Op-ed: Can Wonder Woman just be Wonder Woman?

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, June 7, 2017 5:01pm
  • Opinion

In the new “Wonder Woman” movie, the heroine is mystified by the ways of humankind — and she doesn’t even read the internet.

The fevered commentary about the new hit film raises the question, “Can’t an Amazonian superhero wield her Lasso of Truth and bullet-deflecting bracelets while wearing an up-armored version of a figure-skating outfit without inciting more battles in the culture war?” This being contemporary America, the answer is, “Of course not.”

“Wonder Woman” had a huge opening weekend, a deserved triumph for its lovely lead actress, Gal Gadot, and its director, Patty Jenkins. The movie is winsome, charmingly ridiculous summer fare with a smidgeon more depth than most superhero movies.

The critics have swooned, and some of them have literally cried over the movie. This is a bit much. The advancement of women in this country, or even just in Hollywood, didn’t depend on the production of a better female superhero vehicle than, say, “Elektra” (Rotten Tomato rating: 10 percent). Nor is it unusual anymore to see women beat up villains on screen. This hasn’t stopped people from losing their minds — a new American core competency — over “Wonder Woman.”

Why doesn’t she have armpit hair? Summarizing this controversy that erupted when the trailer was released, The New York Times wrote that “the lack of body hair on the female warrior makes us wonder if feminism was swept aside in favor of achieving the ideal female aesthetic.” (The Wonder Woman character has existed for about 75 years — and has never once sported armpit hair.)

Did you know that Gal Gadot is Israeli and served in the Israel Defense Forces? Lebanon certainly noticed. It banned the film. Actress Gina Rodriguez tweeted her disapproval of the ban, then deleted her tweet under internet pressure.

Then there are the clashing interpretations of the movie. It’s “a masterpiece of subversive feminism,” according to The Guardian. No, it’s not, according to a writer in Slate, who complains of “its prevailing occupation with the titular heroine’s sex appeal.”

This isn’t the first time that Wonder Woman’s looks and attire have gotten her in trouble. When the U.N. named her the honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls, U.N. staff members objected over the character’s iteration as “a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions.” Guilty as charged, of course — the U.N. quickly dumped her.

Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, is the spawn of the gods, and such creatures tend to have better-than-average looks, especially when they are depicted in major motion pictures. As for her outfit, most superheroes are distinguished by their inappropriate, physique-bearing costumes, and why would a self-confident Amazonian be different?

The movie is certainly a feminist allegory. Diana is doing just fine on the all-female island of Themyscira when a dude shows up, a wayward American pilot who crash-lands. Then everything goes wrong. She ends up leaving with him into the human world, where she confronts and spoofs mystifying practices (woman squeezing into corsets, councils of war excluding women, etc.) and where World War I rages.

This is catnip for feminists, but surely what accounts for the film’s runaway success is its traditional elements. A thread throughout is the lighthearted cross-cultural romance between the fearsomely powerful, if nonetheless feminine, Diana (she delights at babies, ice cream and snowflakes) and her human love interest.

Diana is an admirably idealistic instrument of outraged innocence. Her Amazonian ethic means she rejects dishonesty and cynical maneuvering. She doesn’t exactly fight against the Germans — as the original comic-book character did in World War II — so much against warfare in general. But she is righteous and brave.

By the end, Diana comes to realize that humankind is worth saving, despite our flaws. Perhaps the least of them, although an annoying one, is our inability to simply enjoy a deft, entertaining summer blockbuster.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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