Of Justice League’s many flaws, the prevalence of the male gaze is probably the worst.
DC’s reply to Marvel’s superhero team-up has finally
disgraced our screens with Justice League. Following a relatively curtailed lead-up, the band has been brought together to kick-start DC’s attempts to capture the golden age of superheroes on screen.
But, let’s face it, the DCEU hasn’t had a great run, apart from Wonder Woman. Were my hopes high going into Justice League? No. But there was hope that the film wouldn’t be terrible; that I would come away excited by the new superhero team assembled on our screens, like I felt after The Avengers.
Forget excitement, I found myself raging at the screen half-way through. Why? Because the male gaze is painfully apparent in Justice League.
It wouldn’t have been so obvious had we not had Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman still fresh in our memories. Yes, Wonder Woman did not have as many female characters for the bulk of the film as we would have liked, but Justice League doesn’t even try to give its female characters a chance.
Below are a few instances of the male gaze in Justice League that particularly irked me. Spoilers abound so, I don’t know, do you want to watch the film first? Your funeral.
Not the Wonder Woman We Are Looking For
I just knew this would happen but I still hoped it wouldn’t. Wonder Woman, after carrying her own film where she was not once objectified, is suddenly the object of everyone’s desire.
Alfred spends his scenes trying to get Bruce to hook up with Diana; has anyone asked Diana? Because Bruce was being super creepy in Batman vs Superman so she may not want anything to do with the man. Just saying.
Barry Allen is so taken with her at their first meeting, he makes a mess of introducing himself. We’re meant to assume this is his reaction to meeting people because of his lack of social skills. Noticeably, he doesn’t have a similar reaction to the equally attractive Aquaman. But, that’s none of my business.
There’s also a scene later on, mid-fight, when Flash saves Wonder Woman and they land spread-eagled on the ground with Flash atop Wonder Woman, his face between her breastplates. He quickly rectifies the situation giving the audience enough time to laugh at this gag. It is a similar scene to one we saw in Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron between Bruce Banner and Black Widow. I guess Whedon shoehorned in this visual trope because he thought it would be funny. It would have been if it was the 1970s, yeah! Now, it’s just gross. So, so gross.
When Aquaman accidentally sits on the Lasso of Truth, he reveals his true concerns about the group – Batman is just a guy in a suit, Cyborg’s tech can’t be trusted, Flash is clumsy, Wonder Woman is… gorgeous. WHAT? No! That’s not how this scene was supposed to go. I expected more from Aquaman, who had not been inappropriate even once till that moment. It felt like the actors and characters had more respect for Wonder Woman than the writers and directors did.
Of course, these incidents are within the film but even the direction and camera angles objectify Wonder Woman. There are too many of those horrible low-angle shots where the focus is meant to be on the characters speaking to Wonder Woman but the camera is actually looking up at the female character’s behind. It’s bad enough when artists draw female characters this way in comic panels; it is even worse on a massive film screen.
Also, is it just me, or did Wonder Woman’s suit look shorter somehow? It may be my imagination but it looked different.
Gal Gadot must have spent the entirety of this film shoot in barely restrained anger because that’s how I felt watching it. It’s like directors Snyder and Whedon just wanted to have an all-boys party but had to begrudgingly add Wonder Woman so they decided to make her life, and ours, as miserable as possible.
Not-so Killer Clothes
I don’t think anybody missed the controversial pictures of the Amazons wearing leather bikinis for armour in the Justice League promos. Surely not, I thought, they wouldn’t do that. I even read a post by someone saying that the bikini suits would not be featured in the film; it was false advertising or some such.
In case you wonder: Here's a picture of how the Amazons looked in Wonder Woman…next to pic how they look in Justice League. First designed by Lindy Hemming, second by Michael Wilkinson.
Some steps backwards, methinks. pic.twitter.com/IVqeX7PBso
— Atte T (@Rosgakori) November 12, 2017
In Justice League, when we find ourselves on Themyscira alongside Queen Hippolyta and the Amazons, their uniforms look mostly like the ones featured in Wonder Woman. My fears were allayed. For a few minutes.
The initial scenes of the Amazons in their full armour is a misdirect because the bikini-clad warriors soon show up. I was so surprised I actually wondered if I was seeing things incorrectly. Why would these warriors wear ‘armour’ that doesn’t cover their stomachs? Ask Michael Wilkinson, Justice League costume designer and our new favourite bad guy.
Why would you change something like this? In fact, does it not make it easier to just use the same armour from Wonder Woman instead of ‘reinventing’ it? Well, this is a film made by men and designed by men; why am I not surprised by this change? No, I am surprised, because it’s the 21st century. We should be beyond this.
As if the armour wasn’t bad enough, Diana’s modern-day wardrobe isn’t practical. Her clothes in Batman vs Superman were similarly out of place but at least Diana’s scenes in that film were primarily at parties. Why she constantly looks like she is going down a catwalk in Justice League is beyond me. If she’s just coming for a meeting with the team, why is she dressed as if she’s heading out to a ball? And, everyone around her wears a jacket, except her. Is she suddenly immune to the cold, as well? We know she isn’t because she spends her non-fighting time in Wonder Woman wearing a giant coat.
Diana’s wardrobe is particularly egregious because in Wonder Woman she goes out of her way to ensure her clothes are practical to move around and fight in. In her ‘makeover’ scene, Diana rejects the latest fashions and chooses the practical, and powerful, dark suffragette suit. Through the scene, and the choice of clothes, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins made a statement and stuck to practicalities. We cannot say the same about Snyder et al in Justice League.
Lois Lane’s ‘Arc’
Look, if you write a female character whose entire story revolves around a man, then you haven’t written a female character, you’ve written a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and we are so over that.
When we first met Lois Lane in Man of Steel, she was a no-nonsense reporter who was so determined to get the truth out there, she was willing to risk her life and job for it. Yes, she needed to be rescued by Superman but we were still willing to forgive that because everyone needed rescuing by Superman.
The theatrical cut of Batman vs Superman left Lois’ investigative reporting on the cutting room floor in favour of Batman’s dream sequences, but at least we got to see Lois do her ‘stuff’ in the extended edition.
In Justice League, Lois has all but abandoned her career because she’s mourning Clark’s death. She now writes fluff pieces. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist is writing fluff pieces because her boyfriend died. This is an interesting trajectory – would the same be true if the roles were reversed? I think not.
Oh, but there’s more. Lois isn’t concerned about this move in her career. In a cringe-worthy conversation with Martha Kent, Lois expresses her concern that Clark would be disappointed in her. Martha adds that Clark wanted Lois to get another Pulitzer. A conversation between two female characters and all they can talk about is a man and how proud, or not, he would be of them. The scene could have been so close to passing the Bechdel test but it failed. It failed so miserably. Excuse me while I weaponise my nachos to throw at the screen.
Lois has absolutely no existence in this film apart from being Superman’s love interest. All her scenes are about him; she has no arc. She exists solely to advance Superman’s story. The less said about Martha, the better.
All the Same Faces
Apart from Wonder Woman, Lois Lane and Martha Kent, we have basically no other female characters. There is a civilian family with a mother and daughter but they are the only ones who stand out. The Amazons get one sequence, and well, I have already mentioned how that goes.
Couldn’t the directors and casting agents have populated the supporting cast with more female characters and more people of colour? Look at Netflix’s The Defenders. Another superhero group with a sole female lead but the supporting cast was peppered with women and POC so the world of the series looked full and more like ours.
I don’t recognise the world in the DCEU as similar to the one that I live in. It looks scarily like a world completely overrun by white men whose actions aren’t questioned at all. It’s not the world I want to see when I go into a cinema hall for my entertainment.
This is an accusation one must level at most superhero fare out there, though. Marvel isn’t beyond excluding women and POC from their films. Let’s not even talk about the complete lack of LGBTQ+ characters.
But, one would expect DC to have learned from the phenomenal success of Wonder Woman and included a whole bunch of minority characters in the supporting cast. Alas, no.
I spent too much time grimacing and raging at the atrocities aimed at the female characters in this film. They deserved so much better but it’s becoming more and more obvious that when certain men are at the helm, female characters won’t receive their dues. When two films featuring the same female character appear in the same year, it is expected that she will be treated the same way. If anything, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman just proved the systemic issues plaguing writing and directing in Hollywood. Do better, DC!
If you’re looking for more ‘I love the world’ articles, here’s a little rant about Warner Bros. ‘fixing’ Gal Gadot’s armpits. Yeh, you read that correctly.