I’ve never gone to a movie theater with the bar of expectations so low as I did for Wonder Woman. Worse: I have a snobbish Marvel streak a mile deep in my heart.
Still, a superhero movie with a strong female lead (Gal Gadot), directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins) and generously including Chris Pine’s beautiful stubble to top it off? Irresistible. So, I joined the thousands of other movie-goers who hoped only that Wonder Woman not stink too much.
And it didn’t. The movie opens on Themyscira, with queen, daughter, and army commander in conflict. It could have been a bland start if I had never seen all three roles performed by women. And, perhaps, if I hadn’t been quite so distracted by the movie’s top-notch costuming. The battle and training clothing for the Amazons was the perfect combination of functional and sexy. Minimal leather armor with some thin metal plating, perfect for the obviously warm climate of the island and for maximizing flexibility. And still emphasizing those legs and shoulders because damn, Robin Wright.
The transition to 1910s London was as off-putting as it needed to be, but it also functioned as the movie’s first foray into what I call DC’s love for Over-Epicness. The light and moral clarity of the island on which Diana grew up is lost in the murky fog of London and, afterward, the darkness of the continent and its struggle. Once Diana entered the world of moral ambiguity, AKA World War I (or Chris Pine’s beautiful-eyes-but-weak-chin situation), the movie stopped showing daylight. Stick with Marvel if you care about subtlety.
The movie powers through the political intrigue to get Diana to the fighting. In her first minutes at the front, she rejects the status quo of trench warfare. Taking a moment to flip her hair back behind her headband, she flings her cloak off to reveal serious and yet feminine armor. Then, in a rather extended scene, she charges into no-man’s land, drawing fire so that the men in the trenches feel obligated to stop hiding.
Friends, I’m not immune to inspiration, and so I had a brief, internal third wave feminist squabble with myself. A reenactment:
Why is her hair down? That’s stupid. All the other Amazon warriors tied theirs back.
Stop obsessing about her clothing: it’s more about her decisions and character!
Her nipples have got to be super uncomfortable in that thing. Why—
Because it looks cool! She can look cool!
And she did. Diana’s beauty is part of her story and the movie stepped into that with ease. She makes the suave Chris Pine extremely concerned about asserting how he definitely is “above average.” Men swoon as she walks past. Her beauty is part of who she is, and she doesn’t hide from it. She uses it.
Unfortunately, the perfection of Diana’s skin and hair stands in harsh comparison to her female counterpart on the side of evil. A brilliant chemist named Dr. Maru, marked by a disfiguring scar on her face, is arguably the evilest character in the movie: obsessed with creating a super-poison that works through gas masks. She giggles as she listens to a room full of men kill one another attempting to reach a gas mask that won’t work against her poison. The casual connection between marred and evil was too easy and classic DC: why have a normal villain when you can have a super villain for more Over-Epicness?
And yet, even with all those villainous traits—and super-villain status as “Doctor Poison” from the comics—the position of top-bad guy was two people removed from her. Perhaps I should be grateful for a movie with a female lead, with a female director. And I am. But DC missed an opportunity to have the main villain be Diana’s true opposite: a normal woman, ambitious and clever who wants the world to burn rather than survive.
I do think the Rotten Tomato’s score of ninety-three percent is overblown by low expectations (thanks Suicide Squad), but Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, and Chris Pine’s reoccurring insecurity about his masculinity made for a pretty damn good movie.
 I’m open to suggestions for a not-crappy name for this.W
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).