Monday, 19 June 2017

Wonder Woman

At the very end of Wonder Woman, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), she is never referred to as Wonder Woman in the film, she doesn't need this title that was given to her by man, she simply is one, who is working at the Louvre in Paris, an interesting change from her previous incarnations who were mostly confined to English speaking parts of the world, goes up to the roof in her Wonder Woman outfit and leaps towards the camera flying off to save the world on her own. There is no romantic kiss goodbye from anyone, or a lover waiting in the wings, there is only Diana against the world. Superhero or not, it is rare to find a film that centres a strong woman who isn’t paired off at the end of it. There have been a few, but even Mad Max Fury Road had Tom Hardy's Max puppy eyeing Furiousa at the end of the film leaving it open for possibilities, and I'm pretty sure that in Star Wars: The Force Awaken, Finn will be waiting for Ray when she finishes being mentored by yet another father figure (Both film written and directed by men, even if talented ones). For the most parts, strong as they may be, the women of popular entertainment are hardly ever complete without a “husband” or a "father". 

Of course, the film does give Diana a love interest, Steve Trevor the original love interest of Wonder Woman of the comic books, but this love story is very small and quite minor in the great scheme of things. One tender kiss and some funny sexual remarks is all we get to see of this love affair. It isn’t grand, the earth doesn’t move when they, presumably, sleep together and while Diana's relationship with Steve helps her realise the "power of love", though not that alone, life and heroic duties go on after he dies.

Created in 1941 by psychologist, lawyer, inventor and an irregular man William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman was famously modelled on a combination of his whip-smart tomboy wife Elizabeth “Sadie” Holloway and the couple’s lover who lived with them, Olive Bryne, the niece of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, who is also cited as an inspiration to several of the Wonder Woman storylines. However, Elizabeth, who was an activist in the feminist movement as was her husband William and Olive, contributed more than just her looks to the character of Wonder Woman, including her famous phrase “Suffering Sappho” a reference to Sappho an ancient Greek poet known for poems where women professed their affections for other women. Her contribution to the character rarely gets mentioned if ever. It is interesting to note that nowadays, while the film was unfortunately still written by a bunch of men, it is director Patty Jenkins that is mentioned the most in reviews and receives the main creative credit and recognition from critics and audiences alike.

The unique lifestyle of the Marston family, which included bondage fetish and an interest in S&M, has earned William Moulton Marston the title of a weirdo and a creep. Even today this life choices are hard for many to accept. When reading about Marston's life he is often portrayed a hypocrite, a feminist on the outside and an offensive dominant male at home. It is difficult to find articles or accounts that describe the women's part in this family and therefore it is problematic to assume they were victims. The uncommon family had to hide their unpopular lifestyle from the world that continues to judge them to this day, and so for example, they pretended that Olive was a housekeeper. 

Marston was also the creator of systolic blood pressure test, which became a component in the modern polygraph, invented by Josh Augustus Larson. It was his wife Elizabeth that suggested to him the connection between emotion and blood pressure, though just as with her contribution to Wonder Woman, she did not, or could not, receive credit for her contribution to academic research. The lie detector was proved as non scientific and Marston was investigated by the FBI for lying about his lie detector in a Gillette commercial. However, it was a significant psychological research. Wonder Woman's lasso of truth is said to have been inspired by this interest of Marston. 

Wonder Woman was conceived to “combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls for self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolised by men.” A progressive view at a time, especially for a man. In the comic Wonder Woman was often depicted in bondage, which indeed hints to the above mentioned bondage fetish, but it it is important to note that she was never a damsel in distress and always had to free herself from her shackles without help. In her final battle against Ares in the film, Diana finds herself on the floor restrained with some metal boards, an image that very much reminds those early Wonder Woman covers, she manages to free herself in fury when she realises Steve is dead. Perhaps a bit simplistic and yet symbolically freeing her from the control of any man, good or bad, love interest or enemy. 

Diana Prince is a woman from a foreign land, dressed in the colours of the American flag, protecting the values of a men her people decided to turn their back on. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman's outfit is less obvious American colours and while it is still a skimpy skirt, she spend most of the film covered up and only changes for battle. Her outfit feels more like that of a Greek warrior. The casting of Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress,  who speaks with a thick accent for the role of Diana Prince, is an interesting choice. Because Gadot has served in the Israeli army, the film has been banned in Lebanon. Gadot's political inclinations have often been a topic of interest and I would not be surprised if she received specific instructions to avoid the subject in order to promote the film. Wherever she may stand on the political map, her casting was a risky gamble and an unexpected brave move for a mainstream blockbuster film. Patty Jenkins has admitted that it wouldn’t have crossed her mind to cast a non-American for the role, despite the character being non-American. Luckily Gadot was cast before Jenkins signed back on to the film and so we get a Wonder Woman that looks and sounds different, who speaks hundreds of languages, who sees good and bad in everyone and offers a truly different point of view. 

The world of male superheroes offers a variety of heroes, from the squeaky-clean symbols of courage that are Superman, Captain America and Thor, who take pride in their heroic duties through the in between, sarcastic, but righteous inside, Iron Man, to the darker broody heroes like Batman, the Hulk and Wolverine. The female superheroes are usually more reluctant, dark and must sacrifice themselves. Black Widow, the only female Avenger in the Marvell Cinematic Universe, was trained, tortured and most importantly sterilised, which makes her a monster in her own eyes, joins the Avengers to clear her conscious. Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy wants revenge against her father and to clear her own name and even Buffy (all hail the amazing Buffy) is a reluctant hero who only wants a normal life, often walks the dark side and has sacrificed herself to save the world more than once. While darker superheroes tend to be more interesting and attractive, the world has embraced male heroes compelled by their sense of duty, honour and morality like Captain America and Superman. Wonder Woman is the first female superhero that corresponds with those qualities by being motivated by love. Furthermore, her most iconic moment, the first time she is revealed in her Wonder Woman outfit and the first time the theme comes on, when she is crossing No Man's Land, is an action sequence made primarily of deflecting fire and defence. Unlike Captain America, who very quickly turns his shield into a weapon, Diana hardly uses her shield as anything but protection. Her greatest power is defence and deflection and it is with that power that she eventually defeats Ares. 

Whatever the problem the Wonder Woman film suffers from, which in my view are very few if any, its achievements and firsts not only make up for it, but make it a great superhero film that for the first time in the long history of superhero films, was not frustrating to women. 

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