First off, let’s state the obvious. It’s refreshing to see a superhero movie with a woman in the spotlight and not on display for her body, but for her abilities. Sure, we’ve seen female superheroes before, but they’ve never had the opportunity a feature film like this. And if we look back at some (not all) of their past film roles, things look really sexist. Not so for Wonder Woman.
In Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised as the only child on an island of Amazonian women. The island life is peaceful, beautiful and idealistic, as are many people’s childhoods. Diana’s mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), is reluctant to train her to fight. All the women are fierce warriors and just as Diana becomes the fiercest, a man crash lands just off the island. Diana saves him and learns of a great war plaguing the world. She leaves to fight and bring peace to mankind again.
The film makes perfect Diana realistically flawed. She is young, naive and fueled by her black and white ideology, but weren’t we all once? She believes that if she can kill Aries, the god of war, all war will stop and mankind will be peaceful again. We know men aren’t so easily changed.
For a feminist film, Wonder Woman gets a lot right. Diana is both beautiful and strong, with her power often overshadowing her beauty. She wears her iconic suit, allowing her free movement, but not making her an object of male gaze. Unlike other superhero ladies, the visual emphasis is not focused on her butt or breasts and she is not adorned with an unrealistic amount of makeup.
The movie is aimed for the female gaze, which is something you rarely see outside of the romcom genre. Chris Pine, as Steve Trevor, the Allied spy, takes on the role of the hot sidekick. The Bond Boy. The eye candy. And does he deliver! Sure after leaving the island Diana is mostly surrounded by dudes, but thankfully they’re a diverse group of misfits and not all of them hit on her. By the end they all revere Diana and understand her immense power.
The film uses Diana’s girl power for some tasteful comedy. A few scenes between Steve and Diana bring some light sexual flirtation, but the line, “When it comes to procreation, men are essential, but for pleasure, not necessary.” puts Steve in his place. That’s as crass as it gets. There are no jokes about boobs, periods, mood swings or anything that really demeans women. I love it. I especially loved and identified with the scene where Steve’s secretary takes her shopping for an outfit more acceptable for 1910s London. If you don’t kick your legs up in the dressing room to see if your clothes can move with you, then you’re missing out.
As refreshing as this film is, there is still so far to go. I realize the romance between Diana and Steve helps seal her understanding of love, but did the story really have to depend on romantic love? I’d happily see her take a similar path to Frozen and work the platonic girl power, but that’s just me. And I honestly hope to see a version of Wonder Woman where naturally hairy legs and armpits are acceptable. This is a great and commendable step and I hope it helps propel the miles we have to go.
“It is our sacred duty to defend the world. And it is what I am going to do.”