What’s a Superhero film? Why do I usually tear them to shreds?
I’m a film brat. I know it. Once in awhile people find it hard to discuss movies with me. Always, something sticks in my craw. I can’t take when people justify films:
“It was good, despite HIM being the director!”
“It was fun, even if it was a bit racist.”
“The plot didn’t make sense, but it was 2 hours away from my reality, so it did its job!”
But…I finally got owned by Superhero movie. By ‘Wonder Woman’. And I didn’t know for days.
The film was high-concept. I may be as detached from superhero movies as one can be, despite a history of loving the newspaper feel and ashy scent of a new comic when I was a child. I’m more nuevo-Russian and Andrey Zvyagintsev than action and USA-superhero adventure. More 8-minute shots of moody lighting than CGI-assisted high kicks and rig-aided jumps.
But inside me there lies a pop-culture heart that would like to love anything; even if I tear it apart internally. I also find Gal Godot easy on the eyes, and I wanted to see ‘Wonder Woman’.
From the start, I kept pushing my brat voice down inside and watched it:
- In ‘Wonder Woman’, everyone had a make-believe accent. I hated it but then in a split second it endeared me to the film. Almost as soon as I was pooh-poohing it, I thought: “This may be ridiculous, but it’s better than fake English accents on superhero planets in galaxies far away in everything else.”
- There was a woman, Diana, who wanted a destiny with no solid reason why. As soon as I rolled my eyes at the fact she would want to fight, I thought of my myself and friends. Why were we trying at this life at all? “Why should we need to be shown what we want? Why can’t we just want? We admire what we don’t understand already, and we work towards it often tirelessly. This is…startlingly true.”
- There was a disconnect between a daughter and mother. Then I thought… “A mother loves you in a way you may not understand, and you, as a daughter, want things she may not understand either.” Fuck…okay. This is making me want to enjoy this movie.
At this point, I’m realizing that I’m so engrained in this culture that I can’t NOT criticize it more than I ever would with a film where any male feels these things.
I’m complicit in a culture where what is normal is what others tell me what I want, tells me what female and familial connection should be, and tells me what an accent would sound like in a fantasy world. That I am even sitting there almost as a trained male gazer, questioning all I know to be true from even my own real-life experiences.
I’m already owned and we haven’t even gotten to the ‘World of Men’.
I giggled at light jokes about the Male Gaze shaping how we fit into their world. What we can and cannot do to fit into society.
I was chuffed when Diana walked into a war discussion with no embarrassment. I wish I could do that in my world; ask the questions I knew were right without fear of being fired or being shunned.
The fight scenes were fun. I found myself wanting to fight like Diana. I enjoyed a superhero who was emotional and honest; it made me want to be the same.
The outfits and the time-period were cool; the plot was straightforward.
There was a non-surprising turn where the “authority figure who you thought was on your side actually is your worst enemy” plot twist. That rang true for me, and maybe there is a universal feel within that one. Best friend betrays you, mother wants to hurt you, father needs to use you.
Anyways, there is much to be said about the details of ‘Wonder Woman’.
I stepped away wanting to see it again. For the music of Tina Guo (a talented cellist I knew from USC who deserves everything coming to her), for the diversity of the fierce Amazons, for the open-hearted hope that probably lies within all of us. For the fierce bad-ass power we may all want within us and our mental power-kicks, especially those of us in fields and worlds we feel marginalized in.
But I also stepped away denouncing a huge part of the film.
“IF THEY TOOK CHRIS PINE OUT, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO GOOD.”
I said. “Just take him out! Or let them not hook up! She doesn’t need that. If they even were chaste and loved one another from afar. Just take out the ROMANCE!”
And perhaps that movie could have been great or better without romance. It might have been. Audiences deserve a female-lead blockbuster where the lead doesn’t need romance to advance.
But then a guy from work stood up; younger than me and a USC graduate as well, and said:
“But we’re giving a powerful woman what all the powerful men in superhero movies have been getting forever. A romantic tie. All the superheroes have one, too. If we’re going to be equal, we’re just flipping the script.”
And then I saw it. Steven wasn’t necessary, just like all the women in the majority of the superhero movies that we’ve grown to know that have become our culture. His death was necessary to set off Diana’s quest, just as the majority of women have been in much of our superhero and literary culture. He felt ‘tacked on’ because WOMEN have felt ‘tacked-on’ in our cinematic and popular culture history.
He was charismatic, but expendable. Loveable and necessary. Not given too much of a backstory, because he advanced the narrative of our superhero. Great eyes, but he needs to die. He was the subversive shift that already know – this message that we need the opposite sex to change us and drive our force. We’ve been seeing it forever in almost all our cinematic superhero films.
He was what our female characters have ALREADY been for so long. If it makes us uncomfortable or comfortable, it’s something to investigate within our greater culture. Why do we need the opposite sex to change the direction of our driven journey? Do we need that driven journey?
In any case, superhero movies may not change much. But we have flipped the script. If it feels weird to some, let’s examine. If it feels right, let’s examine that, too.
But I was owned in my analysis of Wonder Woman. This is truly a classic Superhero Film.