Princess Diana, daughter of Zeus, trains to become a warrior on the island of Themyscira. But when a man washes up on her shores, claiming to be a soldier from the Great War, she takes it upon herself to end the fight--in what she is convinced is the war to end all wars.
It’s time: and after a reputed 76 years since the Amazonian princess graced comic books worldwide, Wonder Woman rockets to the big screen in one of the first female-led, female-directed superhero(ine) films in over a decade.
While she isn’t the first ever, the film still feels that revolutionary, and in a political climate where women feel like a minority more than ever, it has power. Director Patty Jenkins headlines the film with clear artistic vision (and perfect comic timing), allowing Wonder Woman to make waves for a new generation. As a superhero-movie-fangirl surrounded by my superhero-movie-girlfriends, it was only after the movie that I realized we had been waiting our whole lives for something like this.
Because in some ways, it does make history. At the beginning of the film, Allied spy Steve Trevor is rescued by Diana, Little Mermaid style, and his pursuers follow, invading the beach. In response, all the warriors of the island race to the beach to defend it. Like Gadot describes in an interview, watching the scene play back, it’s like something that has never been done before. Women warriors race across the screen, on horses and roaring, battling, spearing, arrowing, fighting.
These action scenes took my breath away. And I got goosebumps when Diana raced across no man’s land, determined to free a small village mired in war. As a young woman who took self-defense and still thinks she could pull off a Mulan if she had to, this shattered a glass ceiling I didn’t even know I had in the back of my head. Image always matters, whether or not you hold the conscious notion oh, girls can’t fight. When it comes to representation, something is always mattering to someone somewhere. A picture is worth a thousand words to see these women fight in all their demigod glory, without being blatantly sexualized. They fight to kill.
True to Diana’s origins, tinged with Greek lore, their garb is leather, silver, gold. And while there has been controversy over Wonder Woman’s suit, it appears familiar and lightweight during battle sequences. The entire film’s color palette is sumptuous, accurately period in every setting, where we travel as far as the Ottoman Empire in the heat of war.
Gal Gadot plays Diana Prince, a soldier out of time: emerging from her isolated paradise, she trained with her fellow female Amazonians all her life, dreaming of the glory of battle and simplifying the heroic result. Among those around her, she is a fantastic fighter, as General Antiope (played by The Princess Bride’s Robin Wright) resolves to train her harder than any other Amazonian before. Diana dreams of the island’s sacred weapons: including a magnificent sword “Godkiller,” which comes with a clever twist.
But when Diana arrives at the war, it is her beliefs that are under attack. This war, and war among men, is not as simple as it seems. Her original decision is to find and kill the Greek god of war, Ares, whom she deems responsible for the carnage. That is her island’s lore: that as soon as the source of all evil is slain, mankind will be free, and return to their good natural state. It takes time for her to realize this is not true, and a few epic battles in the process. That learning arc is essential, even for a heroine who can still punch her way out of anything, and makes Diana a credible hero, wise. It elevates Woman’s themes to be about more than her origins and cool fights, but the values that made her, making it not only a great superhero film, but a great film as well.
The casting is deliriously good. While the Israeli Gadot appears to switch Diana’s iconic blue eyes with Chris Pine, who plays Steve Trevor, both actors look, act, and breathe the part. To find a woman that perfect for Wonder Woman is another “meant to be”: where good directing and good production collide with good acting. The actress, sincere with a weapon and voice of a leader, has her own street cred: Gadot had already served in the military and was studying law before landing the part. She is badass, if not insanely beautiful, strong, confident. Pine, of course, is plenty beautiful in his own right, with a naked “bathtub scene” that smirkingly flips gender roles. As the love interest, he is likeable, intelligent, respectful, and very, very funny. Their love story takes up just the right amount of screen space. Jenkins knew she would be under fire to create the perfect love story for what everyone saw as a female superhero movie. And, cinematically speaking, their love is just sweet, and bound to pull some heartstrings in the end.
It might sound excessive, but my personal response to the film was overwhelmingly good. I was constantly getting chills or laughing at a joke--which for a superhero movie, wasn’t ever awkward or crude. The film is funny and fun.
I can see, however, why “feminists would have a problem.” Although the movie was directed by a woman, there are still lines about Diana’s paralyzing beauty (she is a god) and it being “distracting.” New to many things about the outside world, Diana is also constantly being treated like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The only thing I couldn’t get over was the fact that everybody, even men, kept touching Diana--authoritatively, commandingly, in a way that wasn’t seen on her time on the island, and suggests she wouldn’t be comfortable with anywhere else. Especially with men, who didn’t exist on her island. And while we know Steve is a “nice guy,” it was unnerving to me the more I saw him press her backwards, or grab her arm to stop her. After all, Diana is conscious of the need to spring into battle any minute, in one scene hilariously trying on different dresses that allow for little movement. It didn’t make sense to me that she would constantly allow people to physically stop her and restrain her.
Perhaps it had significance: Diana is constantly being told no, verbally and nonverbally, that it is a victory when she breaks free. It may also represent how women are physically treated in real life. And as Michelle Wolf describes on the The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, people are putting too much pressure on Woman to be politically perfect, like all women’s success or failure hinges on it. At least we can all agree the film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, as more than two women talk about the man they love. In fact, there are women everywhere, and diversely so, including the scarred, mysterious “Doctor Poison” in the German labs, the scientist who comes up with a breed of even deadlier mustard gas. Unlike the women of Themyscira, her power comes in a different packaging, intelligence.
Among friends, we left the theater in a happy, hugging daze. The film is so good in so many ways, and sends the right message to audiences. To young girls, it’s solid gold.
Power, wisdom, courage. A wonder.