The warriors of Themyscira, who hit the big screen in Wonder Woman in May 2017, did not need a costume update for Justice League, November 2017, but we got one anyway because some people still think glamorous titillation is a priority.
Having seen Justice League, I can say the internet rumblings about the costume changes are warranted. We see more stylized and high maintenance hair and make-up, and less practical, sexier outfits that show-off rather than protect a body. This is not to say an athletic woman’s body should not be admired or visible. We absolutely should see more diverse bodies onscreen, especially ones that make sense to a certain profession or status. The woman holding up a stone doorway should be muscular, but that physique can be obvious without the skimpy clothes and cheer squad hair.
Her body is not the problem. What does deserve scrutiny, is why a thoughtful design, on behalf of Lindy Hemming (costume designer for Wonder Woman), one that was aesthetically and practically pleasing, needed to be thinned down and made less practical (as designed by Michael Wilkinson). For a film that’s not quite shared WW’s celebration of women in Hollywood and attention to the female demographic of the audience, this was a strange and noticeable change.
Rarely does a medium dealing with adult female fighters in fantasy and comic book settings get a serious treatment. WW’s costumes are formed with the obvious starter positing of, ‘how is this meat popsicle best protected from pointy objects aimed to kill? How do their weapons interact with the armor to be most efficient?’ Wonder Woman gave us that. Its Amazons have both ease of movement and protection in important anatomical areas.
The WW variant costumes aren’t without fault. Even warrior women still need their exaggerated high heels for no reason. And the valley in the breast plates continues to baffle. That valley can easily direct a sword point into the sternum. Not a great place for pressure or puncture, or a sword point. (And my five-second experience in fencing informed me that valley breast protection does exist IRL, unfortunately.)
In spite of these missteps, WW’s costuming designs moved in the right direction, in that the armor looks like it was for utilitarian purposes more than an accessorizing a bit of eye-candy. Stylistic cues are taken from actual historical pieces of armor, which is much more solid a base to draw from than, say, sexy lingerie.
As an aside: if you would like to see such a costume, please watch Professor Marston and the Wonder Women for all your polyamorous and sexy-lingerie-armor needs. But I think leaving Wonder Woman’s character roots behind in the modern DCEU is more beneficial than not.
I’m not saying these JL costumes are lingerie. But some – especially worn by the guards of the Mother Box – do look more appropriately suited to being worn lounging around in the balmy island paradise rather than in stabby-stabby combat.
We know swords and arrows can pierce an Amazon’s body, so we can expect they do need to wear armor into battle. Full armor would make sense. I, for one, would rather deal with wearing a heavy, sweaty set of armor in battle than exposing all my good organs in the center, most easily aimed-for part of my body. I think members of an ancient warrior culture would agree. Instead, we have a good number of highly visible women in roughly stitched together patches of leather that resemble bikinis.
After having the Germans mow them down about a century earlier in WW, Themyscirans finally know guns are a thing now in the world, and promptly respond with bikinis in JL. Bikinis. Sadly, not a completely new take on fictional women’s armor. More time was put into styling long hair into perfectly curled coils, applying make up, and wrapping the straps of four inch heals, than any time put into adapting and fortifying their defenses.
I don’t expect the Amazons to pick up gunpowder and start completely changing their combat style – but I didn’t expect the apparent regression like what we get in JL. I want progression and continuity on some level, because that would feel more cohesive to me as a viewer.
I am not saying that this fantastic setting needs to be ‘historically accurate.’ Comic books have been known to, once or twice, forego practicality in favor of highlighting sexy bits. Some writers have poorly addressed this tendency, and others have handled it with more satirical suavity. Rat Queens plays at the joke pretty smoothly.
We can totally satiate the titillation factor. It is allowed and often happens! Like, really often. I mean, it’s been done in a million similar ways already in movies, television shows, comic books, video games, computer games, board games, ect. But okay, let’s do it one more time! Multiple more times if we look at Aquaman’s armor next to Mera’s (the lady Atlantean). Justice League brings nothing new to how its styled its women, even though Wonder Woman gave them a pretty decent ground with which to work.
One question I have, why can’t the women’s armor go in the opposite direction? A design that’s more elaborate and power-fantasy worthy of something like Sauron’s fabulous attire in The Lord of the Rings? Maybe not always quite so elaborate, but it would be a cool direction to head in, to see an army or fighting force of women that isn’t feminine-coded so that the audience knows with utmost assurances, yes, these are genuine ladies. In some ways, as more female creators enter into positions of input, distribution, and ultimately editorial power, the momentum is heading in that direction. Googling “Fantasy Female Armor” showed me as much – I had to scroll down a few rows of images to get to the ridiculous things. There is a substantial movement to leave behind the bikini armor.
In the case of Justice League, I think the reasoning for the Amazon’s costume changes, as well as Mera’s illogical Cleavage Window, is that someone somewhere in the decision making chain thought, ‘no, we need more lady skin visible.’
On the spectrum of Xena to Red Sonja …we need to be more like the former? …I mean, the chaffing, the pinching, and when the temperature drops even a little… Oi.
I am specifying ‘lady skin’ in particular because I am not seeing the male soldiers of the human army featured in the trailer getting any 300 treatment here. Aquaman has a good long while being shirtless in the film, but when he dons his armor halfway through the movie, his pecs (and nipples) are fully covered.
This change in Themysciran armor was noticeable and unnecessary, and one that might have taken more effort considering there was already source (and literal!) material to draw from that is only a few months removed from Justice League. Costume consistency doesn’t need to be a thing – but drawing from a huge blockbuster success that broke records and appealed to a wider audience demographically than others have in the past is a solid idea.
The decision-makers didn’t disrupt the formula for Wonder Woman’s returning battle costume, possibly aware enough that her character is a big audience draw and would not be above immediate notice and criticism if they had run it through the hetero-male-gaze machine. Sadly, her street-wear gets the ridiculous-amounts-of-deep-cleavage sexy treatment. For the relatively small-name actresses (or, you know, Olympians) playing a shirtless red shirt army – they were acceptable recipients for an armor downgrade. They got more make-up and glammed hair, shinier metal when they were afforded coverage, and leather bikinis when they weren’t.
The costumes were lauded in Wonder Woman for their more realistic and grounded presentation, and Justice League made a conscientious, backwards departure from that effort.