Friday, March 17, 2017

Thoughts on Wonder Woman (2009 animated movie)

Property of DC and Warner Bros.
Four years ago, I wrote:
DC has made 9 Superman movies, and 5 animated movies (although the Justice League movies can certainly count since he's sort of their leader, and the Superman/Batman movies count for both Superman and Batman, obviously.) 
DC has made 10 Batman movies, and 6 animated movies (although, again, the Justice League movies could certainly count--especially Justice League: Doom, and the Superman/Batman movies count for both of them). 
DC has made one direct-to-dvd animated Wonder Woman movie in 2009. 
In 60 years of films being made, Wonder Woman has had one shot to herself.
Last week, I finally had the opportunity to watch the animated Wonder Woman movie and well...

Look, I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to be swept up in the epic majesty of a Wonder Woman movie that, let's face it, we'll never get in live action. DC's animated stuff is far and away better than anything they've done in live action in years. We'll never get a Justice League movie half as good as Justice League: Doom. Or a Superman movie as good as Superman vs. the Elite. I wanted this to be a home run. This seemed like the moment. It was even written (in part) by GAIL SIMONE! She wrote one of THE definitive Wonder Woman runs.

But if you look at the back of the DVD box, a story reveals itself:

  • Story by Gail Simone and Michael Jelenic
  • Screenplay by Michael Jelenic

Fun fact: crediting writers as "Robert Bob White & Lamar Bone" on movies means that the writers were a writing TEAM. Crediting writers as "Doug Funnie and Roger Klotz" means that they wrote separate drafts of a work. Which goes a long way in explaining why the overall story is fine, but there are moments that feel like they were written by someone who doesn't really get Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston to be someone women and girls could look up to the way boys and men could look up to Superman. I don't want to get into Marston's philosophy because it's super complicated (involving sexual bondage play and polyamory). There have been whole books written on how his ideas colored the creation and early themes of Wonder Woman. The most important aspect of Wonder Woman is that she is ALL WOMAN, from lineage to birth.

Wonder Woman comes from a race of warrior women that lived on an island (Paradise Island, no less) isolated from the rest of the world, which is referred to as Man's World. It's a veritable utopia. On top of being fearsome warriors, the Amazons are also known for showing mercy and compassion. They have their problems, but their society is almost the paradise their name claims. One unavoidable issue is that no one can have children--there are no men and it takes two to tango, as the saying goes. Queen Hippolyta builds a child out of clay and prays to the gods in a fit of loneliness. Her prayers are heard and Wonder Woman is born.

Let me emphasize: Wonder Woman comes from an island of ONLY women, and her very creation involved NO men. Depending on which run, it's one of the goddesses--Aphrodite or Athena usually--that grants Hippolyta's wish.

From The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon from DC Comics
The movie mostly follows a tweaked version of George Perez's post-Crisis Wonder Woman origin, and as far as that goes, it's pretty good. The battle sequence at the start is great with lots of great banter and women kicking ass. Ares as the main villain is good, and Hipolytta having had a relationship with Ares before the Amazons fucked off to their own island works well. The problem comes when Steve Trevor arrives on the island.

Steve Trevor is a fighter pilot whose plane is shot down by enemy jets on their way back from a mission. He's exactly what you'd imagine a fighter pilot character to be--dripping arrogant, swaggering charm, but with a heart of gold. Nathan Fillion was well cast for the role--he has the Han Solo charm thing down.

When Trevor first lands on the island, he accidentally stumbles on a watering hole where the women are bathing, playing, etc. He says, "This is too good to be true." Then a spear crashes into a tree in front of him and he adds, "Yep. It is."

This was meant to be funny, and maybe if Trevor had snuck up to the bushes and the camera had stayed on him and his reaction--with splashing sounds and girls giggling in the background or something--maybe it would've worked. Instead, the movie took pains to zoom in on misty, barely covered naked women, sexualizing them when they aren't being sexual. The camera, and by extension the audience, is forced into Trevor's viewpoint. If the camera alone weren't enough, the music makes it obvious that they are being sexualized.

This isn't the only time this happens.

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics.
Later in the movie, Diana chases Trevor down in the jungle. After a brief struggle, they square off and Trevor comments, "Wow...I think I like you." Far be it for Steve Trevor to actually grow to respect Diana because she's such a gifted fighter, though, instead the camera INTENTIONALLY PANS DOWN TO WONDER WOMAN'S ASS to make it clear he just means she's hawt.

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics.
As I said, characters don't have to be perfect, and Trevor occasionally cracking jokes about Diana and the Amazons' beauty might work if done right. But he does it CONSTANTLY, and it's clear we're supposed to agree with him. You can practically hear the frat boys elbowing each other and chuckling to themselves.

The Amazons take him back to their lair and while using the lasso of truth to interrogate him, he says, "Your daughter has a great rack." I ask you, if you were being held prisoner and interrogated by a foreign power that has already demonstrated both that magic is actually real and a willingness to kill you if necessary...would "lol bewbs" REALLY be the first thing on your mind? Really???

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics.
Later, after Diana takes Trevor back to Man's World, and after a great scene between Diana and a young girl that's being excluded from playing pirates with the boys, Trevor makes a crack that Diana needs new clothes before he gets arrested for solicitation, implying that Wonder Woman's outfit looks like something a prostitute would wear.

How? She's wearing a swimsuit, for god's sake. It's not like she's wearing Starfire's abomination of an outfit from the New 52's Red Hood and the Outlaws. And even if she were dressed like Red Does that mean Hercules, The Martian Manhunter, and Hawkman should keep an eye peeled for the police, too?

All images property of DC Comics.
Also, later in the movie, Steve Trevor tries to get Diana drunk so he can score with her--the movie leaves it vague what exactly he expects, but it's gross whether he wanted sex or a handshake. Just throwing that out there.

After all of the derogatory comments, the objectifying and condescending to her, after ALL OF THAT, he has the absolute audacity to lecture her on how men aren't actually that bad and not everything is about sexism and you just don't get it because you're new here. As if a woman raised outside of a patriarchal society wouldn't have a better barometer for noticing patriarchal oppression. And again, it's not that he says this, but the fact that the movie clearly agrees with Trevor and treats this like some death blow against feminism and a big victory for Steve Trevor.

In spite all of that, I was still trying to chalk this movie up as an imperfect but ultimately fun romp. But two things happened that pissed me off and tipped the scales toward in the negative. Both of them take place during the final battle with Ares.

1) Ares has raised an army against the Amazons and is growing more powerful the longer the battle goes on. Diana shows up to do the butt-kicky superhero thing. Ares says something "bwa ha ha, I'm unstoppable." And Diana says "How do you expect to defeat Zeus if you can't even beat a girl?"

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics.
2) After getting punched so hard she flies into the reflecting pool at the base of the Washington Monument, Diana stands up and says, "Well, I have learned one thing. It's not polite to hit a lady."

From Wonder Woman (2009), property of Warner Premiere and DC Comics. one thing, the idea that Ares should feel ashamed that he can't beat a girl, that his inability to beat a girl not only reflects poorly on him, but proves he can't defeat Zeus is obviously rooted in the worst kind of sexism. For another thing, neither of these concepts make ANY sense being parroted by Diana, not even ironically. She was raised in a world of WARRIOR WOMEN. The BEST warriors she's ever known are ALL. WOMEN. ALL OF THEM. She not only wouldn't say this bullshit, she would find it offensive to her very core. It goes against everything she was ever raised to believe and everything she's ever known.

Looking at Jelenic's credits on IMDB, he's mostly written Batman and Teen Titans, Go! stuff. He was very much the wrong choice to tweak, adapt, or otherwise assist with this movie if this is what he came up with.

Ultimately, while the movie has some good moments, it left me feeling frustrated because even though the title character is Wonder Woman, it feels like Steve Trevor is our actual point of view character. And, respectfully, I don't care about Steve Trevor. I care about a kick ass feminist superhero overcoming villains with grace and compassion. I care about Wonder Woman.

I just...I just want good Wonder Woman movie. Is that too much to ask?