‘Wonder Woman’ is an empowering and fun origin story that shakes up the genre
Patty Jenkins brings levity to the DC film franchise, while also delivering a strong message on what makes a superhero film successful
Before its release, Wonder Woman already had way more resting on its shoulders than it should have. Not only is it the first modern female-led superhero movie, but it’s the first superhero movie to be directed by a woman. Like it or not, this was the conversation surrounding its release as if this movie would determine whether or not we’d ever see another female-led superhero movie, let alone allow a woman to direct a superhero movie. Well, as it turns out, Wonder Woman is not just a good female-led superhero movie directed by a woman…Wonder Woman is a great movie that is both an empowering standalone origin story while also serving as a harbinger of change for the DC Extended Universe, proving that DC can have fun with their characters.
Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot in the title role (Fast & Furious fans, rejoice!), Wonder Woman is the story of Diana, part of a race of warrior women called the Amazons living on the hidden island of Themyscira, who were created by the gods of Mount Olympus to protect humankind. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes along the coast of Themyscira and is rescued by Diana, he explains about the Great War the world is fighting (specifically, World War I). Diana feels the pull of war, believing Ares, the God of War, to be responsible, and goes with Steve back to the outside world in hopes of destroying Ares and thereby ending the war.
Gal Gadot is perfect — she’s tough and defiant, while also capable of playing the part of the naïve outsider, whether it be for laughs or in a way that reflects the character’s genuine idealism. In World War I-era England, she’s blissfully unaware that a room full of men are shocked to have a woman enter uninvited while they discuss war strategy and negotiations. She doesn’t recognize that she’s not seen as an equal and doesn’t belong there, because why wouldn’t she?
Given the conversation surrounding Wonder Woman, I think her idealistic perspective and general naivety about where a woman stands in this world sends an even stronger, more resonant message about the film itself. Just as she’s oblivious to the fact that these men would hold her to a different standard because she’s a woman, is there any reason why this film should be held to a different standard because it’s about a superhero who’s a woman? Or because it’s directed by a woman? Not really, because telling a good story with a strong character arc shouldn’t be limited by gender.
Chris Pine deserves similar praise. Not only did he and Gadot have fun chemistry together, but they’re equally charming, and ultimately proved to be good foils for each other. As Steve Trevor introduced Diana to the world of men and war, he could have been patronizing and her naivety could have been played as complete ignorance. Instead, they work together. As much as he introduces her to the unfortunate truth that war is complex and not the fault of just one person (or evil god), she’s able to show him that it’s not necessarily naïve to hold the world to a more idealistic standard. In different ways, they teach each other compassion.
It’s further worth noting that Pine’s role as Steve Trevor and his general dynamic with Diana may have raised the standard of what we can and should expect from love interests in the superhero genre moving forward. At the very least, we can hope that the Wonder Woman-Steve Trevor relationship helps underscore why and how to shift away from the “damsel in distress” trope. In fairness, I would argue that Marvel has mostly gotten away from this, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier certainly being one such example (Black Widow is just as important to that movie as Captain America), but I think it’s important to keep in mind nonetheless.
Although the big finale got a bit messy, and a bit too bogged down in CGI, the action throughout was well done, and at times, purposeful in driving the story forward. An early scene in which Diana and the Amazons do battle with German soldiers has consequences that ultimately motivates her to go with Steve to the war. Later on, in what was probably one of the most powerful moments, when Diana comes across a group of civilians who were victimized by the German soldiers, she takes it upon herself to storm across No Man’s Land (the greater meaning of which is not lost).
Overall, Wonder Woman sends a strong message that a female-led superhero film can succeed, but more importantly, that gender shouldn’t have a bearing on a superhero film’s success. Gal Gadot will return in Warner Brothers’ team-up film, Justice League, later this fall, and it sounds like a Wonder Woman sequel is nearly a lock at this point, hopefully with Patty Jenkins returning to the director’s chair. Meanwhile, Marvel is finally developing their own female-led superhero film, Captain Marvel, with Brie Larson in the title role, due out in 2019. Given that Marvel is now 15 films deep, this is long overdue; but to be fair, Captain Marvel has a pretty complicated origin involving aliens, which may have been difficult to shoehorn in before the success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully Wonder Woman has put an end to any doubts about whether a female-led superhero film can work, and better yet, has set an important precedent in terms of how there’s no reason they should be held to a different standard.