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Eating My Words on Wonder Woman

eat words

Oh, look at all these words. Oh… yum… gulp… so delicious… so meaty. So good… so good to eat… so scrumptious… I’ve never eaten words as good as this before. This is delicious. Scrumpf… glomp… chew… oh so good… so satisfying… filling…can’t get enough…

So in 2012, I wrote a blog about how we’d never see a Wonder Woman movie, or at least a good one. Let’s take a look at some of the points I made and why I was wrong.

“…to make Wonder Woman translate to today’s audiences, you would have to alter her so radically that she wouldn’t resemble Wonder Woman anymore. … Someone’s going to leave unhappy — either the fanboys or the casuals.” 

Well, what I didn’t count on was that the movie was going to make someone else happy — women. Not just geek women or romcom women or intellectual women. Just… women. They kept the character… mm, I hate to say it but “generic” enough so that everyone could project on to her. One tweet said “Is this why men watch superhero movies? Because I feel like taking on an army after seeing Wonder Woman.”

And why wouldn’t you be excited? How nice would it be to not be afraid of men? Someone who didn’t have to hold her keys in her fist walking through the parking lot, who doesn’t have some bald man staring at her on the subway, who can sit in a bar without some drunk stranger telling her to “smile more”. Wonder Woman doesn’t let anyone shut her down or interrupt her.

This is the flaw in DC movies — they try too hard to please everyone and rely too much on focus groups. Hence the movies are bland and messy and deviate too much from source characters (e.g. Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, Superman v. Batman). As a result, the movies have no flavor. They’re bland. As colorless as… as… well, as a DC movie (come on guys, you gotta do color correction!) Wonder Woman is not an exception. It’s as gray as a warfare first-person shooter. But it did the best it could. And one hopes that the Justice League, which has some characters who aren’t so grimdark (Aquaman, Flash), will pick up that slack too.

But my point is, they didn’t radically change Wonder Woman. In fact, they didn’t make much of her at all. Didn’t take any risks. Didn’t add any flavor. They didn’t change a McDonald’s hamburger recipe. She was built for a
task, she goes out to fulfill that task. No dead cancer mother or
alcoholism or past life as a criminal. She doesn’t have any flaws (being naive doesn’t count) that make her broken. In fact, her role is to nurture the broken — the Irish guy with PTSD and the Blackfoot exiled from his tribe. If Captain America is the father-figure of the Avengers, Wonder Woman is the mama lion of the Justice League.

“Wonder Woman is intrinsically bonded to its creators predilections towards bondage and female dominance. Wonder Woman is frequently shown either tying up criminals or being tied up.”

I had trouble separating the comic book from the character. For one thing, I think I wrote this around peak “but the comics were better” fanboyism. This was when The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man came out. Everyone else (I’m looking at you DC and Sony) screwed it up because they deviated too much from the source material. Batman couldn’t live up to The Dark Knight, and Spider-Man was receiving a too-soon reboot. Marvel planted its flag with The Avengers, but it still failed the Bechdel Test.

See up to this point, comic book movies always keeping women as sidekicks — Captain America: The Winter Soldier had Black Widow, Guardians of the Galaxy has Gamora, Thor has Jane, Iron Man has Pepper Potts. And being sidekicks, these women had little definition. Black Widow is “the spy”. Gamora is the “warrior-princess”. Pepper Potts is the sassy secretary. These are not characters, they’re archetypes. When you make a main character that character has to be “broken” in some way. And if you make a woman broken, you get flak saying “how dare you represent all women as [this condition]”.

Wonder Woman fights no criminals, pursues no bad guys. The movie is about World War I and takes a few pages from Apocalypse Now, traveling from the bureaucratic offices to the front lines. But where that storyline became darker and darker, Wonder Woman gives hope. Hope that, with courage and friends, you can take on anyone.

The concept of binding or being bound within the film is removed completely. There are no games and no rope play. Wonder Woman herself is never bound (in the comics, that’s her one weakness, so it’s surprising that doesn’t make it in). Moulston might not approve of the film, but he’s not here. And the world’s moved past that kind of Wonder Woman. Yes, it does stray from her original spirit, but it changes her character for the better.

“How would you even start the story?”

They did it the best way — simply. They left only the basics. Not too many characters get shoved into foreground because once Diana leaves the island, we never see them again. We stay on Wonder Woman the whole time. Even when we have to deviate with some backstory narration, it takes the form of her bedtime story.

“The problem is there’s a stigma around Amazons.”

wonder woman movie supporting cast
The right way
woman bodybuilder muscles
The wrong way

I worried that characters would become “entitled, bitchy woman with more masculinity than femininity who can’t form social relationships”. The concept is that this secret island holds Zeus’s ripping cool army just in case he ever needs it again. This avoids turning into a land of man-haters (because they’ve worked with men in the past). It also helps that the set and costume design comes from women. They knew how to make feminine warriors without being booblicious.

As far as Diana’s concerned, there’s a little of the “born sexy yesterday” trope. But her character’s development is more about the transition from classic-style honor-fighting to modern warfare. But she still likes babies and ice cream. She doesn’t have the mind of a child so she can hold a conversation without sounding like Sally from Third Rock From the Sun (not that I don’t hold respect for that character, but she was played for laughs). I saw a bit of Bones in her, but not in a disdainful way.

“The first thing you’d have to do is totally revamp the costume.” 

They did, but not very much. For one thing, you don’t see the costume until her iconic charge out of the trench. Until then, it’s cloaks and robes. After the big reveal, you can see they kept the color scheme, but made it grayed out metal.

There’s no explanation for WHY she’s wearing it, and that bothers me. In the plot, she stole some armor from the Themyscira vaults, but it has no context, nor explanation why it looks different from everyone else’s. But this movie’s made me pay more attention to the beauty of the outfits than all movies I’ve seen in the past thirty-six years (I’m 36) combined. They even manage to have a costume montage in the middle. But its more about where she can store her sword, not what’s tantalizing.

Still the best dressing montage there is.

“The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that her weapons and tools just don’t make sense. … First, [the lasso of truth is] not a very exciting power. Second, it becomes a deus ex machina.”

There is actually surprisingly little of Wonder Woman wielding her signature weapon. She uses the sword, shield, and bracelets more. The few times she does use it is either for interrogation (and he is barely tied up) or as a whip. The plot doesn’t demand that she use it either. At the time, I was thinking of plots like The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3 that are full of deception and intrigue. But more to the point, she IS the weapon. She’s personified defense and offense, not strategy or intelligence (in the spy sense) or moral relativism or power through any means other than selflessness. Also, no silly invisible plane.

“[G]olden bracelets that can stop bullets. … The only things they could block are tiny cocktail swords. … [Y]our wrist bones would shatter as soon as a bullet hit.”

The bracelets are glossed over in the plot. I believe in the comics they’re formed of the shield of Aegis, which is like DC-adamantium. But she does use them and somehow has the reflexes to stop an incoming bullet. Is that explained? No. Her powers are kept ambiguous, which is a disadvantage because it makes her overpowered. They don’t even explain why she doesn’t age. I wouldn’t be surprised if some audience members thought her “god killer” power was the bracelets instead of within herself.

“[F]our words: aim for the legs. The well-exposed legs.”

This still stands, but it’s a problem among many movies. It happens several times to Captain America and no one bats an eye, so I guess we’re all agreeing to ignore it? Rule of cool?

“Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman had the screwed-up relationship of “I Dream of Jeannie”. Wonder Woman’s got all this power and ability, yet she feels incomplete without him.”

In this movie, Wonder Woman absolutely does not NEED Steve Trevor. Well, she does NEED him, in the sense that he’s her liaison into the world of men. But if she got a map to the front or some notes on how British government works, she’d be fine on her own. This is probably the biggest deviation from the comics, but also the most welcome. And it would have been the easiest pit to fall into.

Diana does not have a romance with Steve and Steve doesn’t treat Diana as anything but a peer. A fellow soldier and a means to an end. They both want to end the war. Steve doesn’t necessarily believe in this Ares nonsense, but he’s seen her take on a boat full of Nazis, so he’s got the proof and the pudding.

“Etta Candy? Who is she supposed to be? Comic relief? Is she like the Theodore of this triumvirate?”

Etta Candy is a pleasant cameo, but little more. She’s really the only other woman in the cast who’s not a Themysciran action figure. And they give her dignity. She’s not food-obsessed or man-obsessed. They did her right by not giving her a stereotype or archetype. She doesn’t have a “thing”, unless you count being delightfully British.

“[T]he biggest problem with the supporting characters is that Wonder Woman has no memorable villains.”

I think this still stands. I could see the Ares thing a mile a way and General Thunderbolt is just another Red Skull/Bane/Popeye pastiche taking Super Serum (don’t you know you never get high off your own stash?) The same thing happens in the first Thor, the first Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and the first Spider-Man. But it does avoid the “designated girl fight” and doesn’t go on too long. Dr. Poison was the most interesting (I imagined her like Dr. Tenenbaum from Bioshock) and it’s a shame she got such an uninteresting ending. But we got thrown cars and explosions, so how much can you complain about it?

Final thoughts: Yes, thumbs-up. I am bullish on Wonder Woman stock. I really hope this gets directors and producers to realize that yes, women-led movies, both in front and behind the camera, can make money. And even better, they make good art.

Disney Movies: Male vs. Female Protagonists

disney dollar mickey

I was thinking, when it comes to Disney movies, what characters come to mind?  Cinderella, Elsa, Snow White, Tiana.  So why is it then that male-led Disney movies outnumber female-led by two to one?  Do they make more money?  I decided to run the numbers and take a look.

MOVIE
YEARBUDGETGROSSNET
The Little MermaidF198940211171
The Rescuers Down UnderM1990374710
Beauty & the BeastF199125424399
AladdinM199228504476
The Lion KingM199445987942
PocahontasF199555346291
The Hunchback of Notre DameM1996100325225
HerculesM199785252167
MulanF199890304214
TarzanM1999130448318
Fantasia 20002000809010
DinosaurM2000128350222
The Emperor’s New GrooveM200010016969
Atlantis: The Lost EmpireM200111018676
Lilo & StitchF200280273193
Treasure PlanetM2002140109-31
Brother BearM2003100250150
Home on the RangeF2004110103-7
Chicken LittleM2005150314164
Meet the RobinsonsM2007195169-26
BoltM2008150309159
The Princess & the FrogF2009105267162
TangledF2010260591331
Winnie the PoohM2011304414
Wreck-It RalphM2012165471306
FrozenF201315012001050
Big Hero 6M2014????

Average: $232.88
Variance: 77529
Standard Deviation: 278

Someone smarter than me can analyze these figures, but it seems that some basic statistical analysis tells the whole story. There may be more male-led movies, but they have a bigger tendency towards failure. Female-led have a lesser failure rate, with the only big loss being Home on the Range (in as far as Roseanne Barr playing a cow can be called female-led). The Lion King is Disney’s biggest hit, and remained “the king” with the biggest profit margin until Frozen came along.

Some other notes:

  • Wow, I had no idea Rescuers Down Under was such a bomb. That’s usually the dark horse of the Disney movies — one everyone likes as adults looking through nostalgia goggles.
  • Disney doubled its budget on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Why? Did they have a troubled production a la Empire of the Sun/The Emperor’s New Groove? Did buying the rights to the book cost a lot? What was different?
  • Like Rescuers Down Under, I find a lot of people enjoyed Emperor’s New Groove (at least through the memes), but the numbers don’t show it. Maybe there are certain movies that have a better long tail than other, and I wonder if there’s a pattern to that.
  • Treasure Planet is Disney’s first deficit within this timeline. I haven’t seen the movie myself.
  • At Tangled, Disney makes a big jump in their budget. It’s their first combo princess-CG movie, that might have had something to do with it.
  • They say Wreck-It Ralph is a Disney movie, but it sure felt more like a Pixar movie to me. You got a director and a writer known for episodes of “The Simpsons” and another writer known for WALL-E.

There may be some discrepancy with the fact that there are fewer female-led movies than male (almost a 1:2 ratio). The averages seem to indicate the worst male movie is worse than the worst female movie, but the opposite doesn’t hold true. Disney’s best male-led movie was The Lion King, thirty years ago. It’s best female is Frozen — one year ago. If Frozen wasn’t in the picture, would the numbers be skewed? Somewhat. But the conclusions would be the same.

That being said, it seems to me that Disney would be smart enough to start using more female-protagonist movies. They don’t have to be princess movies, but that does seem to be their bread and butter. Too bad Disney doesn’t have some sort of equivalent for boys. Disney Supers? Maybe that’s where they’re going for with Big Hero 6? Time will tell.