As far as superhero movies go (and I’m a superhero movie fan), Wonder Woman was just “meh” as far as I am concerned. While I thought Gal Gadot perfectly cast and wonderful in the role (such as it was), the movie was uneven, shot mostly in a dark, monotonus palate, with horrible dialog and a stupid, unbelievable plot in which the male characters are completely superfluous. Steve Trevor’s mission is uncritical to the resolution to the storyline and can easily be filed under that old Hollywood standby of giving an inconvenient character “something to do.”
Because that’s exactly what Steve Trevor is in Wonder Woman: inconvenient. They need to include him as the impetus to get Diana/Wonder Woman off the island and into the war, but after that, the writers seem to have trouble deciding whether Steve Trevor is a hero in his own right, or if he’s just a male version of Superman’s Lois Lane. Indeed, the writers seem so uncomfortable with the problematic Colonel Trevor, they eventually get him out of the way by killing him off at the end. Problem solved.
But the worst thing I can say about Wonder Woman was that it was boring. Boring in the same way that Superman is boring—there is literally nothing at stake. She’s a goddess and she’s practically impervious to harm.
I know I’m late to the game on this. Wonder Woman was released over the summer and folks have been gushing about it ever since. I missed it when it was in theaters so I bought the DVD when it came out, sure that it would be a movie I’d want to watch over and over again just based on the hype. I was wrong.
I also saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but I went to see this shortly after it opened. And while there is less gushing over the brilliance of this film (and I tend to agree with most critics that this film was a mess—and there was far too much wrong with it than I can go into parenthetically) there is a fair amount of feminist crowing over the strong female character of Rey kicking the butt of multiple male characters.
And please don’t get me started on the frozen flying Leia.
While I enjoyed Rey’s character much more in The Last Jedi than in The Force Awakens, I have to say, again, I was bored. Rey’s “power” was given too easily: she literally does nothing to earn it. The very first time she picks up a light saber, she kicks the butt of a guy who has trained his whole life. Essentially, Rey’s power is “magic.” It’s unearned power and therefore, once again, there is nothing at stake.
Thanks to the #metoo movement, I think we’re going to see a lot more of this: women physically kicking men’s butts and we’ll be told, “This is empowerment.” To my ears, it seems more like pandering to the moment, and the calls for Hollywood to water down the masculinity in its movies have already begun:
That’s when it becomes necessary to say that movies can create or reinforce narratives of history and gender that influence what people think and what they do. Boys and men develop their notions of masculinity from a variety of sources that include the films they watch (the extent to which this is true is, of course, open to debate). The time has come for Hollywood to turn away from war movies that, while satisfying to both a studio’s bottom line and a flag-waving concept of patriotism, perpetuate a model of masculinity that does violence to us all.
I can only hope that this call goes unheeded. I enjoy going to movies where men do outrageously masculine stuff. And true female empowerment should not need masculinity watered down in order to assert itself.
For my money, one of the best and strongest female characters written in years was that of Loise Banks in 2016’s Arrival. If you haven’t seen the movie, be warned, there are spoilers ahead.
Louise Banks is already an accomplished linguist when we first meet her. Twelve alien spaceships land around the world, and Louise, along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are recruited to establish communication. Amy Adams is astounding as she portrays Louise’s courage in dealing with an absolute unknown despite her intense fear.
Louise advances the communications with the alien race through instinctive and risky leaps born of her expertise in her field. The film embraces something called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: it’s the theory that the language you speak determines how you think and “can re-wire your brain.” As Louise becomes more fluent in the aliens’ language, she begins to understand how the aliens think and “speak” in circular pattern and, more importantly, she begins to experience how they conceive time, which is not linear. And with this fluency, Louise begins to experience very intense “memories.”
Louise’s story is one of heartbreaking strength, not only in her courage in the face of fear, but the courage to go on even though you KNOW the outcome, the courage to experience the joys in life, knowing extraordinary heartbreak lies in the end. It is a strength that her partner does not have. It is Louise’s strength and courage that literally save the world, and she does it without beating up a single man. And it is her strength and courage that move you to tears in what is easily one of the best and most beautiful science fiction films in the last ten years.
Strength comes in many forms. Using that strength is the type of feminist empowerment that I want to see in my films and it should be celebrated more. More of this, please. Much more.