Wonder Woman and The Politics Of Gender
Pop Culture
For me, the essential difference between DC and Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) other than the fact that the latter possess a horrible visual pallet, is that the former generally tries to be more philosophical/cerebral in its approach. It is this approach which brought the Dark Knight Trilogy the success it enjoyed, this approach gave us Watchmen, but it also has been a double-edged sword. The last 3 DC films have all tried to mix the profound with the fantastical to unanimously disastrous results.

Within this milieu enters Wonder Woman which tries to adhere to this DC philosophy with varying degrees of success. Make no mistake, it’s a good/fun film but thematically is too disjointed, constantly playing hop-scotch with its themes.

While it’s super to see Wonder Woman’s home world, which is basically an Amazonian/matriarchal utopia. Unfortunately, all we get are some cool action montages and a haphazardly edited sequence where the mythological backstory is dumped along with the constant intercutting of Diana’s training. It’s just jarring and emotionally/thematically disconnected. All it does is quicken the pace. Diana is portrayed as a person who is idealistic in her worldview with a strong sense of honour and virtuosity. But where does this worldview come from (apart from the explicit fact that they are warriors)? Show, not tell. It would have been super if the ‘Themyscira’ sequences were more thematically inclined to the rest of the film instead of just being a big info dump, as it turned out to be. With that said, credit where it’s due, the action sequences are brilliant with some amazing choreography, too bad they have been cut in a haphazard manner. Let the shots flow man!

One thing the film handles incredibly well is ‘gender’. While viewing the all matriarchal utopia of Themyscira, my fear was that this very well may turn out to be a film with shit loads of male bashing as it’s subtext. Thankfully, the film is more diligent than that. It constantly questions the stagnated roles which society has given to both the genders. So, on one hand, we have Wonder Woman (a female) as a saviour of the world, but on the other extremity, we have the Doctor Poison as the archetype villain (another female). Similarly, in another lovely sequence, Diana ignorantly professes that the opposite gender is only required for ‘procreation’, and it’s exactly ‘this opposite gender’ which teaches her the meaning of love and acts as her gateway to humanity. It’s fascinating, and frankly speaking refreshing. Considering how Indian creatives have tackled and portrayed the issue of gender (which is horrible btw), this film is a breath of fresh air.

The core of the film is, without a doubt, the relationship between Diana and Steve Trevor. If Diana is this idealistic, honourable person with a high sense of justice, it’s Trevor who tries to give Diana a pragmatic view of the world. Trevor is a quintessential good guy who is a bit too involved in his capitalistic/patriarchal world. Unlike Diana, he never questions the status quo. But it’s the constant clashing of these two opposing ideologies which forms the crux of the film. Diana being an outsider with a sharp sense of justice allows the character to question the wrong doings of the system. But it’s Trevor, who through his sheer pragmatism, channelizes her high ideals into something far more concrete and constructive. Eventually, Diana becomes wiser when she realises that what one requires is a synthesis of these two dramatically opposing ideologies. With that said, there is something very charming and endearing about having a simplistic worldview of an uncorrupted person. This worldview is also what gives Diana her drive and clarity.

Diana is equally childlike, loving and vicious at the same time. She has a strong sense of justice which she is not hesitant to exercise if she thinks that something is wrong. She tells the ice-cream guy to be proud as he spreads joy through his ice-creams, squeaks at the sight of a child and emerges with wrath out of the trenches when faced with injustice showered on the people living in ‘no man’s land’. Though the sequence could/should have required more emotional investment, the scene showing her emerging out of the trenches and embracing her Wonder Woman persona is the stuff of celluloid legend, what an iconic scene. Finally, a character on the big screen to look up to and whose qualities are worth emulating. I simply LOVED IT.

The film constantly questions the root of evil. Is it a singular entity or an idea which can corrupt many? And if corrupted, what can one do to solve it? These are some supremely profound questions which Diana struggles with throughout the film. But then (Super Spoiler Alert), real life Ares comes in and basically ruins everything. Whatever profound themes the film was dabbling with, comes to a screeching halt with the entry of this character. So, basically, EVIL does come in a singular form which is ARES, and contrary to the realisation which Diana has later that LOVE can solve everything, this ‘EVIL’ can be defeated through sword and violence!! Then we are treated to things being hurled against one another, each succeeded by a bigger explosion and the film falls into the trap which is so typical of Zack Snyder’s version of DC Universe i.e. needless action without any emotional investment. Why God why? Why ruin everything which the film had been building up to?

Moreover, considering the theme of the film, it would have been wise to question the role of the Britishers themselves. After all, they were a ‘major’ colonial power during first World War. One can also see a lot of Gurkha soldiers in the train station scene who were forced to be part of the British contingent, so clearly, there are no ‘Good’ sides when it comes to war (at least not in World War I), then why not dabble upon that. It could have been so profound! You do have a small scene with the native who reveals to Diana that Trevor’s ancestors fought against his ancestors, but it’s more of an aside than anything else. Also, what motivation does Dr Poison have other than just being evil, cmon man!

Casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was a good idea. What better way to portray a character who is an outsider to this capitalistic/patriarchal world than to cast an actor who is an outsider, Lovely stuff. Gadot has given a sincere performance indeed.

At the end of the day, however, Wonder Woman is a movie that is well made. To view it (as many internet outlets have done) as a film with a female protagonist, helmed by a female director showing the world as to how a superhero film should be made is to miss the point of it altogether. This film is so much more. The importance and the celebration of the core values which the character possess cannot be understated. ‘IT’ is the pivot of the film. This character is such a breath of fresh air in a world where all we get are grumpy heroes expressing themselves through sheer violence. But it could have been so much more, all it required was a bit more clarity, a bit more focus and a bit less Zack Snyder!

This article has been contributed by Sushant Mishra who is a Mumbai-based filmmaker.