Jordan and Eddie’s film reviews is an excellent blog and I always appreciate reading their reflections on film. They had criticized the portrayal of Steven Trevor within Wonder Woman. I expected not to like this dynamic because I have never really liked Chris Pine. (To be fair, I saw him for the first time in the dreadful Star Trek Into Darkness.) While I was fine with Chris Pine and Steven Trevor didn’t bother me (which is not to say that it is perfect!) I started to think about the alternatives that Patti Jenkins and the writers could have pursued. When I did that, I quickly realized that Wonder Woman can’t win.
Here we go:
1 One option would have been to make Steve Tyler’s character a woman. This would have changed the story in many key ways. For one thing, it would have given Diana a female friend, which is unheard of for women in action movies. (What is the name of Sarah Connor’s female friend in Terminator II: Judgement Day? Or Ripely’s female friend in Alien? Or Angelina Jolie’s female friend in Salt? Or Rey’s female friend in Star Wars: The Force Awakens?) This would have been revolutionary; probably too revolutionary for its own good.
OK. Every once in a while I declare something My Most Controversial Statement Ever. This is, without a doubt, the most controversial statement ever on this blog.
I enjoyed Ghostbusters (2016) in a mindless kind of way. (But you’re not wrong if you think it’s the worst movie ever made.)
So, I bring up Ghostbusters 2016 because I enjoyed the dynamic between the main characters. It is so rare to see the dynamic of friendship and cameraderie between women in films. Usually, in these types of films, there is one woman surrounded by men.
(Where is Jyn’s female friend in this picture?)
(Where is Black Widow’s female friend in this picture?)
My favorite scene in Ghostbusters was actually at the end of the film. The women are celebrating saving the city, and they stand on the roof looking out into the distance, enjoying their victory and each other’s company. This is absent in most films.
However, I was recently struck by Chris Stuckmann’s recent review of Wonder Woman. He makes an offhanded comment that Ghostbusters made him feel bad about being a man. I guess it’s because the film does not really have one positive portrayal of a man.
Now, imagine if Steve Trevor’s character had been Stephanie Trevor and she sacrificed herself for the sake of others. Now, imagine if Dr. Poison had been a man. Imagine if Ares had pointed to a male Dr. Poison as the example of all humanity, evil through and through. Diana weighs the options and decides that Stephanie Trevor and her sacrifice for the good of others. In this scenario, males embody all that is wrong with humanity and women embody all that is right about humanity. If Patti Jenkins had set up this dynamic, the opposite of what is in the film, most men would have felt that the film was misandronistic. (Is that a word? It is now. And it means anti-men.)
If Wonder Woman had made Steve Trevor’s character Stephanie Trevor, this would have been a revolutionary choice. Unfortunately, it would have been too revolutionary and alienated too many men.
2 Another option would have been to have no Steven Tyler in the movie and have Diana leave Thymiscera and go to the front in a different way. In this way, Diana would not have had any kind of companion, man or woman, as she navigates the world.
Of course, if this had been done, Diana could not have shown any difficulty adapting to a new world, or any confusion as to why humanity behaves the way they do. This poses a number of problems. One, this would have opened up Wonder Woman to the charge that she is a Mary Sue. Many people criticize Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a Mary Sue, and with very good reason. If Diana arrived in London and went to buy clothes with no difficulty, the audience would have scratched their heads.
Second of all, this would weaken Wonder Woman’s arc in the film. Wonder Woman is a coming of age story and a story about a crisis of faith. Diana has faith in the story that her mother tells her about where she comes from, men, the gods, and her place in the world. Diana has a simple, childlike faith in the goodness of man and the wickedness of Ares. Diana discovers that her mother’s story was not the full truth. It is because she has seen the heroism of Steven Trevor and his companions that she is able to declare that humanity is more than the sum of their worst acts and commit herself to protect them.
Third, by putting Wonder Woman into the Virgin Warrior trope, the film would have played it very safe. Wonder Woman would easily fit into the class of the Virgin Warrior, according to her name and origin. Ironically, playing it safe would have opened it up the film to controversy. (Superheros can save the day and have love lives; why can’t Super Heroines?)
3 Another possibility would have been to keep Wonder Woman on the island the whole time and not have any men appear in the film at all. That would have been the most daring choice the filmmakers could have made. I wish they had made it. Sadly, it would have been far too daring. I have watched enough reviews of Wonder Woman on Youtube to have heard several men talk about the idea that many films that are perceived of as “feminist” are also perceived as be “anti-men.” A large number of men have seen Wonder Woman and apparently enjoyed the film. Would this have been the case if Wonder Woman did not have any men? I am skeptical.
Is my point that Wonder Woman’s portrayal of Steven Trevor is the best choice? No. My point is that any choice that Wonder Woman would have been criticized no matter what choice she made. This is because Wonder Woman, as the first super hero film to star a woman, has pressures that no super hero film has ever faced.
Let’s take the decision to show Wonder Woman murder Ares and other people. Now, it is often controversial to show super heroes murdering people (case in point: Superman kills Zodd in Man of Steel.) However, I doubt any of the controversies surrounding the murder of Zodd included discussions like this.
Quote can be found here.
There are other quotes in this blog that discuss the ramifications of the violence in Wonder Woman. This was common after Man of Steel. However, there is an added dimension to the subject. The writers are questioning whether Wonder Woman supplants the patriarchy or actually supports the patriarchy by promoting violence against the Other. Is Wonder Woman insufficiently feminist, or does she represent the wrong kind of feminism? No other member of the Justice League has to face these questions.
Wonder Woman had a terrible burden that no other super hero film had to bear. It’s really surprising that the film is as good as it is. I saw it again on Friday and I brought one of my friends and it held up well the second time around. My friend enjoyed it very much; as soon as it was done, she turned to me and said, “That was really good!”
Anway, seeing the film again, especially with this piece in my mind at the time, I started to ask myself, “Does Wonder Woman win in her own movie?”
More on that in Part 2.