This weekend I had the opportunity to watch the new Justice League: Gods and Monsters. I actually wasn’t all that interested in seeing it for several reasons, the top two being that DC hasn’t really been hitting it out of the park with their animated releases lately and frankly, I have a list of pet peeves that always seem to pop up whenever something is rebooted as “darker and more gritty.”
Well, thank you DC for only proving me a little right.
SPOILER WARNING: From this point on, there are going to be A LOT of spoilers, so consider yourself warned because here we go.
Overall, Gods and Monsters is not a bad movie. In fact, in a lot of ways, it is really quite good and an improvement on some of DC’s more recent stuff. There was a lot of talk about the return of Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett (writers on the original Batman: The Animated Series) and a familiar art-style from DC’s animation’s glory days, and I will admit that the result was pretty darn interesting. The story did manage to pull me in, regardless of some raised eyebrows in the beginning. But here is the problem, once you take a moment to step back and think about the film more broadly, you start to realize that DC still has some ground to cover when it comes to women.
Now before anyone comes along and starts to tell me that you have watched the movie and I am overreacting, the fact of the matter is that no matter how many different ways we try to say it: representation matters. Not only does it matter in that there are women included in these movies, but HOW those women are characterized, how they look, and what their role in the story is also matters. Just because Lois Lane is her usual confident self and Amanda Waller is president doesn’t mean that the writers just get to tick off a box on some imaginary checklist and be done with it. I would like to see follow through. This is especially true when we are talking about the two woman most central to the action of the film, Wonder Woman and Tina, Will Magnus’s wife.
Wonder Woman has arguably the most interesting back story of the main characters. Just as grand as Superman’s intergalactic heritage, we discover that in this universe Wonder Woman is Bekka, a family member of the New Gods. After her wedding to Orion ends up looking a lot like the infamous Red Wedding from Game of Thrones, Bekka is exiled on Earth. This is good stuff except for two things. The first is that we get yet another story where a female character is essentially defined and called to action by losing the man she loved (because she knew everyone else was going to die, but losing her husband was the breaking point), but we also get this:
I understand that at this point it might seem like splitting hairs when we get a Wonder Woman who at times can be both fierce and vulnerable, but it works as a reminder that it can only go so far. She gets sexualized in this silly top that at times I think proved that maybe the animators didn’t actually understand how breasts work. It’s not a deal breaker, nor is sexuality in general, but this is one of those cases where there are no characterizations to back it up, and if anything, the strength of the story makes this stick out even more. All I ask is that it doesn’t feel gratuitous. And at times, this sorta does.
As for Wonder Woman’s story line, it certainly isn’t something we haven’t seen before. At face value, it is a more violent version of Romeo and Juliet where Bekka was naive enough to think that a) her family would choose her happiness over power and b) Orion would have been ok with the slaughtering of his family if he actually made it through the wedding himself. She was in a no win situation. And in a lot of ways, this is a loss of innocence for her. So yes, it is interesting to watch, but it still feels secondary to the nature vs nurture comparisons we get with the Superman in this film who is now Zod’s son and no longer had the idyllic small town upbringing. Bekka, like so many other super heroes, must now find a way to reconcile herself with her past. She has potential to be the most interesting of the “Big Three” and I really hope that she is explored in future series and films.
The second woman in this film is actually the one who bothered me slightly more. Tina, Will Magnus’s college girlfriend turned wife, isn’t completely unlikable, but she sure does serve as a type. She is sweet, a little sassy, takes care of the two men in her life, and is well…just nice. The thing is that the two men in her life are brilliant scientists, and what exactly does she do? You know, other than play the part of the girlfriend/wife?
Tina does turn out to play a rather important part however, because her death is used to prove just how awful Magnus has become. We also discover that the real Tina has been dead for 10 years or so and has actually been Platinum all this time. After repeatedly begging her husband to find a cure for their friend Kirk Langstrom (Batman), he hits Tina hard enough to cause her to fall on a table and receive a fatal blow to her head. I thought this was a really great twist because it could be argued that the idealized version of Tina we were seeing present day scenes was actually programed to be the way she was. And then we have this happen to us again:
That’s right, someone took the time and effort to ensure that Platinum gets nipples. A quick internet search later to see if this was inspired by some other design (because a lot of this is from the New 52), and this seems to only happen in this “darker and more adult version.” So my question is, does this mean that dark/adult means more naked? Platinum was never really a human woman and there is no need for her to have nipples or a belly button for that matter. But she has both, and both result in her just looking more like a naked woman. Once again, this can feel a little jarring and frustrating when the story itself was so strong. When you think about it, little details like this really matter.
Overall, Justice League: Gods and Monsters exceeded my expectations, and I was glad to hear that the related series Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles was picked up for a longer second season (regardless of my feelings on Harley’s new look). But like so many other properties out there, women are once again not treated at the same level as the men are. While this movie might not be the most egregious example of poor treatment, I think it remains a good practice to really think, keep the dialogue open, and take a moment to point out things that are problematic. It’s the best way to keep moving forward. Which I think is a great idea, because some have a lot more ground to cover than others…
What did you think of the story? Did the character designs matchup? Have anything you would like to add? Share your comments below.