The Fight for Superheroines
Remember that time Jennifer Garner was Elektra? Or the time Halle Berry was Catwoman? Everyone understands if the answer is no. Superheroine movies are often ruined by poor casting and poor writing. More often they are ruined by a poor understanding of the character and her universe. This was a particular concern when the 2017 Wonder Woman was announced and slated to play the Amazon warrior was a woman known for her role in the Fast and the Furious franchise. Wonder Woman has a complex history; at least two origin stories in her main title series (now 76 years old) and a complex number of roles she must play including Amazonian warrior and god of war. Not to mention, Lynda Carter’s iconic 1970s TV series run as Wonder Woman made it seem impossible to identify a replacement.
Fans had a peek at Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in the unpopular Zack Snyder-directed Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Wonder Woman appears to battle the movie’s enemy with Batman and Superman. Neither knows who (or what) she is, so her mystery is acknowledged by the leads when Superman asks, “Is she with you?” and Batman replies, “I thought she was with you.” This is a good sign that someone understands Wonder Woman’s mystery and independence.
Capturing the Spirit
Capturing the spirit of Wonder Woman might have seemed impossible but writer Geoff Johns and Allen Heinberg, director Patty Jenkins, and actress Gal Gadot did it. One of the big questions was which origin story would Wonder Woman retain in the film. The answer: all of them. Was she sculpted out of clay as her mother told her? Yes, she believes that at the beginning of the movie. Was she secretly conceived during a tryst between her mother and Zeus? Yes, and therefore she is a demigod who has the power to take on the God of War (her half-brother) and the film’s primary villain.
The movie strikes a balance between the quirky early years of Wonder Woman by including sidekick Etta Candy (in the film she is Steve Trevor’s witty secretary), the darker Wonder Woman of Azzarello’s more recent storyline in which Wonder Woman discovers the truth of her origins (in the film she is told the truth about her conception) by Ares (god of war), and the spirit of Diana, Princess of Themyscira being present in man’s world. This balance creates a sense of authenticity that has been lost in many of the recent superhero movie adaptations.
Set during World War I, Wonder Woman is authentic to what comic book fans know (and feel about Diana and Wonder Woman) and Gal Gadot captures her range. As film critic Christopher Orr writes:
“Befitting its World War I setting, Wonder Woman has a certain throwback charm, with Gadot and Pine playing off one another as good-naturedly as partners in a 1930s screwball comedy.”
Gadot is remarkable in the role, and the writers push the character to subtly address criticisms including her outfit. In the film, Etta Candy is charged with dressing Diana in an outfit appropriate for the streets of London. Gadot’s Wonder Woman tries on one long skirt after another and while donning an ankle-length brown skirt wonders how women fight in such outfits. She ventures a kick only to tear the skirt’s buttons. This is a moment that challenges decades of criticism of her outfit.
An Authentic Adventure
During the explosive fight scenes the audience must be captivated by her strength, power, and drive to bring justice rather than admiring (or fearing) any bared flesh. Though, as a side note, there was so little bared flesh that I forgot to even make a note of it. Often cloaked in her dark cape, Wonder Woman’s body is never on display, and (though I might experience backlash) I didn’t have a single moment or concern that Gadot, Wonder Woman, or any other woman was objectified in the film. Wonder Woman is a film about the real Wonder Woman, in her real circumstances, with her real reactions. The film is full of action, humor, and compassion, and it entertains. Gadot brings the same freshness and vulnerability to the role that Carter did, but with a ferocity unseen before this depiction.
This Wonder Woman opens with a view into the life of young Diana and seamlessly follows her progress into a young woman with hints that a secret is being kept from Diana about who (or what) she is. Our understanding of the Amazons as fierce warriors reaches a crescendo when Nazi soldiers follow Steve Trevor onto Themyscira and the Amazon army, led by Diana’s aunt and trainer Antiope (portrayed by Robin Wright) greet them with bloody and fearless combat. This scene, staged on a beautiful beach and framed by a magnificent ocean, is worth the price of the ticket as the soldiers are taken down by the charge of Amazon warriors who greet gunfire with acrobatics, hand-to-hand combat, and skilled archery.
Gadot’s earnest Diana stumbles into this battle and it strikes the right note to watch her vulnerability come to life in her first engagement with danger. The character’s real drive, her compassion for humans, shines through in this depiction. Diana wants to bring peace and safety to humans more than she wants anything, and that hope feels new in these times that are so fraught with tension and unresolved conflict.
Have you seen Wonder Woman? What was your favorite part of the movie?
Orr, Christopher. “With Wonder Woman, DC Comics Finally Gets It Right.” The Atlantic, 2 June 2017.
https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/06/wonder-woman-review/528816/ accessed 3 June 2017.