Wonder Woman (2017) Review

(written in January 2018)

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Last night I finally got the chance to watch Wonder Woman. Today I’ve decided to review it. *THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Firstly, I knew nothing-nil-zilch about Wonder Woman prior to yesterday, and I know very little about superhero culture period. Maybe that means I’m not the right person to review this film; maybe it puts me in a unique position, having no preconceptions about Wonder Woman beyond knowing that she’s supposed to be a feminist icon.

Either way, I realise what I have to say goes against most of my friends’ opinions, both on- and offline. I can’t tell if this review is an ‘angry feminist rant’ or if I have something worth saying—after all, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m not here to answer those questions right now; take my thoughts as you find them, and please do tell me if and where you disagree.

~

Whenever I review a book or story, the first thing I look for is the primary relationship. Wonder Woman began strongly: there was potential for a royal tug-of-war between Diana’s duties to her mum and her dream to train with her aunt. Sadly, after the first plot point we saw no more of the Amazons—in fact the film barely passes the Bechdel Test thereafter! Instead to the forefront comes Diana’s relationship with Chris Pine’s character, Steve. And there most of my issues begin.

I’ll briefly mention instalove, because I’m forever criticising it and frankly it bores me. I classify the romance between Diana and Chris/Steve as instalove because they fall in love, have sex, and are parted by his death within the space of mere days (three/four days?). Throughout this time it’s unclear why she likes him, beyond the fact that he’s the first man she ever sees (EWWW). There is no chemistry; they don’t get to know each other beyond what her quest requires. The whole thing feels like an overblown statement of rejection to her all-female upbringing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with a woman having a relationship with a man, loving him, or having sex with him or with anyone else. It’s just as feminist for a woman to love and want a man as for a woman to do otherwise. What was not feminist was how the men treated Diana when she arrived in 1918 England.

Steve’s first move is to bundle Diana into the arms of his (female) secretary and abandon them at a clothes shop so Diana can find something less conspicuous to wear. While this scene was treated with practicality, mostly in Diana’s reactions to the uncomfortable and restrictive outfits with which she was presented, a makeover scene of any sort was surely unnecessary. How would a Wonder Man be introduced to Steve’s world? He would electrify himself on a toaster or accidentally crush a door handle. Wonder Woman was taken to a clothes shop and taught how to blend in. That made me really sad.

Sexist comments abound, which I will not permit even for the sake of historical context (my criticisms of the setting to follow). Most of the humour in the script comes from these comments. I like humour; I understand humour is a social construct; in this instance I also found it alienating, considering Diana’s naivety and cultural vulnerability. The humour is clearly aimed at men—come to that, the whole damn movie is written with one question in mind: “what would a man think of Diana at this moment?”

In another scene, Steve teaches Diana how to dance—again, something that would never happen with a Wonder Man. Then they go into a bedroom, he pushes her backwards as they make out, aaaand cut to black. Given that they met two days ago, have next to no chemistry, and he hasn’t stopped mansplaining since they landed in his country, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wish there’d been some verbal consent. And that’s notwithstanding her two-day whirlwind introduction to the male sex! Her position to consent at all is dubious at best.

Yes, it’s established that Diana is well-informed about sex. Yes, she read all twelve volumes of a book that concludes men are not essential to female pleasure. So Diana’s decision to have sex with Steve a few days later could be an act of curiosity, if not true love (I am sceptical). Yet for me, it seemed like an opportunity for men to get off on the idea of an inexperienced woman thinking she knows about sex, and a man stepping in and showing her what’s what. Plus there’s a sick reek of entitlement about the fact that he’s the first man she ever sees.

And if it’s my own insecurity imagining men are laughing at her as she admits proudly to having read all twelve volumes, and actually nobody’s laughing at all, then let that be a sign that everybody needs to do better.

Diana’s naivety is understandable given she grew up on an island paradise in a tribe of warrior women. What is not understandable is why some bloke called Steve was allowed to control and instruct her in fitting into his world merely for his comfort. It’s plain unnecessary.

The crowning glory came with Steve’s death. Because that was the moment Diana amassed the strength to beat her enemy. BLEUGH!!!! Yes, that’s right: Wonder Woman’s lover had to die for her to come into her full potential. Through heartbreak, she learnt that love was the only way to beat the God of War. Love of a man. Just, why?

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Now let’s untangle my issues with the World War I setting. I’m still racking my brains for why this particular war and time period was chosen.

From the beginning, ordinary German soldiers are demonised. One of Steve’s first lines goes something like, “I’m the good guy; they’re the bad guys.” And the Amazons proceed to slaughter the ‘bad guys’ for no apparent reason. It left me contemplating how differently the movie might’ve gone if the German boats had landed on the island ahead of Steve’s plane crash—or if maybe Steve had been a German spy and the boats full of Allied pursuers. Diana’s allegiance would surely have been reversed, and German lives would’ve been spared.

Which comes to that scene in the trenches. A glorious, sexy Wonder Woman heroically goes over the top, murders some Germans who, by the way, probably don’t know what they’re fighting for either, and what do we learn? That she’s pretty much bloody invincible. Whose idea was it to put a superhero in the trenches? I didn’t think the trenches could get much more unfair. I was wrong.

I was genuinely shocked when I discovered that this is an original WW story. The entire setting, in my opinion, was a sloppy decision designed to minimise worldbuilding—for a movie stuffed with gratuitous scenes that centre the male gaze! A feminist movie? Who was I kidding?

~

The most feminist thing they did was include a female antagonist: a brilliant Nazi chemist. But why did she have to have facial deformities? It hurts me every time an aesthetically diverse antagonist is juxtaposed against a hero with the world’s most symmetrical face. I’m so tired of the same trope over and over again: the demonization of the ‘ugly’ woman for the greater idolisation of the heroine, the ‘pretty’ woman. It reinforces the whole traditional beauty=good, physical deformity=bad thing – a narrative chiefly pushed by men, and frankly they can stop it. In fact, stop pitting women against each other without any nuance whatsoever. It hurts. And you know I said I was tired of the trope? I’m more tired still of Diana’s beauty and sexiness being referred to by the men around her again and again and again. Who wrote this damn script? Yeah, she’s attractive. Get over it.

~

I will admit that the feminist issues in this film are far from straightforward. Even the scenes that make me most uncomfortable contain acts and dialogue that do debunk the objectification of women. For example, in the makeover scene Diana asks, “How does one fight in this?” of an outfit. Yet for me, there did not seem to be any layer of awareness that it is a choice to include such scenes at all. That would have required Diana fighting back against the patriarchal stereotypes. There were throwaway comments, written in, probably, for either humour or brownie points. But there was no real substance to the so-called feminism in this movie, in my opinion.

In one respect, I acknowledge that Wonder Woman was not treated exactly the same as if she were a Wonder Man. Her gender is inherent to her presentation. But is that the aim, or is that the special hell of discussions around gender equality? My criticisms come down to the fact that the same movie can talk about men being inessential to female pleasure, and an hour later conclude that the ultimate female warrior cannot defeat evil without the knowledge of a man’s love.

In truth, I have barely even begun to unpick that.

And in fact, I hate that I’ve spent this entire review doing my angry feminist yelling about MEN THIS and MEN THAT. I loved Gal Gadot’s balance of strength and sensitivity. I loved the incredible Amazons, just…goals. I loved the shooting style and the CGI and the beautiful choreography. I wish there had been more of these complex, layered women and less of the insidious objectification and subordination of them.

I wanted a feminist icon and I suppose, all things considered, I got one. But that icon was Diana, who learned that drawing a sword does not maketh a warrior, and not Wonder Woman, who learned that to fulfil her destiny, she needed the context of a man.

That really brings me to my conclusion. My expectations were too high. Clearly, after all the hype, I imagined this film to be a feminist antidote to the male dominance centred in most superhero stories. But beyond having a female lead, Wonder Woman did not deliver. It’s another Hollywood blockbuster: a mediocre-to-decent superhero movie, but its feminism is as shallow as a gutter.

Cover Reveal – WHY I LOATHE STERLING LANE

I was honoured to read an early version of STERLING LANE, and today I’m thrilled to share the cover. It’s a fantastic contemporary romance featuring twins, pranks and steamy kissing, with enemies-to-lovers drama and humour aplenty. I highly recommend it to anyone stocking up fun summer reads! And now, without further ado…

whyiloathesterlinglane_final1600

Title: Why I Loathe Sterling Lane
Author: Ingrid Paulson
Release date: June 6 2017
Publisher: Entangled TEEN
ISBN (if available): 9781633757004 

Per her 537 rules, Harper Campbell keeps her academic and social life tidy. But when Sterling Lane transfers to her tiny boarding school, her twin brother gets swept up in pranks and schemes nearly to the point of expulsion. Harper knows it’s Sterling’s fault, and to protect her brother, she vows to take him down. Worst of all, he’s charmed the administration into thinking he’s harmless, and only Harper sees him for the rulebreaker he absolutely is.
 
But as she breaks rule after precious rule in her battle of wits against Sterling and tension between them hits a boiling point, she’s horrified to discover that perhaps the two of them aren’t so different. And maybe she doesn’t entirely hate him after all. Teaming up with Sterling to save her brother might be the only way to keep from breaking the most important rule: protecting Cole.
ingrid-paulsonIngrid Paulson does not, in fact, loathe anyone, although the snarky humor and verbal barbs in Why I Loathe Sterling Lane might suggest otherwise (and shock those who think they know her best). Ingrid lives in San Francisco with her husband and children and enjoys long-distance running, eavesdropping, and watching science documentaries. She has always loved books and writing short stories, but was surprised one day to discover the story she was working on wasn’t so short any more. Valkyrie Rising, a paranormal girl-power story, was Ingrid’s first novel. Expect another humorous contemporary romance to join the list soon.

A Change in Point-of-View

Music: Judie Tzuke–Blackfurs

Big news: I’ve finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!

I’ve learnt so much about Cephalonia, the fiasco of World War Two, and the passage of post-war civilisation. Gated, backward, quirky island culture was portrayed to a T (I should know). The humour was exactly my jam—from the first scene, during which Dr Iannis extracts a fossilised pea from his deaf patient’s ear. The characters were ridiculed without being trivialised, and the prose provoked thought without choking me on philosophy. I loved the recurring gags, such as the doctor’s system of peeing on his herbs in strict rotation.

Louis de Bernières is a master of bathos.

The eponymous character didn’t appear until over a third of the way through—an interesting decision, considering that the blurb gave me the impression of a love triangle. Yet I think it’s a strength of this book, and of many great works of literature. Note that Jane Austen limits even her ficklest characters to one love interest at a time (open to argument). Fact is, Pelagia is one of the greatest women I’ve ever read—she’s strong, honest, clever and unrelenting, admits temptation, admits regret, admits her morality is mostly circumstantial. Oh, yes, de Bernières pays great attention to the circumstantial! He’s not above beginning a chapter with ‘Dr Iannis was in a terrible mood for no reason other than the fact that it was a very hot day’ (or WTTE). It really is true to life.

Dayum, though. It gets dark. So much for a bittersweet, much-belated note of hope at the end: you only have to Google Cephalonia’s history to find out what the climax is plummeting towards.

Really what I want to discuss, though, is narrative perspective.

I often hear writers talking about which POV to use—first person, third, even second, tense. It can be hard to choose. I understand.

So, De Bernières was writing a massive ass hist fic. His solution to the which-perspective problem? ALL OF THEM. Chapter one is close third person on an unqualified, free-thinking Greek doctor. Chapter two is the first person monologue of Benito Mussolini!

There are chapters of letters showing the passage of time, chapters formatted like a dramatic duologue showing the progression of a relationship; it goes on. In the first half of the contents, seven chapters are entitled ‘L’Homosesuale’. It later becomes clear that these chapters are the sections of an Italian soldier’s ‘confession’ of his role in the war. This makes them easy to group and read in order later on, and see how his path crosses with the islanders.

I loved the thought and craft that went into it all—effortlessly, de Bernières sped up his pacing with a constantly surprising POV, incorporating aspects that broadened the story to far more than a mere romance or a tragic war crime. When you’re reading the POV of a goatherd mistaking bombs for fireworks, and an English parachuter for an angel, you know you’re in deft hands!

Now I talk about POV and me (because I’m self-centred like that). Ever since I started writing, it’s been in third person. I call it my ‘natural voice’; that’s where I feel comfortable. For that reason, I may have entertained a snobbish attitude at some point in my past, and for that I now apologise. I’m only just learning what a tool it can be to employ the right perspective. No POV is more valid, more correct or more effective than any other. It’s simply than different systems work for different books, and must be chosen accordingly.

I can’t believe how long it took me to recognise that! My WIP is in first person. It just is. One of my MCs has no physical presence (hard to explain, but it boils down to the word ‘ghost’). As a third person realistic contemporary writer, I’m soooo out my comfort zone it’s not even funny. But I got this. His first person POV feels so right.

Anyway, enough of me.

Check out this post by JA Goodsell, another #PitchWars hopeful, in which she discusses the merits of both first and third person and why it’s so important to think about your choice. 

Speaking of Pitch Wars, I’m so grateful to Brenda Drake and the team for putting together this enormous contest. ❤

I was lucky enough to snag some CPs via #FicFest a few months ago, with whose help I prepared my book for the contest. In submission week I met the Teen Squad (the other underage entrants (oops, that sounded as if PW has an age limit…)), and I’ve read two of their books so far. So. Much. Talent. I just want to squee about how wonderful and supportive this group is, how great it is to spar with GIFs, suss out our male characters’ underwear preferences, blaspheme against dentist appointments. These are real teens with teen worries and teen joys and a seriously good handle of real teen dialogue.

Rant over. It’s cool. I hope I’ll stay in touch with everyone I’ve swapped MSs with over the past three months, because what with my critique group and the #teensquad, I’ve finally found my people.

But hey, always room for more. Do comment your thoughts on de Bernières and/or narrative POV!

(anti-)Valentine’s Day Reads

Music: Arcade Fire–My Body is a Cage

Two posts within as many days about BOOKS. I know. Terrible, right? Considering I’m a Lit student and a writer.

Who’d’ve guessed I’d joined the anti-Valentine’s Day parade? My reading repertoire has decided for me, apparently. Frank Sinatra might be blaring out my speakers, but today’s reads defy the mood.

Oh, hello, Basil. Not sure what resemblance my brought thinks I have to John Cleese, though...

Oh, hello, Basil. Not sure what resemblance my brother thinks I have to John Cleese, though…

First up, we have BASIL by Wilkie Collins. The one is my nickname (courtesy of my brother), and the other one of my favourite authors, so I figured I ought to own this book. And read it, because you shouldn’t own books you don’t intend to read (mhm, I may be guilty…I’ve never even flicked through the Oxford Dictionary of Popes). Of course, before I ordered it, I didn’t realise that Basil, the titular character, falls in love with the linen-draper’s daughter at first sight. Ugh, that old trope.

basilwilkiecollins

His and Margaret’s marriage is secret, because Basil’s family are exceedingly class-conscious, and unconsummated, because Margaret is only seventeen. But the night before the pair are due to live with each other, Basil catches Margaret with her forty-year-old tutor!

The book is about the conflict between sexual and romantic needs—and, contrary to so much of literature, this time the woman (um, girl?!) is the unrepentant sexually precocious sinner and the guy the hopeless romantic.

Secondly, I’m reading THE MAID’S TRAGEDY, a play written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher in the early 1600s. My choir (I’ve cut back to one vocal ensemble now) are singing ‘Lay a garland on her hearse’, a madrigal setting of one of the verses in the play, so I thought I’d look it up. We’re not a clean-singing choir, but…to put it plainly, this is an Elizabethan sex tragedy.

The King orders his courtier Amintor to marry Evadne instead of Aspatia, the girl to whom he is betrothed. But the night after the wedding, Amintor discovers that Evadne only married him to conceal that she is the King’s mistress.

What with Aspatia’s father plotting revenge on Amintor, Amintor plotting revenge on the King, and Evadne’s brother prevailing upon everyone else to take their own revenges, there promises to be a veritable mound of bodies onstage in the final scene.

Faithless women (as that Eagles song goes). Okay, I get it. I’ll pretend it isn’t the world’s ‘day of love’ and enjoy my reading.

~

That said, I can always strip people and love from my lecture. See what just arrived in the post? MATHS AND PASTA. Yeah. Someone (an architect called George L Legendre, to be specific) actually wrote a book mathematically classifying about eighty different types of pasta.pastabydesignpastabydesign2

And this is the reading I like best. Because I really really like pasta. 😀

Light reading at the Premier Inn last week, when I competed in the UKMT Senior Team Maths Challenge for the very last time *sadness*

Light reading at the Premier Inn last week, when I competed in the UKMT Senior Team Maths Challenge for the very last time *sadness*

Positively Austen

Music: REM – Accelerate

This past week my electricity has been on and off. An army of emergency roadwork-men and their torture instruments have rendered my bedroom (at the front of the house with poorly-fitted windows) a place of misery and headaches. And I’ve lost so many documents halfway through the creation, between power surges, bah.

This afternoon the electricity has, however, steadied itself, so I’ve caught up on a few things.

So have I used my internet-deprived time wisely? Well, I read Emma (1815). And P&P has been supplanted from its post of L’s Favourite Austen.

Firstly, a quick summary.

Twenty-one-year-old Emma Woodhouse, rich, clever and beautiful, is Highbury’s most successful matchmaker…whose conspiracies accidentally ruin the prospects of all those round her, and eventually her own.

2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai - "Oohoo, my evil matchmaking plot is going to plan!"

2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai – “Oohoo, my evil matchmaking plot is going to plan!”

The long version:

  • Harriet Smith falls in love three times in a single year;
  • pompous vicar Mr Elton and his vulgar wife cannot find anything to say that could possibly entertain Miss Woodhouse;
  • old Mr Woodhouse remarks upon the wholesome nature of gruel;
  • Mr John Knightley disdains all that threatens his independence;
  • Mrs Isabella Knightley talks of Dr Wingfield, and her father Mr Woodhouse of Dr Perry;
  • Perry’s children steal the cake;
  • Mr Weston is too hospitable, and his wife too commending of Emma;
  • Emma flirts with Frank;
  • Frank gives Miss Fairfax five alphabet blocks spelling a name of some embarrassment;
  • Miss Fairfax remains ‘reserved’,
  • though her aunt Miss Bates expounds [at great, great length] upon her virtues every Wednesday;
  • Emma insults Miss Bates;
  • Mr Knightley scolds Emma;
  • and Emma finally realises that if anyone marries Mr Knightley, then it must be herself—Mr Knightley, her lifelong friend, confidante, the only one to point out her faults, whom she has taken for granted all her life, who has loved her eight years, but never kissed her hand.
2009 BBC serial adaptation starring Romola Garai - excursion to Box Hill

excursion to Box Hill, with all the main cast

Some are quick to note that Emma Woodhouse is an anomaly amongst Austen’s other heroines. Her financial circumstances are already advantageous, and she does not mean to marry. Though she promotes matches, and advocates the feelings of all her acquaintances, she does not know her own!

Emma and the exciting Frank Churchill

Emma and the exciting Frank Churchill

Nevertheless, in my opinion Emma is Austen at her most romantic. Not because Emma calls herself a matchmaker, but because the novel is her journey to discovering that she is in love, and he has been waiting for her all that time. In the ups and downs of their relationship, he is always right, and she wrong. His influence over her is the most beautiful thing—for he is the only one whose candid opinion Emma admits, however unpleasant. They know one another so well they’ll fit easily into conjugal routine—whereas even Lizzy and Darcy have only known one another a year.

C'mon, I couldn't leave this out.

C’mon, I couldn’t leave this out.

P&P is the ultimate happily-ever-after love story, and Darcy the ‘babe’ of ‘babes’ (due in some part, I confess, to Colin Firth in a wet shirt).

Personally I don’t feel that Elizabeth suffers enough. Her pride is wounded, eventually her love—but her interminable wit is her buoy in a roiling sea. Emma’s active presumption carves her misfortunes; she deals with guilt. Elizabeth is surrounded by people who have far more to regret than she! Emma is an anti-heroine (as, in effect, most of us are), but Knightley’s devotion is oddly more justified than any of Austen’s other heroes’–why, in the last pages of Northanger Abbey it’s admitted that Henry Tilney loves Catherine Morland out of gratitude! What if that were a universal rule?

"Abominable flirting! I want to dance with Emma!"

“Abominable flirting! I want to dance with Emma!”

P&P wouldn’t even rival Emma were it not more tightly written (80k as opposed to 120k), and lacking the incontestable Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse (I feel like screaming every time he mentions his gruel. No censure of John Knightley for voicing his frustration).

Persuasion is another rival of the time-assured P&P. It is Austen’s latest, and her characters comparatively ‘aged’ (Catherine is fifteen, roughly half the age of Anne Elliot). When I said that Elizabeth has not suffered enough, she has not half the suffering of poor Anne. ANNE IS STILL IN LOVE WITH CAPTAIN WENTWORTH, eight years after she rejected him. But she is gracious enough to suppress it, for his sake. The world needs more books about rejection. (Plus it’s so cool to think rejection is the only power women of that era had. Hence tragic that Anne was manipulated into it, and the Captain won’t humble himself a second time.)

Sally Hawkins looking tragic as Anne Elliot in the 2007 adaptation

Sally Hawkins looking tragic as Anne Elliot in the 2007 adaptation

Both film adaptations of Persuasion I find excellent. Equally heart-wrenching are the looks between Anne and Wentworth—in love, in denial, each in ignorance of the other’s devotion. It reads like a dream, for that’s what it is.

Another awesome thing about Emma is that there’s no direct antagonist. Emma’s demon conceit wreaks havoc, but she’s so HUMAN…I, at least, recognise her desire to manipulate people’s lives for her own amusement and triumph, though she may disguise it as genuine philanthropy. You can excuse her for wanting something to do with her life: single, childless, with an old father and an empty house, besides the societal pressures of being a woman at that time, Emma frankly has nothing better to do.

Mrs Elton and her 'caro sposo, Mister E', bleurgh *throws slimeballs*

Mrs Elton and her ‘caro sposo, Mister E’, bleurgh *throws slimeballs*

Anyway, there aren’t any Willoughbys and Wickhams with questionable motives: just a small town of multi-dimensional people who make their own suffering, not usually out of spite (the Eltons’ motives could be debated, but I find them more droll than malicious).

Finally the word play. Austen is famous for her way of twisting words to mock human and societal folly. Many people read her books solely for that purpose-

I was going to cite a few examples and analyse them and extol their wit, but I wrote this post in September and can’t remember where on earth my thought-chain was going. Perhaps I’ll finish that paragraph when I next read Austen. Sorry for any inconvenience caused, and for the abrupt(!) manner of ending. Perhaps it will amuse you.

"Hey, I didn't even know Mr Knightley could dance!" - the best of the Austen dances, hands down

“Hey, I didn’t even know Mr Knightley could dance!” – the best of the Austen dances, hands down