Wonder Woman shatters the glass ceiling in a graceful punch
It has taken 76 long years for “Wonder Woman” to grace the silver screen in a live-action theatrical film of her own. For audiences in the U. S., 2017 it is perhaps the right moment in history to see the origin story of a feminist crusader take shape.
With the glass ceiling crushing the possibility of the first female president getting elected to office and with women across class, race, and political denomination marching the streets of America to demand equality—what people truly desire is a story of hope. Warner Bros. Pictures’ Wonder Woman directed by the first female director of a female protagonist lead superhero flick—gives audiences that and more.
1. It’s all about a woman’s touch
The film opens on the island of Themyscira, a land where Amazonian warriors live in a sisterhood of peace, love, and harmony—hidden from the corrupting influences of mankind. To protect their lands women have built an army that trains relentlessly from dusk to dawn, rivalling the soldiers of 300. Their muscles look ripped, their posture purposeful, and their gaze unflinching.
When German soldiers interrupt the peace of this Eden-like haven—the wrath of Amazonians is understandable. The vision of female crusaders clad in battle armor, charging toward their enemy on horseback is one to behold. In moments like these, the film relates to Xena: Warrior Princess—with a lot more adrenaline pumped in.
Patty Jenkins’ direction genders the camera in uplifting ways and Gal Gadot slips into the shoes of Wonder Woman with ease. The ways in which Jenkins frames her female heroes and anti-heroes—begin to redefine strength as currency for women in this universe. This is evident in Robin Wright’s performance on the battlefield as Antiope—when she wields three arrows in one bow, when she smiles fearlessly in face of death while charging toward the enemy, and the way she prepares Wonder Woman to become a warrior, more dangerous than her.
2. How did Wonder Woman come to be?
American psychologist William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman inspired by suffragists fighting for the right to vote in early twentieth century. The creation of the superhero’s choicest weapon, ‘the Lasso of Truth’ that submits a person to honesty was no coincidence. After-all, Marston was also the inventor of a systolic-blood-pressure-measuring apparatus that lead to the development of a lie detector.
After studying people under a polygraph, he was convinced that women were more honest than men in similar circumstances. Believing women to be capable of a more fair society, he made sure his superhero creation was born to and raised by feminists. At the same time he wanted Wonder Woman to triumph through the power of love. In the 1943 edition of The American Scholar, Marston wrote that in Wonder Woman he wanted to “create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”
It is then no wonder that Wonder Woman’s heart aches when she sees men, women, and animals suffering consequences of a brutal world war. Her belief that General Lundendorff might be Ares—the Greek god of war—and that his death will bring an end to all that is evil in humankind is childishly naïve but also hope-affirming. Her firm belief that human beings have good in them doesn’t give her permission to murder anyone—not even Doctor Poison who has produced a deadly mustard gas to snuff out innocents.
3. Fighting in a skirt, wearing an armor of steel
Wonder Woman shatters the ‘damsel in distress’ facade in carrying forward Marston’s liberating symbolism in his comic books. He deliberately put the Amazonian princess into instances of extreme submission—forcing her to break free by relying on her own strength. However, comic books catered to a predominantly young, male audience and so submission tethered on the kinky in some scenarios.
The film escapes such traps of titillation altogether. The young pilot Steve Trevor may feel awkward when he sees Diana Prince dressed in Amazonian armor that expose her hands, legs, and torso—but the audience only sees a soldier ready for battle. Her armor and skirt have been built to allow free movement of her limbs in combat. No wonder, she finds dresses designed for ladies in twentieth century London—suffocating, impractical, and quite unladylike.
Wonder Woman’s depiction in Allan Heinberg’s screenplay allows her complete autonomy over her body. Even though she appears sexy—not once is she sexualized in the eye of the camera. Even the men she encounters are both “aroused and afraid” by Wonder Woman’s presence. Diana Prince remains committed to her destiny to kill Ares, and the words of her mother Hippolyta—reminding her that men do not deserve her—keep her on track.
4. A strong woman doesn’t need a man’s permission
Diana Prince reprimands Steve Trevor for stopping her from killing General Lundendorff, whose chemical attack decimates an entire village. “What I do is not up to you!” she cries out and she sticks to her feminist manifesto from start to finish. On several occasions it is she who rescues Trevor from assailants and scolds his superiors like schoolchildren at the Imperial War Cabinet when they discuss war strategy than attempt to save the life of innocents.
However, the scene where Diana Prince transforms into Wonder Woman after witnessing the suffering of innocents in no man’s land raises the tempo of the film by several notches. She charges head-on toward German tanks and soldiers like a lone wolf, fights off bullets with her indestructible bracelets, crashes into a warehouse turning tables, and engages in hand-to-hand combat against a pack of armed soldiers. Pretty dresses and fragile dolls will be a thing of the past once little girls watch Wonder Woman kick ass to the sounds of electrifying battle music.
5. Fighting from the margins, for the margins
Diana Prince stands up for injustice wherever she sees it—even in the ridiculous title of a ‘secretary’ that she deems slavish. She declares, “She will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”
When Diana Prince and Steve Trevor decide to travel to Belgium to stop Ludendorff—a handful of men from the margins of society accompanies her. A native Indian smuggler, a drunken marksman Charlie, and a Muslim spy Sameer fight alongside Wonder Woman—first for money and then for honor.
Wonder Woman’s ability to transform the hearts of these men shows her maternal streak. They open up to her like children—when the Chief tells her that his home was stolen by Trevor’s ancestors, when Sameer confesses his failure to become an actor cause of his skin color, and when Charlie breaks into a song to drown his sorrow.
6. Trappings of a simplistic tale
The vision of Wonder Woman standing tall at the battlefront, looking at men and women that appear like mere mortals in front of her, distinguish her from other superheroes. It is clear that she is not human but the daughter of Zeus—incapable of moral corruption. The film pays homage to Wonder Woman’s mythic origins through storybook-like animated sequences when the film opens. These try to take on epic proportions in her fight against Ares toward the film’s climax.
However, Diana Prince still appears more beautiful than brawn in her cinematic portrayal and fades in comparison to the steel evident in Queen Hippolyta and Antiope’s larger-than-life characterization. Perhaps the blame also lies in the pace of the first-half of the film, which evolves like a romantic comedy.
Even though women wear the pants, submitting pilot Steve Trevor to play the damsel in distress—could the film’s playful tone been restricted to fewer scenes? Could the challenges Diana Prince surmounts to transform into Wonder Woman been made more daunting? Could her final encounter with Ares been more extreme?
When Neo fights agent Smith in The Matrix Trilogy or Harry Potter clashes against Lord Voldemort in a final battle of the wands—audiences feel both exhausted and overwhelmed. Even though many know that Potter will survive the dark wizard’s attack, their eyes remain glued to the screen. This was not the case when Wonder Woman takes on Ares.
The simplistic nature of the plot and a quick victory for the Amazonian princess over the god of war could have diluted the impact of her conquest. However, her fans and critics must realize the burden of expectations that they heap on the titular superhero’s origin story.
7. In the end love conquers all
In spite of its flaws, the brilliance of Wonder Woman is that it’s a beautiful love story between a mortal and a goddess. Chris Pine in the garb of pilot Steve Trevor plays a thorough feminist, allowing center-stage to this woman of substance. “I can save today and you can save the world,” are his final worlds before he sacrifices himself to incinerate a bomber containing poisonous gas.
The pain of losing her lover enrages Wonder Woman, who had so far unsuccessfully battled Ares. Unlike men on the battleground, a female soldier like Diana Prince derives strength from her vulnerability. She never stops tears from falling down her cheek and doesn’t muffle her scream when she realizes that Trevor is lost to her forever. It is this naked emotion that transforms her into a tigress going for the kill—claiming her destiny as a god-killer and gutting Ares.
In the end, Wonder Woman restores peace to the world and the war to end all wars comes to a finish. However, she realizes that even though Ares had corrupted humankind—good exists in all. The choice of good over evil, however, rests in the hands of men and women. Wonder Woman cannot and will not make the choice for them any longer. In her final words, Diana Prince is like any mother whose duty is to give life, but who must leave the reigns of destiny in the hands of her children.