Friday, June 9, 2017

Wonder Woman: The Hero We Need

There are a lot of really good reviews about the new Wonder Woman movie. I really feel no need to replicate them. One thing is clear: this (most excellent) movie has generated a lot of enlightening discussion about how women are portrayed in media.

I posted an article on my Facebook wall last week hoping for some discussion. I was not disappointed. Several friends whose opinions I value* weighed in with some thoughtful if not at times profound observations. Rather than writing a review, I am simply going to let this conversation unfold. (If you want the full effect, you will need to click on the links to read or watch the various links.) Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section!

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Here is the opening article that started the conversation: 




Can we cheer Wonder Woman as a symbol while being disappointed in it as a movie?
UPROXX.COM

Comments
Becky Childs Maybe I'm missing something--she fought to *end* war and save innocents; that's not the same as fighting for the sake of war itself or for power. I do agree about wishing we lived in a world where this movie didn't have to seem groundbreaking.
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Anthony Weber I thought the article made a good point about her motivation. Is it really that different from the men's ? At least the good guys? They too want to end suffering. They too wish that war would end. And WW was just as ready to use violence to bring about peace as they were. She did it to end the suffering of the villagers right in front of her; they men did it to end all wars. Couldn't one argue these are complimentary things? I felt like the movie was trying to show that women wage war from compassion and love and men from...well, I don't know. Corrupt hearts because they are men? Because men love violence?I think one could argue that both men and women wage war and long for it to end for the same reasons. 

FWIW, I really liked WW's idealism and nobility. It was refreshing. She's right: she is too good for them. But that idealism also contrasted well with Steve's world-weary but honest realism. In the end they felt like compatible views to me, not contrasting ones. Both had something to offer the other.  I'm still mulling this over.... I may need to see the movie again... 
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Becky Childs Sure there are some similarities between WW and the male superhero counterparts (though how similar seems like a case by case comparison). She did strike me as having an extra compassion bone ("Oh, your sharp shooter can't shoot? That's cool, he can sing for us.") I guess it felt dismissive of WW by boiling it down to a gender swap, and what's the big deal anyway? With all due respect to the (male) writer, I am going to throw down the woman card and say there is a piece here you can't appreciate fully. Maybe just let us have this one.  Also, good idea about seeing again to be REALLY sure 
Becky Childs Also I felt like Steve had a heroism that was admirable too--WW had super powers to back her boldness, he did not. His bravery was going into battles with no certainty of winning. ALSO, YOU COULD HAVE SHOT THE PLANE FROM THE GROUND. 😭
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Karl Meszaros I think there's a massive difference between Steve's view of the war and WW's view. Steve is against the idea of war. He's concerned with the war in theory. He speaks of millions of people dying. But when he sees people suffering right in front of him, he doesn't really care. I think this true of many superheroes. They do what they do because they have a great responsibility to do so. WW does so not from duty or responsibility, but because she legitimately cares about people. It's one of the most admirable traits anyone can have.

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Becky Childs There is maybe something to be said about WW not being desensitized to the war. WW had been training for a battle her whole life that might never happen. When tossed into the reality of actual war torn despair and having the ability to make a difference she didn't or maybe couldn't pass the buck. 

"I've tried doing nothing" from Steve echoes the humans living and breathing war and seared a bit emotionally by the enormity of it and their own limitations. I think WW brought a second wind to Steve who was understandably hedging his bets on changing the big picture while being more callous to the everyday "little" problems in front of him.

Karl Meszaros As far as I can tell, the author has a real problem with superhero movies. That's fine, I get it, but his complaints are a little pointless. It would be similar to me doing a review of Downtown Abbey. It's not my genre. No matter how good it is, I'm not going to like it. I felt like he was all over the map, so I'm going to concentrate on his complaints about, from his pov, the muddled view of war the movie presented. 

I think Jenkins [the director] picked WWI for very specific reasons. It was a very complicated war. It hard to describe why it was even fought. I think the director was trying to point out how complex war is. Here are some examples. 

1. When WW is speaking to the Native American solider, he tells her it was Trevor's people who took away his people's lands. 
2. In the scene at the end of the movie, the Germans take off their masks and cry, presumably because the war was over. In doing so Jenkins humanized the enemy in ways that we don't normally see in these kinds of movies. They weren't faceless cannon fodder; they were real people. 
3. Despite her heroics in No Man's Land, WW can't save the village. It's gassed a couple of days later. 
4. Ares didn't start the war. It was sinful man who started the war. Ares only wispered into man's ear.
5. Killing Ares didn't end the war either. The was ended when humans negotiated a truce.

I thought the view of war and humanity was nuanced and brilliant. This wasn't a Marvel movie where a surface philosophical question is solved by two superhuman beings punching each other in the face. There wasn't an easy solution to solve war. There was just the question of whether she believed in humanity enough to give up paradise to help, or if she was going to allow mankind to get what they deserved.

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Becky Childs Agree about the nuance and humanity shown. Much more sensitive treatment of the characters than I'm used to with the genre (I take Logan out of the equation). And guess what--for me nothing was lost as far as the satisfying fight scenes. The villain was not a man but war itself, as far as I saw it. I didn't have a problem with the bait and switch about who the bad guy was for that reason. 

Anthony Weber Okay, so what do you think of this distinction as a summary: WW sees the individual people, and believes that by saving the people ( or fighting evil one village at a time) she can eventually end the war. Steve and the solders also see the people, but believe the opposite approach is necessary: they must end the war so they can save the people, even if that means overlooking immediate human tragedy. The movie would seem to support Steve's approach because of how the village dies after WW saves them because the war has not been ended. Is that fair or no?

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Becky Childs I think she does see the people. But the village felt like a road stop on her quest to kill Ares--she was about the big picture as well. She just couldn't turn a blind eye to what was clearly in her path. I don't think she planned to continue one mini battle at a time. I agree Steve and his men were using their strengths to sort of pull the ole "bomb the one weakness in the Death Star" trick to affect the war at large.

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Anthony Weber Good point.

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Becky Childs I don't blame Steve either for his approach--it was strategic given his manpower and ability. Storming in like WW did by himself would have been of no good to anyone. Being self aware of what needs done and what your personal ability is to affect change seems like it played into the approach. Interestingly Steve did not stick with his plan of not getting involved in these smaller problems when he saw a path to victory with WW drawing the fire power in the No Man's Land. He was quick to reassess and run into battle with a chance of success.
Karl Meszaros Here's where I think they differ practically. Steve is basically a utilitarian. He's trying to do the most amount of good for the most people. In doing so, he's willing to allow any number of atrocities to slip by. I suspect that if the scene was WWII, he would be in favor of dropping the atomic bombs on two civilian cities. WW would oppose such an action. She is more deontological in her philosophy.

Becky Childs WW was getting her butt handed to her when fighting Ares at the end until the whole plane thing and "I believe in love" gave her a crazy burst of power that was the unstoppable death blow--she knew it was enough because she said goodbye to him before the blow. Seems like love and believing are the heroes of the day--trying to think if that rings true with other movies of this genre? Love as the ultimate weapon?

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Karl Meszaros Star Wars. The Emperor wasn't killed by a lightsaber, but by a father's love for his son (and an oddly placed bottomless pit 😀).

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Becky Childs I don't think of Star Wars as a super hero movie though...guess I was driving at if this counts as a distinct feature of WW compared to Iron Man, Batman, Superman, Captain America, etc. Its not what they deserve, it's what you believe....and she believes in love. I guess I am pushing back against the writer saying in essence "isn't this just a gender swapped super hero, great for little girls to look up to (eye roll for the patronizing tone here...certainly doesn't seem to appreciate most ALL women enjoying a well made female led super hero movie for ONCE) but how is it really any different, blah blah blah."

Karl Meszaros Anthony, check out this review.
https://youtu.be/_yVBXqWZJgs


HISHE Reviews the new Wonder Woman. There are spoilers here! Beware of your viewing and comment scrolling. Watch More HISHEs: https://bit.ly/HISHEPlaylist Su...
YOUTUBE.COM

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Anthony Weber "We all want Wonder Woman to be real." That's a great summary.

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Beth Milligan I don't feel this way about every movie, but for this particular movie, I'm not incredibly interested in reading a male critic's take on whether "Wonder Woman" constitutes progress. For one, I completely disagree with the author's premise that the film feels only like a "mediocre" gender-swapped superhero movie. You don't get the highest-rated Rotten Tomatoes superhero film ever by just replacing the male lead with a female in an otherwise stale and derivative script. (You'd get instead a million think pieces about how maybe women can't carry a superhero movie.) 

But more importantly, I don't think a male critic will truly understand what this movie means to women, particularly in this political climate. I've read multiple reviews from female critics who've spoken about unexpectedly tearing up during WW's fight sequences. The exact same thing happened to me, completely out of nowhere, when the female warriors first stormed the beach. Even as I was watching these badass women leap into action, I was thinking to myself, "Um, why are there tears streaming down my cheeks right now?" I was blindsided by my emotional reaction to that scene. Then the same thing happened multiple other times throughout the film. 

Probably seeing WW directly after watching The Handmaid's Tale was an unusually cathartic experience on my end. But in general, male viewers or critics will not come to WW with the same void caused by years of absence of representation on screen. They won't have internalized their gender constantly being portrayed as only a sidekick or sex object until that somehow hardened into self-belief, or carry into the theater infinite personal experiences of misogynistic micro-aggressions, piling up one after the other. They won't be bearing the particular female-dismissive weight of this political climate in the same way women will. And so they will likely not experience the same wondrous, empowering, cathartic, primal release many women feel while watching this film - a film that feels like it was made by and for them.

I don't want to alienate any men from weighing in on this thread, because I appreciate the thoughtful insight of Anthony, Karl and others. I'm enjoying the analysis here. Also, I generally don't divide my movie criticism down gender lines. I'm just explaining from my own experience that I believe many women will experience this film in a powerfully different way than men. Accordingly, reading an analytical male think piece on how WW isn't really progress may not be high on their to-do list.

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Anthony Weber That's good insight, Beth Milligan. When I read the review, I was thinking more of the conundrum of motivations/actions in the war (see my last comment on the next thread). I wasn't thinking of the gender issue - but that probably reflects my being a man, and not realizing how significant this movie is for women. I appreciate your explanation of how and why it impacted you. I hope to learn....

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Becky Childs Like I said early on--there is a piece here that men will not appreciate. It's just true, even if I don't want to use it as a trump card... I think it is appropriate in this case. It feels similar (though obviously not on the same scale) as when people were celebrating Obama as the first black president, but some were quick to point out he's actually half white. What is gained here by the "well actuallys" of pointing out how Diana isn't THAT special? If your gender or race isn't the one experiencing the breakthrough, maybe ask why it's significant instead of trying to find chinks in the armor that isn't yours to wear. Just don't understand the motivation behind the article besides diminishing the joy of a breakthrough moment by being tone deaf to its significance. Very frustrating.

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Karl Meszaros This may sound strange to you, but I kinda sorta get it. Growing up in the 80's all the action heroes were huge muscle-bound kinds of guys. There wasn't a short action hero. That's why I've always had a particular love for Bruce Lee. He wasn't much taller than myself and by all accounts he was a real life tough guy. It has always saddened me that he died when I was 2. But watching him fight 7'4 Kareem has always been a strange thrill for me.

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Becky Childs Karl, I have never agreed with you more about any subject than Wonder Woman. 

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Karl Meszaros Becky Childs I keep checking the weather to see if there's a meteor about to slam into the Earth 

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Beth Milligan For comparison's sake, a female-written analysis: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.../wonder-woman-and-the...

Reactions to the film show exactly why, yet again, representation matters.

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Becky Childs I hadn't read anything prior to seeing the movie. When Princess Buttercup of my youth turned the tables from being the damsel in distress to freaking SMILING as she rode out first to meet the enemy, my heart exploded.

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Anthony Weber For the sake of discussion, and because I like to think through these things...

1. I like the distinction they reviewer makes: the men are fighting the symptoms, Diana wants to stop the root cause. When she finds out the root cause isn't Ares after all but
 the corrupt hearts of humanity, she shifts her purpose to addressing that. 

2. The reviewer notes she has a strong moral compass. She sees injustice and immediately does what she can to stop it. She inspires people not to become cynical and jaded, but to believe once again that they can make a difference, and that evil can be stopped. That's good stuff. 

3. If this guy's theory is true - she makes up that final conversation with Steve and believes it to be true - does that suggest one of the messages of the movie is that it doesn't matter what we believe as long as it inspires us? Or maybe that reviewer is way off, and WW actually means we must believe in nobility, goodness, peace, truth, etc.

4. For the sake of discussion, let's say WW and the other soldiers' motivation are different. She fights for love and compassion; they fight for duty. They both are willing to do use the same means (violence); they both want peace. Is the motivational distinction really that important?

5. Here's something I haven't heard discussed. She had the highest body count in the movie (at least among the good guys). The Dark Knight became really dark in Batman v. Superman because he finally decided to kill. When Superman starts killing (I'm thinking of the comic book arc where he becomes the world's dictator), he's thought of as a terrifying monster, especially because he's a god against whom no one can stand. But Diana is god too. Why is she heroic when they are not? Does it boil down to motivation?

I am not looking to argue... I just like thinking through these things. Thoughts?

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Karl Meszaros I won't comment on #4, mostly because I feel like heroes don't kill is one dumbest tropes in superhero movies. It makes no sense at all.

However, I would like to comment on this point: "I agree that her heart is broken by the suffering, but I would 
argue that that doesn't make her unique. There is no reason to think that's not true for the men too." Show me where that's true of men, either in this movie or other superhero movies. Batman does what he does out of pain and loss. Superman does good things because he was raised by two sets of nearly perfect parents. Spiderman acts out of guilt. Wolverine often ignores the suffering around him. For me as a man, it's her compassion for her fellow man that makes her a special character. You ask if motivation is really that important. I say yes. As a Christian, I would say that why you do something, is as important as what you do.

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Anthony Weber Agreed about other male superheroes. I was thinking of the soldiers in the movie. Logan is the antithesis of Diana. Thor is another one who seems to take it personally if anyone messes with earth, but I wouldn't call it love or compassion as much as Thor defending his duty and his personal honor.

As for why we do something as a Christian, motivation is important. I am wondering, though, if duty and love aren't often contrasted when they should be thought of as complimentary. I take my cue of what my duties are based on what (or who) I love. Diana's compassion/love is front and center in her character. Men aren't generally like that  I don't think that means that is not in them. Maybe it's just expressed in different ways?

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Karl Meszaros Anthony Weber, where do you see soldiers in the movie showing compassion for those people who they come in contact with?

Should duty and love be complimentary? Sure, but I don't see that as being the case generally in the world. I think the movie reflects that.

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Anthony Weber Oh, I just meant that there is no reason to think the soldiers are not compassionate also. As Becky mentioned earlier, they have been through the hell of war. Maybe they are just weary.

Karl Meszaros Also on #2 part B. I don't think it's about "it doesn't matter what we believe as long as it inspires us". Rather it's that she chooses to believe the best about those around her including Steve.

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Anthony Weber I like that distinction.


Becky Childs Anthony, I think it's tricky with this one because saying "men just don't get it" pretty much shuts the conversation down and is an easy way out. The best I can explain it is there is an emotional connection to the significance of this movie for some of us that transcends the sterile analysis of WW vs male superheroes. Does that make sense? Objectively speaking if you take just this one movie and compare it to one other starring Captain America or whoever you will maybe be hard pressed to see how Diana is some far and away different hero. 

Except until five days ago we didn't have her in this format. This is a movie that is unlike anything we've ever had for a woman super hero lead. It didn't happen in isolation. It came out where there was a void for this type of movie, and it was done really REALLY well. It came out in this political and cultural climate. It was released to a gender often fighting battles that go unseen every day as the "weaker" sex. Women in theaters crying at the fearless Amazon women fight scenes in the beginning was not about cinematography or costumes or fight choreography, but something much bigger.

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Karl Meszaros This is where you and I may disagree some Becky. I didn't get the feels that you did because she was woman, for the obvious reasons. Why I got the feels was because you couldn't replace her with any other character. The 1st Captain America movie was very similar to the WW movie. The big difference was the character of WW. That she was driven by love, compassion, and hope made for a very different movie for me.

I'm going back to the scene with the sniper. This is one of my favorite all time superhero scenes. The guy is broken. He was brought on the mission to do one thing and he's incapable of doing that one thing. It's also probably something that made him feel like a man and gave him great pride. It's now been stripped from him. He's also face to face with a very beautiful woman who has done things that no else could do. Amazing special things. He's probably never felt worse about himself or frankly more impotent. If you replace Diana with Captain America in that scene, Steve Rogers probably talks the guy into going home. He's no longer useful to the mission and is probably a distraction. In doing so, he would strip away whatever pride the sniper had left. Diana's response was so much better. She basically looks at him and tells him that he has value, not because of what he can do, but because of who he is. I got a little choked up on the "but who will sing for us" line.

Anthony Weber Check out who she is and what she has done in real life: Miss Israel, veteran of Israeli Army, attended law school. In some ways, her life aligns with WW's character. http://heavy.com/.../gal-gadot-military-service-israel.../

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Becky Childs Also, she was five months pregnant shooting pick up scenes! 😳

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*Becky Childs is, among many other things, an excellent artist. Check out her website, rebeccachilds.com. 
Beth Milligan is the head writer for The Ticker and a frequent contributor to the Northern Express and Traverse City Business News. She has written for the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Traverse Magazine, NM3 and MyNorth.com, among others. She also  appears every Friday at 10am on The Christal Frost Show on WTCM Radio to discuss the week in news.
Beside being a close friend and the head of children ministry at our church, Karl Meszaros is one of my go-to guys on all things comic and super hero related. He occasionally hosts Film and Theology evenings at our church, and he does an excellent job walking us through the worldviews embedded in our culture's stories.  

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