Movie Reaction: Wonder Woman

Published June 6, 2017 by Iphis of Scyros

Yes, “reaction,” not “review.”  I wouldn’t know how to give the movie a proper review.  However, I will admit that — despite an opening that disgusted me (which will be the focus of this post) — I was really digging it until a scene that had me muttering under my breath “No, no, no, no, no!” and “Don’t do it!  Don’t you dare do it!”  (At which point my brother leaned over and told me he agreed with me 100%.)  Unfortunately, they didn’t listen to me about that scene, and it pretty much wrecked the entire movie for me.  Aside from that, it’s the first movie in this new wave of connected DC movies that is actually, you know, a well made, competent movie with a script that actually plays like a single, proper draft, and features a cast of characters you can actually like, as opposed to a few likable characters surrounded by a sea of “meh.”  And it strikes me as hilariously ironic that they shifted the time period from WWII to WWI in order to avoid comparisons to Captain America, and yet they still had a Captain named Steve (played by a guy named Chris) who gathered together a small crew of interesting and multi-cultural buddies to help him fight the Germans, and I don’t want to go into spoilers, but there was an aspect of the climax that was rolling out the red carpet for the comparisons they wanted so much to avoid.

But none of that is what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is the astonishingly awful mutilation of Greek mythology.  (So, yes, feel free to dismiss this post as the whining of a mythology geek.  I really don’t care what anyone else thinks of me.)

Now, it’s not that I went in expecting the mythology to be handled with anything resembling accuracy.  I’ve seen a lot of episodes of the animated Justice League show that was on Cartoon Network…uh…whenever that was (I’m thinking early 2000s?), and my brother and father are both hugely into comic books, so I’ve heard a lot on the subject from them.  So I knew already that Ares was Wonder Woman’s biggest foe (and always had been), and that the reboot changed her very cool origin of a statue brought to life to the hyper-boring origin of being a daughter of Zeus.  So I knew what I was going to see was not going to be anything even remotely accurate to the myths or the personalities of the gods described therein.  But I wasn’t expecting anything this mutilated.

Very early in the picture (definitely in the first ten minutes), the child Diana is told a bedtime story about the gods and the duty of the Amazons by her mother, Hippolyte.  Given that it was so early in the picture, I feel like I can discuss it at great length without it being considered a spoiler, but just in case anyone feels differently, I’ll put it on the other side of the “Read More” tag.

To sum up the bedtime story, Zeus created man in his own image, creating him to be perfect and pure (guess he’s not in Zeus’ image after all!), but Ares didn’t like humanity, and corrupted them so they would kill each other, putting an end to his father’s spoiled new pets.  The Amazons were then introduced in order to save mankind from itself.  Mankind enslaved them, but Hippolyte led a revolt, fighting a war so the Amazons could escape their bonds.  The other gods, meanwhile, tried to stop Ares, and he killed all of them but Zeus.  Zeus, with his dying breath, left “the godkiller” with the Amazons, a weapon capable of killing Ares, just in case he survived his own injuries.  And the Amazons had been waiting all this time (evidently ageless), just in case Ares ever rose up and needed smiting.

WHERE DO I EVEN BEGIN?!

Every single thing about that story is f***ed up beyond belief.

Okay, not quite everything:  there are some versions of the creation of mankind in which Zeus made them.  But the version in which Prometheus made human beings is the one more usually repeated these days.  (Which was the more prevalent belief in ancient Greece is sadly not something I’m in a position to answer.  I’m not even sure if that can be answered.  Especially since it wasn’t uncommon for them to view their myths more as allegories than truths.)

To answer my earlier question, I guess the only place to begin is at the beginning.  So let me just tear this apart piece by piece, in order.

So, the creation of man.  Well, like I said, there is a version where Zeus created man.  Neither that nor the more familiar version in which Prometheus created the mortals gives any strong indication of the reason the mortals were created, or any details into whether or not they were particularly pure, though the Hesiodic version includes successive types of mortals created from different materials, each type more susceptible to wickedness than the one before it.  Whether that was by accident or design is not something we’re really told.  But aside from the near-Biblical “creating man in his own image” bit, this isn’t too terribly wrong.  Not especially right, either, but…

Next claim:  Ares didn’t like humanity.  This is where it starts its rapid disintegration.  The description of Ares’ detestation of humankind is pretty much exactly what a kid in Sunday school is told regarding the jealousy of Lucifer causing him to rise up against God.  So problem one is that they’re trying to recast Zeus as the Christian God, and Ares as the Devil.  Problems two through five are tied together in a jumbo knot:

  1. (See above)
  2. Ares has no particular dislike of humanity in any of the myths.
  3. In fact, he quite digs human women.
  4. Zeus has no particular fondness for humanity.  (Other than the pretty girls of it, anyway.)
  5. No myth I’m aware of has ever described Ares as having any particular desire to monopolize his father’s attention.

That ridiculous claim leads right into the assertion that Ares invented war and bloodshed to wipe out human beings.  Okay, no.  Just plain “no.”  War pre-dates Ares:  Zeus and his siblings went to war against Kronos and his brothers long before Ares was born.  While there are myths where one of the gods tries to wipe out humanity, it’s never been Ares:  it’s always been Zeus behind it, and it’s never been anything as sloppy as getting them to wipe each other out.  (Okay, when I wrote the previous sentence, I was positive there was more than one myth where Zeus tried to be rid of the humans, but suddenly the only one I can think of is the flood…)

Then Hippolyte claims that the Amazons were created to counteract Ares’ influence and save the mortals from themselves.  The implication of the accompanying visuals is that there were no women until the introduction of the Amazons; I’m not sure if that’s what one was supposed to take away from it, but if there were women in the earlier shots, I didn’t notice them.  (I was, after all, already somewhat gagging on the attempt to turn Ares into Lucifer.)  Now, women were created after men in the Hesiodic version of the creation of man, in which Pandora was the first woman, but she was created to punish Prometheus for helping the humans.  (Yes, in Hesiod’s misogynistic world view, woman was a punishment to man.  Or to one man, anyway.  Er, one Titan.)  In the version where Zeus created man…I don’t think we have any details.  If we do, I don’t know what they are, and I’m not sure where I put my reference books, so I can’t check right now.  But let’s look at the other aspect of this claim:  the nature of the Amazons.  Hippolyte claims they were a force for peace, to save mankind.  Uh, what?  Amazons are famous for one thing and one thing only:  being women who fight.  (Well, also for having only one breast, but that was a late addition to the myth, created by a false etymology.)  Typically, in myths, they either want nothing to do with men or fight to conquer them (or at least to drive them away from their lands).  Adding in a touch of reality, the real women who may have inspired the myths of the Amazons weren’t an all-female group, but came from cultures where the men and women both fought equally.  But I’m not expecting them to adhere to reality; I just want at least a mild respect for the myths.  (After all, trying to get the myths and the reality to work together is nearly impossible.)

The next claim is that mankind enslaved the Amazons.  Okay, well, if you’re taking “Amazons” to mean “women” then there is a certain grain of truth to this, but only from a very stilted point of view.  Ancient Greek women had very little freedom — depending on their social standing — but Mycenaean women had more freedom than their descendants, and one usually views the myths as taking place in Mycenaean times, so it’s still a hard sell, to say the least.  If you’re not taking “Amazon” to mean “woman” here, then this becomes even more stilted.  Individual Amazons were enslaved after being defeated in battle (but so were countless men, and their associated non-combatants even more so), but the Amazons as a society were never enslaved.  In fact, though most ancient Greeks probably wouldn’t have admitted they felt that way, Amazons were sort of looked at as the ideal wives — Theseus married one, and a number of other heroes (including Heracles and Achilles) fell in love with one and would have married her if possible — so the notion of enslaving them as a group is extremely contradictory.

I’ve got no complaints about Hippolyte leading a revolt to free the enslaved Amazons.  That’s what an Amazon queen would do if she and her people were all reduced to slavery.  It never happened in any myth, but it at least flows logically for who and what she is.

The next two are the ones that are really brutal evisceration of the mythic figures.  The first of those two is the claim that the other gods tried to stop Ares from forcing the mortals to destroy themselves.  Yeah, not gonna happen.  Not one god tried to stop Zeus from drowning the mortals — as far as I know, there aren’t any myths where they even tried to talk him out of it, let alone raised a weapon against him.  (And yes, there are myths where some of the other gods fight against Zeus.)  Then again, we have no surviving Athenian drama about the flood (though from the lists of play titles, it seems there were some about the human survivors, if nothing else), so it’s possible that within the ancient literary tradition they did at least try to talk him into showing mercy.  It is highly improbable that anything else happened, however.

Of course the real kicker is what the story claims happened next, with Ares killing all the other gods.  First thing first, let’s get something straight.  The gods are immortal.  That means they can’t die.  Despite some fears from Zeus that he would be killed by his own son, there are no myths that deal with the deaths of the gods.  Even the elder generations — the Titans and their own forebear Ouranos — aren’t killed, merely defeated and shoved aside/sealed away.  So it’s impossible to kill the gods, for starters.  And on top of that, Ares?  They expect us to accept that Ares could defeat and kill all the other gods, working together against him?!  B-U-L-L-S-*-*-*!!!!!  I’m sorry to shout like that, but seriously!  Ares was a wuss of a war god.  Athene defeated him regularly.  Because the Greeks had two gods of war:  Ares and Athene.  Athene represented the strategic warfare favored by the Greeks, and Ares represented the brutal and bestial aspects of warfare, the ones they associated with non-Greek cultures.  Because of that, Ares was consistently represented as the weaker god.  (Except in Sparta.  His cult there was very strong.  But Sparta was so different from all the other city-states that Herodotus felt the need to write an ethnological treatment of them the way he did for the Egyptians, Persians and everyone else non-Greek.)  And Zeus was the most powerful of all the gods, no matter whose version of the myths you were reading, so none of the other gods would ever be able to defeat him.  (Even teaming up against him, they always lost when they tried it.)  On top of all that, there is absolutely no way that Ares would ever raise a even a finger against his mother!  Ares was a momma’s boy.  (Though in his defense, most of Hera’s children had mommy issues.)  The very concept of Ares killing Hera is laughable.

The rest of the bedtime story is “hi, I’ll be your plot for the evening,” but seriously, I have to address the part about it being the duty of the Amazons to stop Ares.  Now, yes, this (sort of) goes back to the original comics.  But c’mon!  Do you know what the phrase “the daughters of Ares” was?  It was another way to say “Amazons.”  And Penthesileia, the Amazon Queen who fought at Troy, you know who her father was?  Ares.  In fact, in Quintus Smyrnaeus, Ares is so enraged by his daughter’s death that he’s about to storm down onto the battlefield to avenge her personally.  I do understand why Wonder Woman’s original creator chose Ares as her primary foe, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong, mythologically.

*snort*

All right, rant over.

I mean, I could probably keep going for hours, but I don’t think I’d cover any new ground if I did.  (Actually, I’ve already been at this for hours, now that I think about it…)

Bottom line, though, I’m not trying to talk anyone out of seeing it.  It’s the first of these connected DC movies that’s actually good (even if that one scene, in conjunction with the brutal assault on Greek mythology, did completely kill the movie for me), so I don’t want to tell people not to see it.  Aside from the two bits that have me seeing red, the writing is good (and the non-mythological aggravation was almost certainly something an executive insisted on) and has the cohesive focus that all the others have lacked.  The acting is good (even from Chris Pine, who gained such a reputation for being awful after the first two Star Trek reboot movies), and the totally-not-the-Howling-Commandos are a lot of fun.  And I’m pleased to say that every person Diana mentions Ares to knows who he is.  (Admittedly they all ask “the god of war?” rather than “the Greek god of war?” which is probably what people would say, but…yeah, that’s minor.  Although, now that I think about it, in 1917, very few (non-Greek) people would have known the name Ares:  she’d have had to call him Mars for them to know who he was.)  And I do understand that the studio wanted the gods killed off so they wouldn’t have to pretend Wonder Woman had a non-divine origin, yet they’d never have to deal with them again.  But knowing why it was done does not make it better.

I’m just really, really ticked off by the mythology abuse, and I wanted to rant about it.

(Wow, I’m suddenly posting again!  One yesterday, this one today, and the IWSG post tomorrow!  Plus I wanted to post something later this week about something I read the other day.  I doubt it’ll last (especially since I’ll be doing the July session of CampNaNo) but it’s kind of impressive anyway.)

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