Wonder Woman and Wartime Moral Confusion

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

A hilarious look at why it’s tough to make a war movie these days, even in a movie with superheroes.

When I was 8 and living in the mountainous African kingdom of Lesotho, my friend Barbara Stewart used to receive a package of DC and Marvel comics every few weeks from a relative.  We would retreat to a certain deserted basement room in the university campus to gorge ourselves on the newly arrived treasures.

In that room was an electric point with the cover missing.  We discovered that by inserting our fingers into a certain part of the wiring, we could give ourselves a powerful electric shock.  We spent many lovely afternoons reading comics and daring each other to give ourselves another shock.  Barbara, if you’re out there, please get in touch.

Wonder Woman “Official Final Trailer”

I mention this story because, back in the ’60s, we used to think the DC comics, with characters such as Superman and Batman, were cool; and that the heroes in the Marvel comics, such as The Fantastic Four, The Avengers and the X Men, were mostly wimps (I always liked the irony and irritability of the Incredible Hulk).  But through superior marketing and Disney ownership, Marvel has emerged in the 21st Century as the dominant movie franchise, with the “DC Extended Universe” struggling to keep up.

So, when I heard that “Wonder Woman”, one of my favourite DC characters, would be appearing in a movie, I was delighted.  But a look at the trailer (above) fills me with dread.  The storyline suffers from Wartime Moral Confusion.

I first became aware of Wartime Moral Confusion, or WMC, when I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 with a German friend in the Empire Leicester Square.  I enjoyed the movie, from the opening rolling-boulder sequence to the losing of the Ark in a massive warehouse at the end.  But my German friend’s pleasure had been tempered.  “I think,” he said, “that it is not very objective”.

He was referring partly to the scene where Indiana Jones, armed only with a whip, single-handedly destroys a massive convoy of German troops; but also, more profoundly, to the episode where some Bad Germans open the Ark of God, which they are somehow hoping to use as a super-weapon (eh?) and angels come out of the Ark and kill all the Germans, apparently sucking them up into heaven in a kind of Godly vacuum cleaner.  You can see it here (warning: dated special effects and awful acting).

This scene from “Raiders” is a real stinker

We all know that to say that God is on one side or the other in a war or conflict is a path to unspeakable horror.  Sure, “Raiders” is only knockabout fun; but that makes this part of the plot all the more excruciating.

The same problem applies to superhero movies.  I like the scientific mumbo-jumbo which explains the transformation of seven-stone weakling Steve Rogers into muscled, shield-hurling hunk Captain America in the eponymous movie.  I realise that the original comic character, like Wonder Woman, appeared in 1941, when the idea of a super-soldier slaughtering Germans must have appealed to a  lot of people.  But in the 21st century, it is boring – not to mention unfair – to have a super-hero killing German soldiers with his or her super-powers just because they are wearing the wrong uniform and cannot fight back with their puny conventional weapons.

The Captain America trailer shows plenty of Germans getting shot

Captain America tries to get round this problem by having the Nazi villain, Schmidt, have his own super-powers, including being able to rip off his own face to reveal a scary red skull.  But WMC is still an insuperable obstacle: why should we root in this day and age for a superhero to kill defenceless people, simply because they come from the wrong country?

Sadly, Wonder Woman, too, seems to suffer from WMC.  While in this case the movie is set in the First World War and the storyline also asks questions about the motivation of the Allied side, the whole idea of a demi-god using her superpowers on behalf of one side in a historical conflict – the trailer shows her deflecting German machine-gun fire with her supernatural shield – is so silly I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to watch it.  The movie has had good reviews, though, including for its feminist credentials (featuring both an indestructible heroine and a female director) so maybe I will weaken.

What do you think?  Am I worrying too much, as a result of frying my brain in the electric socket all those years ago?  Or do the DC and Marvel superheroes need to find more up-to-date adversaries?  Comments welcome.

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One Response

  1. Ich glaube nicht, dass Dein Hirn in der Jugend electro cuted wurde: immer, wenn eine überirdische Macht in einen menschlichen Kampf eingreift, ist er auf der Seite der Guten – und die Seiten ändern sich im Lauf der fortschreitenden Geschichten. Auch die weiblichen Heldinnen werden, so vermute ich, in 20-30 Jahren recht altbacken daherkommen.

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