, I wouldn’t take a girl-child or grand-child of mine to see this.  Plunging a sword into the chest of a man, or perhaps god, but in any case, mistaken, is not the high bar I’d like them to reach.  Fearlessness, courage, endurance and loyalty are important values, and particularly so while upholding the most important values of life and truth and love.   It is not the case that War should be the ultimate test, and as long as it is, we are lost.

In the end Wonder Woman, her wounderousness tested and proven,  goes off with the idea she will bring peace to the world.  She clearly has no idea yet that Ares is not Out There, but Inside Here.  As George Fox, the early American Quaker had it: there is that of God in everyone.  Just so, Ares.

We sure do LOVE war.  It’s the ultimate test of everything….

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I can hear the groans now: Oh. lighten up!  It’s just a movie!  To which I say “just” is a dangerous word.  Movies model behavior

“Sideways Hurts Merlot Sales In The US, Gives Pinot Noir A Boost”

“The Deer Hunter Inspires Morons To Play Russian Roulette”

Here  and here.

 

For more interesting essays on Wonder Woman

Brent Staples  Wonder Woman, Weaponized 

Special Effects

Battle Scenes and CGI

Not so playful

 

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