Wonder Woman (2009) – Directed by Lauren Montgomery – Starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger, Oliver Platt, and Virginia Madsen.
WONDER WOMAN sits solidly in the Man Whore Meets Virgin, Man Whore Disgusts Virgin, Man Whore Conquers Virgin mode of storytelling.
I understand the point of stories like this, of course. They are fables that seek to acknowledge exaggerated, individualistic gender stereotypes and then collapse them into the safe, communal roles a society needs them to fill so that the society can maintain itself. So we have the exaggerated alpha male who drops seed all over the place meeting up with the super virginal woman who rejects all seed. He wants to conquer her, because that’s what he does, and she’s disgusted by him, because he represents the life she’s rejected. Societies can’t continue to exist in optimal working order, however, if the man doesn’t eventually allow his seed to turn to progeny, and the woman doesn’t eventually allow her body to be the vessel for the next generation.
And so we have Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion), All-American male, military fighter pilot, and man whore extraordinaire, crashing his damaged fighter jet onto Paradise Island, populated solely by gorgeous Amazons, and focusing all of his energy on conquering Diana (Keri Russell), the virgin princess.
I have a pretty strong aversion to this plot, but not to the point where it automatically ruins a story for me. It just feels like a relic of a storytelling age better left in the past. I do find it particularly disturbing when storytellers (especially female storytellers, as are involved here with director Lauren Montgomery and co-writer Gail Simone) run strong women through this plot. Not all man whores are jerks, of course (just because you sleep around doesn’t make you a bad guy), but Steve Trevor is worse than a jerk, and it’s kinda disgusting that Diana would be willing to overlook Steve trying to get her drunk so he could sleep with her just because he’s also willing to risk the fate of the entire world just to save her life. What Steve does in the bar is, at best, attempt to loosen Diana’s morals and, at worst, date rape.
Because that’s the real turning point in their relationship. Steve and Diana are battling Ares (Alfred Molina), Persephone (Vicki Lewis), and some monsters and Steve decides to save Diana instead of stopping Ares. By failing to carry out Diana’s orders, Ares heads to Hades, gets the magical bonds on his wrists removed, and then brings Hell to Earth for a massive final battle.
At the end of all this killing, we’ve got a completely domesticated Steve carrying the groceries as Diana heads off to battle Cheetah.
The romance plot in WONDER WOMAN is completely bonkers and incredibly disappointing. If you’re going to redo an origin story, why not make some changes to better reflect the 21st century? Or why not spend a bit more time exploring gender roles and personal responsibility?
Oh, because that would take time away from the punching and kicking? Fine, then maybe not including it would have been the better choice. As it is, we’ve got this whole “men are evil” stance from the Amazons because Queen Hippolyta (Virgina Madsen) got freaky with Ares back in the day and it turned out the God of War wasn’t perfect boyfriend material. Then Diana is like, “Maybe men aren’t so bad,” and then Steve is that bad, but then he reveals (under the power of the magic lasso) that he’s just afraid of getting hurt, so it’s totally okay that he tried to get her drunk to sleep with her because, you know, it’s okay to hurt someone else if you’re afraid of getting hurt yourself.
It’s disappointing that WONDER WOMAN took the simplistic, exaggerated route. It wouldn’t have hurt the movie if Steve had been a less skuzzy guy, or in a move that would have made him a better philosophical opposite of the Amazonian way, a scientist or a pacifist, but no … he’s the man whore and she’s the virgin and it’s of-so-cute that at the end of the movie, Steve has now taken the traditional female role (cooking dinner) and Diana the traditional male role (being the warrior).
And this is the key – if this was presented as a female fantasy, it might very well work with a few tweaks, but this is a straight-up male fantasy. Steve’s reward for being a misogynist man whore is that he ends up dating Wonder Woman, while Diana leaves her culture back on Themyscira, forgets about the alcohol-fueled seduction, and enters man’s world as an emissary to the United States of … Steve, apparently. What does Steve give up? Sleeping around? If the female fantasy here is supposed to be the “good girl can change the bad boy” angle, it’s weakly executed because Steve goes from trying to get her drunk to choosing her life over that of the rest of the world in a matter of cinematic minutes.
The whole relationship adds a sense of cheapness to the movie that hurts its overall effectiveness, which is a shame because the rest of what’s here is pretty darn great. The animation looks amazing and the story is compelling. Drawing on the Perez relaunch from the 1980s, WONDER WOMAN has more in common with films like Thor, with its concentration on mythology. If you’ve been hanging around the Anxiety for any length of time, you’ve heard me decry the continued use of origin stories in superhero movies, but WONDER WOMAN shows how to tell an origin story and yet still feel fresh. Wonder Woman isn’t a typical superhero and the film doesn’t try to make her something other than she is – an Amazon entering the rest of the world for the first time.
I’ve done one of those things I don’t love doing in reviews, which is to focus on the negative rather than the positive, but that romance angle irks me. I like the fact that this cartoon seems clearly aimed at an older audience (Steve and Diana both kill to make their mission easier, and not in self-defense), and I love the mythological angle. Unfortunately, I’d much rather spend time watching Diana interact with her fellow Amazons than Steve, but that’s not enough to derail this effort.
WONDER WOMAN is a pretty good animated movie, and of all the DC movies that I own, I’ve watched this one as much as any of them. The voice work is outstanding and the overall story of Diana attempting to stop Ares is a good one. It’s a fun watch with one very large, very disappointing subplot.