Wonder Woman Is an Important Step Forward For the DC Universe — and Women Everywhere
She couldn't have been more than 7, maybe 8 years old. She bounced into the movie theater to see Wonder Woman rather than walked, excitedly hopping from one foot to another as her dad followed close behind. She wore a homemade costume, complete with a glittering gold crown, a baby blanket tied around her neck as an impromptu cape, and some wrist wraps made out of tinfoil. Smiling from ear to ear, she sat down a few rows in front of me, and I couldn't get her face out of my mind for the film's entire run, which clocks in at a lengthy but enjoyable two hours and change.
Yes, director Patty Jenkins's take on the beloved female superhero has finally arrived, and praise Hippolyta, it's fantastic.
Over the last few years, Warner Bros.' attempts to bring DC Comics characters to the big screen haven't exactly gone well, critically speaking. After Christopher Nolan's stellar run with his Dark Knight trilogy in the early aughts, Zack Snyder's joyless Man of Steel fell flat in 2013. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (also directed by Snyder) and David Ayer's Suicide Squad came along three years later, and though they raked in some serious cash for Warner Bros. — Batman v Superman earned an astounding $873 million, while Suicide Squad pulled in $745 million — the reviews were unkind, to say the least (they hold 26 percent and 25 percent ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively).
When Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman briefly popped up in 2016's Batman v Superman and effortlessly stole the show from Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, a lot of fans' excitement rightly came with a trace of trepidation — would DC let us down again with another dark and dour trudge? The answer is a resounding no.
Even though Wonder Woman is still in the same DC Extended Universe as its predecessors, the film lacks their cynical tone and style in favor of showcasing an endearing and earnest superhero. Diana's naiveté has yet to be dimmed by the gritty realities of defending a humanity that doesn't necessarily deserve her, and Gadot brings a surprising amount of levity to the role. The fiery demigoddess from the island of Themyscira, which is inhabited solely by a race of female warriors called the Amazons, is steadfast in her beliefs that peace can be achieved for mankind if only she can destroy Ares, the god of war.
She gets her chance to save the world when the film's damsel in distress — Steve Trevor (the ridiculously charming Chris Pine), an American spy working undercover for British intelligence during WWI — crashes just off the shore of her island. After recovering from the shock of meeting a guy for the first time, Diana convinces him to take her to the land of man (erm, London) as a favor for saving his life, so she can kill Ares and put an end to the war she believes he's responsible for.
Diana approaches customs of modern civilization with a wide-eyed curiosity. She questions Steve about things like why a man and woman are holding hands on the sidewalk, and a memorable sequence sees her kicking and punching her way out of the restrictive, frou-frou 1900s outfits he wants her to wear to blend in. At the same time, she's unrelentingly fierce and highly skilled when it comes to combat (being raised by Amazonian women will do that, I imagine) and refuses to let (or even bother to understand why) her status as a woman might hold her back in Steve's world. She charges into a room full of all male military generals with the same ferocity she has on the battlefield. She also has a refreshingly frank (and positive) approach to sex and never once falters or pauses to question her own self-worth. In other words, she's literally and figuratively smashing the patriarchy.
All of this is, of course, owed to both Gadot's performance and Jenkins's smart decisions behind the camera. There's a seamless streamlining of years of comic book history and a straightforward introduction to the Greek mythology that is woven into the fabric of Wonder Woman's mythos. Absent are clunky tie-ins to Justice League or other DC characters (save for two quick references to Bruce Wayne and Wayne Industries at the beginning and end of the film), which gives Wonder Woman a sense of individuality and lightness. Rather than shoehorning in teases or Easter eggs for future movies, Jenkins tells Diana's origin story simply. Diana is the star, and it's all the better for it.
Along with its pivot away from the feel of other DC properties, it's hard not to notice the parallels to Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger. Like Steve Rogers, Diana is idealistic and passionate about what she believes in, and much of Wonder Woman is wrapped up in the carnage of war. The action scenes are excellent (slo-mo for days), and the era of "the war to end war" provides the perfect backdrop for Diana's strength and freedom to rail against. In the 1910s, women couldn't vote, were barely a part of the workforce, and certainly weren't allowed to be a part of government; Diana is the antithesis of those values in every way.
This is never more apparent than in her first real tangle with the Germans, who are posited as one of the film's big bads. Uninhibited by the restraints of an average human body, she ignores the pleas of all the men around her to stay down, instead stepping bravely out into the no man's land of the trenches to save an occupied village on the other side. Flinging machine gun bullets off of her armor with a steely determination and advancing on the enemy in a way none of the other soldiers ever could, it ends up being the film's biggest stand-up-and-cheer moment.
As I watched Diana in this scene, I found myself truly moved, struggling to keep the rising lump in my throat at bay. I couldn't help but think of that little girl dressed in her homemade costume, staring up in wonder at an empowering female character dismantling the rules of what women can be and what they can do. She, and tons of other young women out there, finally have a superhero of their own to grow up with and be inspired by in a time when they need it most. It's because of this that Wonder Woman transcends being just a really good superhero movie — it's so, so much more than that. What Jenkins and Gadot have accomplished, carving out a space for women in a fandom that has long been dominated by men, is incredibly important. In an age when Black Widow can't even get her own action figure, let alone a solo film, I couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief.
Wonder Woman is here, and she's here to stay.