There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Justice League. That it mistreats the character of Wonder Woman isn’t one of them.
I cried the first time I watched Wonder Woman in theaters.
After years of watching male fronted superhero films, I was finally able to watch a powerful, empathetic and beautiful woman kick ass on the big screen without being ‘one of the guys’ or eschewing traditionally feminine traits.
I actually cried each of the six times that I saw Wonder Woman in theaters, every time in a different place. At one showing, it was when Diana stepped out into No Man’s Land; at another, it was as she sailed away from Themyscira and everything that she’d ever known.
Wonder Woman gave us a woman who was as powerful as she was empathetic, as strong as she was kind, as beautiful as she was badass.
Justice League gave us that exact same Wonder Woman.
Now, if you’ve read any of my articles here, you know that I’m a fan of the DCEU and of Justice League. However, I want to make it very clear that I’m not so much a fan that I would blind myself to sexism or willingly ignore misogynistic tones and themes. I think that it’s important to always think critically about the media that we consume, even — and perhaps, especially — that which we love.
In fact, I watched Justice League three times and each time made sure look carefully and think critically about its treatment of Wonder Woman.
And each time I was frankly baffled by the narrative that I’ve seen emerge around the internet — that Justice League somehow mistreats or does a disservice to the character of Wonder Woman.
Yes, there are legitimate criticisms of the way in which it treats the Amazons and Diana — which I’ll definitely address — but there are also a few criticisms that I consider anywhere from unfair to just plain fabricated.
Spoilers for Justice League below.
Diana, the Amazons and the male gaze
Of course the movie is not without reproach.
It sometimes caters to the male gaze in a way I never really worried about when watching Wonder Woman. We see Wonder Woman’s butt more times than is necessary, which to me is any number over zero, and there is a cringe-y let’s-have-a-male-superhero-accidentally-fall-on-top-of-a-female-superhero-for-laughs joke that Joss Whedon apparently thought was a good idea to recycle from the Avengers.
The issues of the Amazons and their clothing, which took the internet by storm a few days prior to the release, is definitely something worth noting. I’m just not sure how big of a note it really needs to be.
For the uninitiated, a behind the scenes photo emerged that showed Amazons in what was described as ‘leather bikinis’ posing in front of the batmobile. It’s irritating, especially since the photo was juxtaposed next to the fully outfitted group of Amazons from , who are standing around in armor that isn’t midriff bearing.
Yet while that behind the scenes photo is troubling, the reality of the movie doesn’t reflect it.
The Amazons are as badass as ever and as covered up as they ever were in Wonder Woman. Yes there are definitely midriff baring warriors in Justice League, but it seems like a weird brand of selective memory to suddenly forget that such midriff bearing warriors were present in Wonder Woman as well.
There is one scene where it stood out to me in terms of the costuming, but even then I felt what was emphasized was the power and strength of the women rather than their sexuality (but ymmv).
I’m not saying we ought not to be critical about the ways in which we outfit women in our superhero movies — we definitely should be. And there are definitely moments to be critical of in this film.
But by and large, the Amazons in Justice League aren’t lounging around on tops of cars like import models, meant only to be overly sexualized eye candy. They are warrior women, badass and competent as ever, and the Themyscira scenes stand out as some of my favorites in the film.
Wonder Woman vs. Superman
One of the age old questions in the DC fandom — other than who would win in a race between The Flash and Superman — is who would win in a fight between Superman and Wonder Woman.
It’s been endlessly debated over the years, with Superman more often than not coming out on top though, as with all things in all fandoms, it depends on who you ask.
There’s been criticism that in this movie, Wonder Woman was de-powered and de-legitimized in order to prop up the male superheroes.
This is an odd conclusion, seeing as she’s the leader of the team — initially with Batman and then on her own — and obviously just as strong as Superman.
While we might point to the fact that the fight between Superman and the Justice League when he first returns goes in Superman’s favor, it’s also worth mentioning that Superman was confused and angry and 100% not holding back at all, whereas Diana very obviously had to do so since: she didn’t want to hurt Clark, whom they just went through the trouble of resurrecting; she didn’t want anyone else to get hurt, since they were in the middle of a city; and she had to worry about the rest of her team, the members of whom are a 40 year old guy with no powers, an inexperienced college student who runs fast, a second college student who can barely control his mechanical body parts, and guy who talks to fish.
She very clearly holds her own during the battles with Steppenwolfe, who is so powerful he was once only defeated by an alliance of Amazons, Green Lanterns, Atlantians, Old Gods and all the tribes of man.
You never get the impression that she’s ever really in trouble, only that she can’t exactly be in two places at once. She can’t save people and worry about saving her inexperienced teammates and defeat Steppenwolfe all on her own.
She certainly needs her teammates, but I don’t think that needing other people to help you — physically or emotionally — means that you’re weak. In fact, that these heroes all need one another is pretty much the entire point of the movie.
To call Diana de-powered in this movie is to disregard the Wonder Woman film, decades of comics history and everything going on on-screen before your very eyes.
Women: They can be beautiful and badass!
In Justice League, people are often struck by Diana’s beauty. Barry Allen is flustered the first time he meets her, Alfred teases Bruce about her, and Aquaman comments on just how beautiful she is when he inadvertently sits on her lasso in what might be the funniest scene in the movie.
This isn’t all that surprising since Gal Gadot is indeed a beautiful woman and Wonder Woman is canonically one of the most beautiful women in the world.
What is surprising is this: That her beauty is now somehow a mark against her, that it now means she is nothing but a beautiful woman who takes a back seat to the men in the movie.
I’ve seen criticisms saying as much, citing the fact that people take note of her beauty as proof that Wonder Woman is primarily seen as a sexual object rather than as a heroic teammate. As if to be beautiful is to negate any other traits a woman might possess and as if the exact same thing wasn’t also pointed out numerous times by basically every single character in Wonder Woman.
Now, this would absolutely be a problem — if that was the only thing people around her noticed. But it’s not. Not in Wonder Woman and not in this movie.
Yes, Wonder Woman is beautiful and yes, everyone — from Steve Trevor to Etta Candy to Alfred Pennyworth to Arthur Curry — notices it.
But you know what else they notice?
That she’s a powerful warrior and an empathetic leader. That she’s the best fighter among them and the one that they all trust to make the right call. They never question her leadership or her fighting prowess. There is never a single moment of doubt or disagreement that she’s the best among them.
One of the best and most interesting points of Wonder Woman was that is showed that women aren’t — and never have been — just one thing. They are not just beautiful or just strong or just kind. They are never ‘just’ anything.
It’s a point that continues to be made in Justice League as well. Diana is beautiful, yes, but it never, ever makes her any less of a badass.
Diana and the puzzling narrative of ‘sexual tension’
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve watched this movie three times. Each time, I looked harder and harder for the sexual tension that I kept reading about on the internet.
Each time I came away even more confused than before.
I know what Ben Affleck said about the reshoots, but I also know what I saw with my own two eyes and thought about with my own thinking brain: Diana has exactly zero percent sexual tension with anyone in the film.
Even I, who’ll be writing a third article for Hypable this Friday just about a ship that I love, who ships any and everything, who wants and loves romance in every single one of her fictional stories, could find no signs of sexual tension between Diana and anyone in this film.
In fact, I’ve heard the sexual tension and flirtation described as feeling forced and can only come to the conclusion that it feels forced because it is indeed being forced into the film by viewers who don’t understand the difference between team chemistry and sexual tension.
Because even though his death canonically happened over a 100 years ago, the absence of Steve Trevor is deeply felt in this film and it’s obvious that Diana is very much still in mourning and still in love with him. In Batman vs. Superman, she calls Bruce a little boy; in this film, she calls all the men she works with children. Wow, that sexual tension is really off the charts, isn’t it?
At most, the relationship between Bruce and Diana is similar to that of two decades-old divorced parents who get along well enough to co-parent successfully. Quite literally the only tension between the two of them is actual tension, because Bruce is often kind of an asshole.
Her relationship with both Cyborg and Flash is more maternal than anything, while her relationship with Aquaman is somewhere between a teammate and your trouble-making younger brother.
There was certainly plenty of team chemistry between her and the rest of the league, but chemistry similar to the way you might describe the chemistry on a basketball team. The type where you know you can count on your teammates to assist you when needed, help you make the winning play, and make sure you win the day.
Nothing sexual about it.
I’m ride or die for the DCEU and I stand by my absolute love for Justice League.
But I’m not blind to its faults.
It could’ve used about thirty more minutes to really flesh out the flow of the first act, the CGI was dodgy in a couple of places, Steppenwolfe was a somewhat tepid villain and I’d really very much like Joss Whedon far, far away from any of my beloved superheroes and especially far away from any female superheroes.
The point is, there are plenty of legitimate criticisms one can levy against the film.
There’s no need to fabricate ones for the sole purpose of getting a few more clicks on the internet.