Wonder Woman (2017). 141 minutes. Directed by Patty Jenkins. Featuring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis.
Catharsis. For me, watching Wonder Woman was catharsis.
In activist spaces, we write and talk about the importance of representation. But the emotional experience of seeing that representation take place, and realizing its personal importance, is another thing entirely.
I love watching superhero movies, but this one is different. Women’s strength isn’t just included, but embraced. For the first twenty or so minutes, the film portrays life on the island paradise of Themyscira, home of the Amazons. Their society is comprised entirely of women, a breed of warriors who never age and continuously hone their fighting skills to defend themselves and the human race from Aries, the god of war. These first few scenes are action packed, giving audiences the bad-ass combat moves they crave while placing the brazen strength, determination, and courage of women center stage. Seeing a blockbuster film highlight women in this way is not only empowering, but energizing. Women aren’t the sidekicks, the love interests, the second thoughts; they are the heroes.
And Diana (AKA Wonder Woman) is the epitome of the classic hero. Through the film, she is consumed by a passion for justice and compassion for those in need; her empathy isn’t seen as a weakness, but one of her greatest strengths. She leaves Themyscira to help American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) prevent the German forces from inflicting a deadly chemical weapon attack on their enemies. She chooses to enter the world outside her paradisiacal island to stop unbelievable suffering and to defeat Aries once and for all. In a world of misery and death, Diana’s unbridled empathy is refreshing. She calls out the British generals’ cowardice when they propose leaving their troops to die; where Diana comes from, generals fight in the heat of battle with their soldiers. When Steve insists that every person cannot be saved, and that they must leave a French village to perish in order to pursue their greater mission, Diana refuses to listen. And when Steve patronizes Diana’s insistence that Aries must be destroyed for peace to be achieved, she is not deterred. Diana is a full-fledged superhero, one who isn’t defined by her relationship with men and who succeeds despite them.
Though the film has serious and heavy topics, some welcome levity is introduced through witty dialogue and social commentary. When Steve brings Diana to London, he tries to find her an outfit that won’t draw as much attention as her Amazonian garb. However, finding battle-ready clothing amid the options made for early twentieth-century women proves difficult for Diana. “How can a woman possibly fight in this?” she asks Steve’s secretary, Etta. We laugh as Diana awkwardly tries to kick in a ball gown, but we also see the feminist point director Patty Jenkins is trying to make about the restrictions made upon women by fashion. She uses this light-hearted approach to feminist commentary several times: near the beginning of the film, Diana and Steve are having a conversation about sexuality. Because Diana has lived among women her entire life, Steve assumes that she is largely unaware of sex. But he learns that she has read “all 12 volumes of Cleo’s treatises on body and pleasure,” which conclude that “men are essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.” I laughed out loud in the theater at that line. Even in its lighter moments, Wonder Woman has something important to say.
Inevitably, there are a couple places where the film falls short. Though women of color are represented, they are not given any of the key roles, which I saw as a missed opportunity to lift up an underrepresented group in film. And while Patty Jenkins directed the film, there was hardly gender parity in Wonder Woman’s production crew and writing staff. However, when I saw Wonder Woman race across the battlefield, shield raised in defiance, I felt something electrifying. A thrill I also felt when I heard Diana’s mother issue her this warning: “Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you.” These words purposefully reach beyond the screen. They are a reminder that the world is still that of men and can be a treacherous place for a defiant woman, a reminder that we too must pick up our swords and continue to fight for ourselves and for the little girls and boys who yearn for Wonder Women to look up to.
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