I saw Wonder Woman a few weeks ago, and while it seems like almost every other female viewer loved it, I was actually really disappointed. Diana herself was an awesome character, and I look forward to seeing more of her, but as the first female-led superhero film I’ve ever seen, Wonder Woman let me down in multiple ways:
- BOOB ARMOR. My hate for it was so extreme that it distracted me during the Themyscira scenes. I’ve read enough about how impractical (and even dangerous) such armor would be that I spent those scenes fuming about female characters being costumed in unrealistic armor just to show off the fact that they have breasts.
- Skimpy armor. It’s established early on that the Amazons aren’t invincible; they can get cut, be killed by bullets, etc. So then why don’t they wear armor that covers their arms, chests, and thighs?? This especially grated on me when Diana traveled to a war zone, where at one point she got bombarded with bullets. Full-body armor would have been pretty nice at that point! But again, apparently female characters’ bodies just have to be on display, even if it makes no sense in-world. (I did see that recent Twitter thread about how the armor design is realistic compared to past designs, etc., but it’s still not realistic enough! I don’t want to have to settle for “better than lingerie-inspired costumes”.)
- Wonder Woman, apparently, shaves her legs and armpits. Even while traveling through war-torn Europe. As do all the women who live on an island of only women where no patriarchal beauty standards exist. Because apparently it would be too gross to show women having actual body hair.
- Along those same lines, Diana looks perfect all the time. She looks exactly the same after a fight as she does before one. No dirt, no sweat, no messed-up hair. And it’s so frustrating that women have to be unrealistically perfect, have to look pretty every moment, in order to be the lead character in a film like this. Real women don’t look perfect all the time, and in the situations she goes through in the film, Diana wouldn’t either. When I see female characters portrayed this way, I don’t feel represented; it’s not a fellow woman I’m seeing on-screen, but a skewed, patriarchal fantasy version of one.
- Anyway, moving on from the costuming/appearance issues: so many men. After we leave Themyscira, Diana is surrounded by men for the rest of the film. And I get it, it’s a war movie, historical accuracy, blah blah blah. But after that women-ful start, I felt cheated. It’s so typical for female main characters in movies to have a solely male supporting cast, and I had hoped this would be one movie that didn’t fall into that pattern.
- That brings me to… STEVE TREVOR. It felt like he was almost as much of a main character as Diana; I’m pretty sure he had about the same amount of dialogue and screen time as her. I want a movie about a female superhero, not a female superhero and some random dude who I don’t care about! (Not that Steve was a bad character; he actually treated Diana well, so it really wasn’t him I had a problem with—it was that the filmmakers chose to make him such a central character, when I would have preferred the focus to be solely on Diana.) I also hated that he had to lead her around the outside world, explaining how things worked, telling her how to dress, act, etc. I just don’t want to see my powerful warrior heroine having to be guided around by a man—“experienced dude teaches naïve woman how the world works” has been done enough, and this really felt like the wrong movie for it.
- And finally: the romance. Did there really have to be one? I was glad at how little it was emphasized, at least, but not every woman needs a male romantic partner! Seriously, the heteronormativity was really bad. Diana falls in love with the first man she ever meets?? Why would she even be attracted to men after growing up with only women? Ugh. (Thinking about this and my last two points, imagine if, instead, Steve’s character had been a woman. It would have been so much better. If that had been the case, I would probably be shouting my love for this movie right now instead of criticizing it.)
So yeah, we got a female superhero in a well-reviewed, financially successful movie. But that wasn’t enough for me. I’ve already been let down by the portrayals of women in the Marvel movies (again, they apparently just have to look sexy all the time, to the point that they don’t get to wear sufficient armor because then their cleavage wouldn’t be on display), and I thought this one would be different—but in the end, it felt like more of the same. As Ray Sonne writes in her review at Women Write About Comics, “[Wonder Woman] anticipates a very white and—based on interviews with Gadot and Jenkins as well as how much screen time men got in this movie in comparison to women—very male audience and not much else.” (Check out that review for more on the movie’s problematic treatment of race, which is another issue with it.)
I know this film was meaningful to many female viewers, and that’s awesome; I don’t want to take away from anyone’s enjoyment. But I feel like it’s important to talk about the negative stuff too. When I left the theater, I didn’t feel excited or empowered; I mostly felt sad. Wonder Woman reminded me of how far we still have to go before women are equally and realistically represented in film.