Wonder Woman: Swords & Submission

Having seen DC’s Wonder Woman film, I naturally have thoughts and feelings about it. To avoid spoilers, I’ve put them up here behind a cut for those who want to read them. Read no further if you are avoiding spoilers! I’ll say up-front that it’s an excellent film and does the director, actors, production—and its subject—credit. I hope that its success influences DC’s further creative choices when it comes to its film franchise, but also realize that’s a big ship that takes a lot of time to nudge in a different direction.

All that said, the movie did have a few things that bothered me, the overall theme being that I don’t think it embraced the character enough, in some regards. Naturally, these are all matters of taste that, for me, kept an excellent film from being a near-perfect one. So, for a moment, I’m going to the That Comic Book Guy™ (gender pun intended). Spoilers ahoy!

First was the “de-feminization” of Diana’s origins. In the now-classic late-1980s retelling, the Amazons were created by the goddesses of Olympus as a counterpoint to Ares and his philosophy. Likewise, Diana truly was molded from clay and brought to life as a divine gift, but by the selfsame goddesses, with the aid of Hermes, who blessed Hippolyta’s child with her extraordinary powers. The Zeus vs. Ares dichotomy was too Jehovah vs. Lucifer for my tastes, and made the whole history of the Amazons and Diana’s birth all ultimately about a divine masculine conflict. No “Great Hera!” or “Wise Athena” passes Diana’s lips in the film. Indeed, her reverence for the gods is moot because they’re all conveniently dead, save for Ares.

Then there’s the sword. The film later redeems things a bit by showing the sword Diana takes is not “The God-killer,” removing that bit of phallic nonsense from the narrative, but the notion of Wonder Woman regularly wielding a sword at all doesn’t feel particularly right to me. It’s not as bad as having Batman carrying a gun, but it’s close. Other than the fairly misguided killing Diana carries out, the sword is also useless. I watched: At no time in the film does it serve a purpose that couldn’t be just as easily accomplished by Wonder Woman’s great strength and armored bracers. I know the modern trend has been to portray Diana as a fierce Amazon warrior who delights in battle, but I feel that distracts from her primary success and appeal as a character. If you ask me, they could have done away with the sword.

Other people have complained about the “magic boat trip” from wherever Themyscria is to London in one night, but I’m prepared to dismiss that as space-time bending magic and the like. No big deal. While I would have been fine with an added dash of science-fantasy for the Amazons (ala the Golden Age Wonder Woman and Grant Morrison’s Wonder Woman: Earth One), I’m also okay with the omission of the Invisible Plane.

The revelation of Ares was … okay, but I would have taken more of his visual design from Perez’s, particularly the dark helm with only his eyes visible. The notion that Wonder Woman has to be the daughter of Zeus in order to successfully take on Ares? Unnecessary, in my opinion, but who knows what DC’s dictates were with regard to their continuity or the like. Certainly, that’s the “official” version of Wonder Woman in The New 52. Unclear where things stand now with the DC Rebirth line. Still, to me, it makes her too much Zeus’ proxy in this fight, rather than blessed with divine powers by the Olympian goddesses.

I’m glad Steve Trevor helped to restore Diana’s faith in humanity. Still, I wouldn’t have minded more suggestions that other good people with good qualities made an impression, making it bit less like “the love of a good man” was what Wonder Woman really needed to get over feeling hopeless.

All of this other stuff, however, pales to my biggest disappointment: After a climatic rejection of violence and vengeance in favor of love and compassion, Wonder Woman wins by roundly blasting Ares to nothing but a smoking crater with divine lightning. By contrast, in Wonder Woman #6 (1987), when Diana confronts Ares to prevent him from starting a war that will destroy the world, she defeats him … with the truth. She wraps the God of War in the Golden Lasso of Hestia and forces him to confront the truth that war is ultimately pointless and self-destructive. The war god himself realizes the same truth as Diana, feels compassion, and weeps. He willingly withdraws to allow humanity to sort out its own fate. It is a true triumph of compassion over conflict, literally “stopping a war with love” and also quite in line with creator William Marston’s concept of “loving submission.”

I almost thought they’d go for it, too. When Diana rejects Ares’ views and chooses mercy, and extols the virtues of humanity, and he calls out “Lies!” That was the perfect moment for the ultimate truth-telling. Instead—BOOM! Punching. Pyrotechnics. Big finish, but I think it could have been even better.

Which is what it comes down to. I don’t want to sound like I’m slagging the film. I’m not. Far from it. I really enjoyed it, from the fantastic vistas of Themyscira (where I would now like to have a summer home) to the truly kickass Amazons to a near-naked Chris Pine (yes, please), “Diana Prince,” the Superman homage with blocking the bullet, Eta Candy, Diana’s childlike wonder at the world, the amazing action sequences, and so much more. This is more about what would have made a really fun, enjoyable movie truly fantastic for me. Obviously, milage varies, and plenty of folks don’t give a Grecian fig for the trivia and storytelling decisions that go through my mind.

Without a doubt, Wonder Woman has raised the bar for DC superhero films, and it meets the high mark for a superhero film in general. I hope to see more like it and—goddesses willing—may it help convince Hollywood that women can carry the lead in successful heroic action films, because I’d like to see many more of them!

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