Confirmation of what I’d really, really been dreading came by way of an interview with Ben Affleck in Entertainment Weekly. In an offhanded comment, Affleck revealed Justice League's replacement director, Joss Whedon, encouraged Affleck's Batman to “play the dynamics, the sexual tension with Wonder Woman.” Sharp inhale. Not only would there be sexual tension in Justice League between Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman — the dynamic had been deliberately heightened in reshoots with Whedon. Drats.
I wondered why I, of all people, was flaring up at the idea of two fictional superheroes (and grown adults!) flirting. I, who will often lament at the end of a movie, “There wasn’t enough romance.” I, who didn’t mind the cheesy slow dance between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. With this comment, all Affleck did was guarantee that Justice League would have at least a little of one of my favorite movie ingredients — sexual tension. And yet. Something was preventing me from enjoying a little fun between Wonder Woman and that rich guy in a black suit.
That something, I think, is that I have become ridiculously, irrationally, and irrevocably possessive over the character, and legacy, of Diana ever since I saw Wonder Woman. Though I'm not much of a superhero movie fanatic, I saw Wonder Woman on the Sunday of opening weekend, along with my mom and grandma (also not superhero movie fanatics). The theater was filled with multigenerational women like us. When Diana vanquished Ares in the movie’s climax, women in the theater literally whooped and cheered. After all that in-theater bonding, I feel pretty invested in Wonder Woman's love life, almost as if she were my friend and not a fictional character.
Diana has a romance with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in Wonder Woman, so it's perfectly believable that she'd continue to have flirtations with men 100 years later in her timeline, when Justice League takes place. Yet Steve and Diana’s attraction wasn’t included in Wonder Woman just because Jenkins felt like including it during last-minute reshoots. Their relationship is a fundamental (and lovely) component of the movie's narrative. Both Steve and Diana are fully fleshed-out characters who helped each other become better people. Steve teaches Diana the ways of the human world; she teaches him to be brave to an otherworldly degree.
The romance made sense, and it made the movie better. This is the kind of sexual tension Diana deserves — and I doubt, judging by the one scene she had with Affleck’s Batman in Batman v Superman (2016), it's what she’ll be getting in Justice League.
“You know, I bet with that dress nine out of ten men would let you get away with anything,” Batman whispers to Diana in his signature detached monotone, as he stands behind her. They continue to verbally spar as a way to assert dominance — something that in the movies is often called “flirting.”
Granted, this Batman v Superman scene, however skeevy, draws from the long tradition of a Wonder Woman-Batman flirtation found in DC comics. Wonder Woman has a string of love interests after Steve Trevor, including Aquaman, whom Diana kissed as a young girl in Themyscira. In a 2003 comic book, Wonder Woman and Batman share a kiss while on a mission to save Aquaman, then decide to remain friends.
Given the fact that a Wonder Woman-Batman storyline has been included in the comic books, why am I getting so blustery about it being included in the films? I dread Diana's demotion from being the heroine of Wonder Woman, back to being the sexual tension sidekick she had been in Batman v Superman.
Of course, there’s another reason why I cringe at the idea of Batman whispering suggestive comments to Wonder Woman throughout Justice League, and it has nothing to do with being tired of women characters always being used as conduits for flirtation (though I’m certainly tired of that). We can’t ignore who is playing Batman. Ben Affleck's name has been mentioned during this great cultural reckoning of systematic sexual misconduct in Hollywood and industries beyond. We’re past the point of being able to separate art from who made it, and who’s in it.
I don't just want better for Wonder Woman's character. I want better for Gal Gadot. I just want to be a good rom-com best friend, look them both gently in the eyes, and say, "Go find your equal. It's not Batman, and it's certainly not Ben Affleck."
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