You’re Better Than This
I have a mess of notes to discuss about Wonder Woman, the first really good offering from the DC Extended Universe. This movie was rife with huge ideas: mythology, the origins and nature of humanity, good, evil, light, darkness, equality, and the defense of the weak. These themes made it great overall, though the acrobatic delight of the fighting scenes didn’t hurt. I laughed multiple times out of sheer giddiness.
Then 35-45 seconds dispelled the awe.
If you’ve seen it, you know the exact minute of screen time to which I’m referring.
I mean, if Gal Gadot were to stare at you with the perfect blend of fierceness and naïveté within those piercing brown eyes, look away. Run away. If you don’t, surely you, too, will step inside and close the door behind you like Chris Pine. The portrayal and development of her character up until that point, however, made me wish better things for her.
In the words of Willow Rosenberg right before she flays Warren via witchcraft in Buffy season six, “Bored now.” In the theater I actually whispered, “Are you kidding me?” I was genuinely surprised they took these characters there.
Gods and Buffoons
Diana’s closest counterpart in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is perhaps Thor – though I for one think she evinces a mystique that Thor is missing. Thor starts petty and cocky, and we watch him grow to embody the selflessness worthy of his birthright as a god-king while still maintaining his goofiness. Diana begins fearlessly pure, full of compassion and a thirst for justice, and she only increases in ferocity and virtue.
It was never implied during the course of two movies that Chris Hemsworth’s dopey Thor knocked boots with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, has Diana and Steve Trevor dutifully “do the do” (my wife’s phrase) as if to demonstrate that intercourse earns a person the right to say “love” to another human being.
I don’t necessarily object for moral reasons, and there’s no on-screen foreplay or anything. Visually the movie is rather safe for the family. But I do contend that the character and the story could have been stronger without something so common and cheap.
Some will insist, “It’s just sex. It’s not a big deal.” Those people would prove my point. The casualness makes it a big deal. Any Jason Segel-type charming doofus can sleep with any Mila Kunis-type brassy stunner. Wonder Woman could have illustrated that sex doesn’t equate to love and made its heroine a unique and even more powerful force in cinema.
What Could Have Been
Recall that Wonder Woman and Steve first encounter one another with bewilderment before finding a common cause. They come to understand one another and become friends within a span of days, seemingly only having sex to please the producers and give Steve a send-off romp before he bravely meets his demise.
Of course you will remember that there was barely a shred of flirting or romance before they became intimate. Compare this to the plot of another Marvel origin movie period piece, Captain America. The rather complex courtship of Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter is established, free of consummate physical relations, before he goes off to…also pilot a plane to certain doom before it can kill millions of people. Whoops.
By the way, we’ve got almost all four of “the Chrises” in this post! Just missing Pratt. Not intentional.
Back to Wonder Woman. Imagine if Diana and Steve were to overcome their cultural differences to align and fight together. They evolve into close companions during their struggle to end “the war to end all wars.” Steve tells her, “I love you,” before rushing to sacrifice himself, unencumbered by the mundanity of sex within a week, and maybe those words mean even more to her for this fact. Their lack of copulation isn’t a shortcoming of their relationship but a feature.
Is it now such a foreign concept that love can exist before, or even independently of, sex? Even if merely mortal men are slaves to it, can’t a supremely empowered woman-god get along without it? After all, she didn’t seem to be lacking for a man in her previous island life. Are Earth girls easy?
Speaking only as a fan of superhero movies, I say a bit of the wonder was squandered.