Wonder Woman and the Trenches

Ok, I’m weird. I know I’m weird. I seriously debated whether I should even publish this. It feels a bit sacrilegious. A good, feminist super-hero kicking ass is what people have been asking for since, well I don’t know, for a long time. Myself included! This film means a lot to a lot of people. So, if you did like this film, don’t let me rain on your parade. I’m a pedantic nerd. I have unreasonable standards. Is this film a triumph of feminism? I don’t know, a lot of people smarter than me seem to think so.

I’m just going to say that I didn’t like it because of the historically inaccurate portrayal of trench warfare.

Yes, it’s stupid. But here’s a picture of naked Chris Pine!

So yes, I, for one hundred percent real, could not enjoy Wonder Woman because it did not accurately portray the realities of WW1 trench warfare. There, I said it. It just feels like the whole film – the whole film – was put together by someone who has a vague idea about WW1 gleaned pop-cultural osmosis, but nothing more.

Let’s start with how she starts charging across the trench. Let’s take a moment to consider her motivation for doing this. She’s listening to villagers and people there talking about they didn’t have food and medicine and stuff and that riles her up enough that she wants to go climbing over the wall. And take out the machine guns and so on and so on. And she does, and it’s awesome.

But that fundamentally does not change the situation for those villagers. They still don’t have food and medicine and whatnot . They’re situation is fundamentally unchanged by the allies gaining a couple of hundred of meters of ground. But it’s actually fine for Diana Prince to not get that. She is a newbie to the world, she cares and she has emotions, but she doesn’t know all that much. It’s fine that Diana Prince the character doesn’t get the complexities of warfare. But then, Wonder Woman the film also turns around and forgets this. Like, those people aren’t given another thought. She crosses the trench, kicks the Germans out of the village and everyone is happy etc etc, but those people are still there. Still starving, still no medicine (or whatever it was that their problem was, look I don’t have the movie in front of me, I can’t go back and double check). And now they’re forgotten by the film.

But let’s move on from those guys. They’re depressing. So let’s talk about the village, because what the hell is going on in the village? Seriously. Why the hell are they so happy to have been liberated from the Germans? So the front line has been moved to the other side of their village? What happens when the Germans counterattack, which was the literal strategy of the Germans. I’ll tell you what happens. Their village gets engulfed by fighting. Agan. And we just watched at least one church get completely wrecked.

But that’s what freedom looks like!

If I was living in that village, I wouldn’t be celebrating, I’d be really angry at the people that just wrecked my church, and practically guaranteed that my village is counterattacked. Which you know, then is exactly what happens, with gas, but whatever. So why are they happy? It doesn’t make any sense.

And this brings up the question of why is the village even still there? It’s four years into the war, if there’s anything the Western front is famous for at this point it’s vacillating back and forth over a small patch of ground. If your village is right by that front, you’ve probably packed up and headed away a long time ago. Like, a long time ago.

But this gets at the films wider misunderstanding of what “the front” was and what no-man’s land was. In the film’s portrayal, no man’s land is the hundred or so meters between the two trenches. All that getting through entails is getting enough men across one point and that’s it, you’re though, and all is good, and you’re able to kick the asses of the troops on the other side, who are caught completely flat-footed.

You know who also thought it was this easy? Literally most of the World War 1 generals for most of the war. They didn’t have Diana Prince, but they did have tons and tons of men. You know what WW1 is not famous for? Lots and lots of men storming the opposite trenches and ending the war. The thing is, that does not mean that lots and lots of dudes never got across the trench. Sometimes a whole bunch of them did. But you know what waited for you when you got across the trench? Another trench. And then another trench. Losing the first trench was literally part of the strategy, especially for the Germans. And that village? It wouldn’t have been full of happy people, it would have been full of angry booby traps. See, the thing about no-man’s land was, it wasn’t that stretch of land between the trenches, it was a massive swathe of areas, many kilometers wide. Wonder Woman storming the trench almost single-handedly was cool and very awesome, but it was also, on a very fundamental level, not how trenches work.

My final angry sticking point is the small matter of the disaster our heroes are trying to avert. Because, again, if you have even the slightest inkling of how World War 1 works, you know that the idea of a new kind of gas being the turning point of the war is completely ridiculous. The reason mustard gas wasn’t used more often wasn’t that the allies developed gas masks, it was that it was fundamentally not very useful as a weapon. Well, the gas masks were certainly part of it, but the thing about gas is that it’s not like an explosion. An explosion affects a limited area and then it goes away. Gas affects a large area and then it moves. You can lob canisters over to the other side, but if the wind is against you, then it will just blow over to your side and suffocate your guys as well. A more deadly gas just compounds that problem. So why the hell is a new kind of gas such a problem for the allies? Because the filmmakers have decided that it is.

Together, these moments ruin the film for me. I get that that makes me a pedantic nerd of the nerdiest and most pedantic kind. I get that Wonder Woman is meant to be a kind of power fantasy and letting stupid historical facts get in the way of that is missing the point. I get that. But, I don’t know. Maybe the problem for me is that with all these inaccuracies ruin the immersion for me. It’s not a world where I can lose myself in, it’s a world created by people and what happens in the story is not contingent on the rules of the universe, but on the rules of what the writers thought would be cool.

Having said this, I’m coming at this from a place of pain here. I really, genuinely wanted to like this film. Just like I really, genuinely, wanted to like Star Wars. I guess that’s also why I got so emotional about The Force Awakens. If I could let all this stupid bullshit go, I would. I also get that there is something terribly uncool about what I’m doing here. Here’s this awesome feminist triumph of a film and I come in my reedy angry nerd voice and “um, actually, there’s no way someone dressed in a miniskirt is going to survive in no-man’s land.”

I’m sure everyone’s glad I’m here to point out this is not how it happened.

So… I’m sorry?