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In the final battle in Patty Jenkins's blockbusterista Wonder Woman, our heroine at last triumphs by slamming her giant broadsword —the absurdly-named "God-Killer"—straight through her prone enemy.
It's more than suggestively Freudian. It's a straight up hate-fuck.
Since her 1941 comic book premiere, Wonder Woman has inspired an enormous amount of critical thought—often feminist, often psychosexual. Her creator—eccentric Harvard academic, free-love advocate, and B+D enthusiast William Moulten Marston—described Wonder Woman as "psychological propaganda." Inspired by feminist utopian fiction, Wonder Woman was built to be a role model of gender equality, to empower girls to be strong, courageous equals to men. Marston promoted the idea (in kinky yet oddly wholesome ways) that women were "love leaders," and a patriarchy that could learn to submit to female power, and/or embrace sisterhood as an equal alternative to brotherhood, could usher in what comics expert Noah Berlatsky described as an "erotic matriarchal utopia."
The new Wonder Woman dispenses with this richly textured backdrop, and in the interest of wider box-office appeal, offers a Wonder Woman whom enemies of feminism will find agreeably meaningless.
We meet Young Princess Diana, in her Moana-like beginnings, at her home on Paradise Island. Plucky and precocious, young Diana learns the ways of the Amazons—muscular, humorless women in leather gladiator/cheerleader skirts, brass headbands, and eyebrows plucked into angles of gravitas, who spend their days practicing archery, swordplay, equestrian stunt-riding, and leggy, tanned-glute-revealing, anti-gravity Caipoera air-spins.
In long and tediously animated exposition, Princess Diana's mother Hippolyta narrates the backstory of the all-female island of Amazons. She explains that Ares, the God of War, is their enemy—he once enslaved them to Greeks (though she neglects to mention that their bullet-repelling Bracelets symbolized their former slave-shackles, and were intended to remind the Amazons of their vow to never to capitulate again to male dominance.)
Diana is shown the great weapon of the Amazons: the "Godkiller," a giant broadsword a la Excalibur. This, her mother the Queen explains, ensures the peace of Paradise Island—and she prays that nobody ever needs to use it.
Dissolve to: Princess Diana, grown up, in the form of model/actress Gal Gadot. Gadot, it must be noted, is absurdly white-phosphorus Hot—a Natalie Portman 5.0, likely built by the same roboticists who created Alisha Vikander. So it is almost understandable that perhaps in an attempt at fealty to Ms. Gadot's Israeli nationality, the Amazons speak with an accent only describable as "Transylvanian Hobbit."
"Dhey do not desarve you," Hippolyta tells Diana, when she explains the evil nature of human men, leaving out the usual, "Men just want to get into your scabbard."
Destiny appears in the form of Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a WWI flyboy whom Diana saves from drowning when he crashes into the sea with a stolen German fighter plane. Diana has never seen a MAN (or even a man) before she rolls Captain Trevor onto the beach in a From Here To Eternity shore break-moment. When he awakens, she stares at him with wide Hentai eyes of sparkling virgin wonder (not unlike Daryl Hannah in Splash!).
Once bound in the golden Lasso of Truth, Captain Trevor is compelled to disclose his secret mission, with a face that suggests one of the Amazons is utilizing the power of an Invisible Prostate Exam. He explains the nature of war to Princess Diana: there are "Good Guys" (he is one of them) and "Bad Guys," who are basically Nazis, even though it is only 1918 (because apparently Germans have always been Nazis, in our current American mythology—which comes from comic-books, after all).
Then comes a Blue Lagoon moment where vestal Diana walks in on the Captain Trevor naked, in one of the cavernous yet blue-glowing hot tubs of Amazonia. She regards him curiously in his ripped, oiled Magic Mike-like splendor with something like a reverse male gaze—which ends up in a double-entendre conversation about the size of his penis, which he assures her is larger than average.
Thus inspired, Diana, against the wishes of her mother, resolves to stop all wars by going to the Front with Captain Trevor to slay Ares, the God of War himself, and save mankind. Diana and Steve Trevor sail a boat together back to London, where she is an innocent mermaid-out-of-water, an Eliza Doolittle with just a skosh of Tarzan-meets-Pretty Woman. She doesn't understand societal rules, and she can't dress in the latest London fashions without throwing her Edwardian skirt over her head to see if she can kickbox in it. It's so adorable to see her beautiful face enjoying ice-cream way too much for the first time, just like a baby.
Since she's most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen, Trevor attempts to conceal her beauty so she isn't so "distracting." She is outfitted in a fetching secretarial suit, and the ultimate beauty killer: nerdy black glasses (the introduction of which compelled a drunk guy in the front row of the screening I attended to scream, "She looks even hotter now!")
Courtesy Clay Enos / TM & © DC Comics
Wonder Woman is introduced to Etta Candy, who, in the early Marston comics, was her brave and plucky best friend. Here, she is a frumpy suffragette working as Trevor's secretary. "Where I come from, they call that being a slave," Diana Prince remarks when Etta describes her position. They do not become close friends.
Female camaraderie has been replaced with a Band of Brothers: Captain Trevor's ragtag team of multinational, soldier-of-fortune miscreants. There is an Arab secret agent (Algerian actor Saïd Taghmaoui), whose expertise in deception nonetheless belies an uncomfortably colonial Gunga Din-subservience, and a drunken Scot (played by Ewen Bremner, most memorable for his role as a worthless junkie in Trainspotting, here with the same Village Idiot haircut) who exemplifies Drunken Scottishness by shouting things like "PUT AIT DOON, WOOOMUN" while wearing a kilt.
In the midst of a convoluted plot concerning an evil German General and "psychopath" scientist (a Turkish woman wearing half of a sectional plastic face that looks like it was modeled on a collapsible version of Angelina Jolie), Diana is informed by the enemy (a dramatically abused David Thewlis) that her true destiny, as a child of Zeus, is to be a living superweapon.
In one fell caped-crusader swoop—SPOILER ALERT —Wonder Woman's original motivations of peace, justice and girl-power are replaced with the same justifications employed to warrant the testosterone rampages of action heroes like Rambo, Chuck Norris, or The Road Warrior. Captain Trevor heroically sacrifices himself in battle (shortly after devirginating Diana), and her Goddess energies and love-leadership are replaced with a narrative of personal vengeance. His death enables her to finally access her ultimate core-power, strip down to the full metal swimsuit, and become personally thermonuclear.
And here we come to Wonder Woman's dramatic climax: the impalement of her enemy on the "Godkilling" Excalibur—an ultimate, totally unsubtle act of penetration. It doesn't require any kind of degree in semiotics to acknowledge this mythologically, symbolically, or historically—a giant stabbing weapon is pretty much the last thing that womanhood represents.
It plays straight into the heart of mass female manipulation, via the beauty industrial complex: no girls can grow up to be like this Wonder Woman. This virginal alien princess Wonder Woman can't befriend or relate to other women—she is too exceptional in every way.
She's a leggy woman-child Charles Bronson who always looks like she's in a slow-mo hair commercial while killing Germans in a metal monokini.
She's a Victoria's Secret Angel of Death in war-machine panties. She's Shock-and-Awe Barbie. She's a femme fatale Panzer with Pantene Hair, the ass of a 10-year-old boy, and enough megatonnage of revenge to insure American adventures in imperial expansion for as long as the franchise survives. She is the daughter of Zeus, made of clay—and it is her super-hot boyfriend who creates her mythological awakening by bestowing and conferring male power into her with his magic penis.
At a time like now, when feminism feels so embattled, muted, and ridiculous; when the economy starves men, but women 17% more so; when there is absurdly dystopic material like The Handmaid's Tale actually making emotional sense on Hulu—this Wonder Woman isn't a women's liberator or a symbol of girl-power, but a mighty collaborator in ongoing feminine oppression.
Feminism has made few strides since the seventies, and Cinderella myths are destructive enough already. Pro-war propaganda that drives young women onto battlefields is the last thing American needs, now that a girl can legally be shot in the uterus, but still can't control what happens inside it. Wonder Woman suggests that little girls need to grow up not just to be supermodels, not just supersoldiers—but actual weapons of mass destruction.
Wonder Woman could have been the first real girl-power, big-budget action movie, but sadly, all of her Amazon energy was castrated in the service of making her an agent of propaganda.
The most nauseating thing about this Wonder Woman is its jingoistic obscurantism. In a pure Orwellian sense, Wonder Woman is telling us that War is Peace and that Love is Hate—and that women, in their Amazon Prime, are virgin supermodels, nuclear missiles, and most of all…they are men.
Cintra Wilson is a culture critic whose books include Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style, and Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny.