written by Dayna Abel
It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that a lot of my sense of right and wrong came from superheroes. Specifically, they came from Spider-Man (power and responsibility), Supergirl (hope, help and compassion)…
…and Wonder Woman.
While Supergirl has always been my favorite superhero, there is also a special place in my heart for Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. My dad, from whom I inherited my love of comics, was a Marvel fan as well as a guy, so I didn’t have much access to Wonder Woman’s earlier adventures. I came to her via the epic Crisis On Infinite Earths, and then in the 1986 reboot so lovingly guided by George Pérez. When I began collecting comics on my own, I began with Phil Jimenez’s run, and later Greg Rucka and Gail Simone. Between those four, they shaped Wonder Woman into the premiere superheroine. Not even Marvel has a female hero so iconic and emblematic.
Now, under the direction of the amazingly talented Patty Jenkins, we have a film which truly, completely captures the purest essence of the character. When I finally got out to the theater Thursday night to see the movie, I wasn’t watching an incredible actress or excellent cinematography.
I was watching Wonder Woman.
There is so, so much I want to spend hours talking about with regards to this film. The cinematography, the use of color, all that stuff. I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve seen the movie, so I’ll be skipping over the plot synopsis.
I will take a brief moment to note just how beautifully the action sequences were shot. None of them were so chaotic that you couldn’t see how the fight was progressing, even with dozens of Amazons on screen at once. Jenkins did use a bit of Zack Snyder’s trademark slow-mo/fast-mo while also not relying on it altogether.
Gal Gadot’s performance as Diana was honestly the best match of actor to character since Christopher Reeve as Superman. I remember feeling like Wonder Woman was going to be a formative movie for girls and women just as Superman was for boys and men back in 1978. Not that any gender can’t enjoy any superhero – hell, I connect with Peter Parker – but there has never been a movie which so perfectly demonstrated female strength. There’s a line from the Supergirl Season Two finale where Cat Grant tells Kara that women’s strength comes from being able to feel our emotions to the fullest extent, and every one of our trials makes us stronger.
Diana’s trial was certainly an emotional and spiritual one. She had been raised by Hippolyta to believe that mankind was intrinsically good, and that all the evils of humanity were the workings of Ares. This belief is the core of her mission – go to Man’s World with Steve Trevor and stop the war by killing Ares.
It’s naïveté, but neither is it doe-eyed innocence. Diana is every inch a warrior, but her life on Themyscira sheltered her from the true horror of modern warfare. Throughout her time on the Western Front, we see her react with shock and disbelief at the cost of war – the sick, the dying, the deaths of innocents. Amazon warfare was always conducted honorably, and it’s true that technological advancements have inevitably made warfare less personal. Killing in the modern world is simply easier, and there’s an argument to be made about how it’s numbed us to the loss of human life. That’s what Diana is seeing. She feels every wound, every death, every pain, because she’s never known how not to.
Another absolutely perfect choice made in the film is how it treats men in comparison to Diana. It’s very easy – and very lazy – to portray a matriarchal society painting men as inferior, or slavering sex beasts. It would have been easy to show overwhelming sexism on display, with men either shown as condescending misogynists or bumbling morons who aren’t anywhere near as awesome as Diana. Wonder Woman demonstrates neither. Feminism is about equality, not superiority, and not once does the film suggest otherwise. Very minor dismissive sexism is on display, but it is always immediately quashed as soon as Diana demonstrates her knowledge. The men see that she knows what she’s talking about, and they accept it and utilize her aid.
The men in Wonder Woman are not warriors born, but neither do they have Diana’s inexperience. Steve Trevor and his soldiers share their knowledge with Diana and she reciprocates. Notably, Steve uses an Amazon technique (“Diana! Shield!”) to assist Diana in battle. A good soldier knows how to utilize and incorporate new information. On the battlefield, Diana goes full Wonder Woman as she crosses “No Man’s Land” (raise your hand if you heard Eowyn saying “I am no man!” in your head there), and Steve’s reaction is to seize the opportunity Diana has given them. “She’s taking all the fire!” he realizes. “Let’s go!” Both Diana and the soldiers utilize their strengths to achieve their objectives together.
But as great a warrior as Diana is, her vulnerability lies not on the battlefield, but in her beliefs. Hippolyta lied to her daughter both about Diana’s origin and the nature of man. When Diana lassos Ares and compels him to tell her the truth, he responds simply “I am.”
This was Diana’s defeat. Ares’ first preference was not to destroy Diana, but to get her to turn away from man. His constant exhortations for her to see what he sees, to view man as no better than a beast, are indicative of his true goal – to kill her compassion.
But both Ares and Diana are incorrect about man, and it’s demonstrated by Steve Trevor’s sacrifice. Even as Diana’s faith is shattered, even as she begins to turn her back on the world, Steve shows her that man is not wholly evil, nor is he wholly good. We watch as Steve fully realizes that the only way he can stop Dr. Poison’s weapon is by getting it as far away from people as possible before destroying it, even as he understands he will have to die to do it. Chris Pine is wonderful in this moment. “Chief…is it flammable?” he asks, and that’s when both he and the audience just know. A soldier fights to end fighting, and Steve’s inner strength is bolstered from his time with Diana.
The lesson of the film was that darkness and light have always existed and always will exist in humanity’s hearts. Ares’ point was that he exacerbated man’s darkness, but he did not create what was already there, as Diana was taught. There is no inherent morality; each person makes a choice. Ares’ influence weakened the light and amplified the dark. Diana didn’t eliminate hate and war, just that little extra push Ares gave. Her lesson was that gods are not to blame for human nature – humans are. They can be corrupted or redeemed, but no one is inherently good or inherently evil. She saw evil in man – Dr. Poison, Ludendorff – but Steve’s sacrifice showed her the good as well. She learned that duality is human nature, that morality is a choice. Learning the lie behind her beliefs – that man was innately good and all the evil came from Ares – is what cost Diana her innocence, but in the end it strengthened her resolve.
Diana inspired Steve, but Steve inspired Diana in turn. This is how it should be: men and women drawing strength from one another, giving the best of ourselves to each other. Our differences should be our strength, not our weakness. Wonder Woman exemplifies that, shows us what can be, shows us a better way.
I’ll end this review by quoting Diana’s last speech in the movie:
DIANA: I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light and learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves…something no hero will ever defeat. But now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay. I fight, and I give. For the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.
Wonder at that.
Dayna can be reached on Twitter @queenanthai.