First, let me say that I enjoyed Wonder Woman. It was definitely the most enjoyable DC universe movie since The Dark Knight. However, it’s not as good as reviews would tell you and more importantly it has none of the philosophical or feminist depth that people ascribe to it. I will tackle the movie roughly as events unfold.
The first part of the movie is set on Themyscira, homeland of Diana and the Amazons and tries to establish our hero’s childhood and training. It is easily the low point of the entire movie. The origin of the island that Hippolyta relays is complete nonsense. Something about being sent to bring peace to Man (or men) then they get enslaved by Man at Ares’ provocation. The gods try to save them and all die, but Zeus grievously wounds Ares, established Themyscira and shrouds the Amazons from view and, we later find out, gives his child Diana to the Amazons. Zeus then dies. The only credit I can give it is that it explains why all the meddlesome gods are not meddling; they are dead.
The ambiguous, maybe Greek, accent of all the Amazons distracted me and I think contributed to the dialogue feeling stiff and stilted in this section. It’s not clear why a group devoted to peace spends all of its time training for war. Nor why Diana is a child if the island has been around for roughly two thousand years. Magic I guess.
This portion of the movie follows a typical path where Diana is a troublesome child with dreams of glory that defies her mother’s direction at every turn. Of course the mother is just trying to protect her daughter. For instance she proscribes her learning to fight; nevermind, that she knows Diana’s true destiny is to fight Ares.
Then WW1 intrudes upon the island in a really stupid combat scene. The Amazons show no knowledge of good tactics and the over-used slow motion highlights ridiculous, flamboyant and ineffectual moves that seem out of place for an efficient, war-like population. The movie ignores that in a place with no death for thousands of years it has finally returned again. The Amazon’s response is to capture Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), learn of WW1 and then put their heads in the sand. This seems odd given that all they do is train for Ares’ return.
Diana now runs off with Steve, despite not knowing anything about Steve or the situation outside. This is just the first of many impetuous acts by Diana, who has the teenage viewpoint that the world is simple and fixed with simple solutions (in this case kill Ares).
However, this leads into the best part of the movie. The most lighthearted scenes are in this section where Diana is the classic naive fish-out-of-water in dirty London and Steve is her exasperated guide. In general, Diana and Steve’s relationship is one of the highlights of the film. It is refreshing to see a romantic interest that is at least as well written as the protagonist. Strange that it took a man in the role for that to happen. Unfortunately, this sets up a poor dynamic where Steve is the protagonist and Diana just follows him around and, later, punches people.
From here the movie deteriorates. She trudges around the Western Front with an immaculate coat and her flawless complexion and later a tiara, despite this being a covert mission. Diana is hopelessly naive and very poor at moral mathematics, consistently favoring the pain she can see over the greater good. This doesn’t square at all with her view that she can save everyone if she merely kills Ares. She also seems far too easily to equate the Allies with GOOD and the Germans with EVIL on a very biased source of information. Overall, she is also very martial minded for a daughter of a people bred for peace and the movie never grapples with this inconsistency.
Which brings me to the worst scene in the movie, which ironically is also praised highly. Diana hears something about a town being enslaved (I don’t remember this happening in Europe in WW1) and so she must do something about even if it jeopardizes their mission to kill Ares and save many people from being gassed. Thus she decides to walk (like literally) across the gap between trench lines. This is not heroic since she is not really in danger (not even a machine gun can nick her and she casually redirects a mortar shell) and showcases her ridiculous bullet deflection abilities. Heroism requires sacrifice and hazard, which Diana rarely encounters in this film. Heroism is not a demigod strutting through a battlefield and striking down mere mortals.
Then some stuff happens, with Chris Pines stealing the show and some contrived drama and petulance from Diana, yada yada. She finally manages to kill the German commander she believes is Ares. Except he is not Ares. And for a brief moment you think that maybe Diana will engage in a little self doubt. In fact I had read online that people thought that she grappled with moral quandaries and the best way to help mankind throughout the movie. This is decidedly not the case as she approaches things with the confidence born of ignorance endemic to teenagers everywhere. But alas, the real Ares decides, in an obvious plot twist, to show up and predictably proselytize to Diana and relieves her of the tedious burden of introspection.
The final battle is relatively dull for a clash between literal gods. Ares is pulling punches because he clearly outmatches Wonder Woman and still holds hope of recruiting her. It’s not until Steve engages in an emotional and heroic, this time for realz, self-sacrifice that Diana “powers up” on love. YES. “Love conquers all” is literally the theme the movie decides to explicitly state in the final battle and epilogue. The after effects of a German gassing program and an Allied spy operation on a precarious armistice deal are not even touched upon. In the end Diana was right, killing Ares was apparently all that needed to happen to end WW1. Oh and love.
Thus, we have a female protagonist that is naive, ignorant and bereft of the limitations of her knowledge being held up as a feminist ideal. This quote from a female journalist on the No Man’s Land scene particularly irked me: “I felt like I was discovering something I didn’t even know I had always wanted. A need that I had boxed up and buried deep.” The ability to engage in mindless violence like a typical male action hero is I guess the incredibly low bar we set for feminism now. Meanwhile we ignore that Diana is upstaged for much of the movie in wisdom and courage and heroism by her male romantic interest. And the final bit of truth that she earns at the end is that “love conquers all” or as she puts it in some of the movie’s worst lines, “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.” That is a decidedly flowery feminine philosophy.
Oh and why does it look like a stray wind could blow the super model thin Wonder Woman away? Every male superhero gets magazines devoted to their workout routine for their role (admittedly omitting the role of drugs), but we can’t ask Gal Gadot to bulk up a bit for the role of a WARRIOR PRINCESS? Yeah a triumph over antiquated feminine stereotypes this movie is not.