Film & Television

‘Wonder Woman’: Saving the World, One Woman at a Time

It’s thrilling that less than a week into its run, Wonder Woman is enjoying the critical and commercial success that it is. But, in some ways it’s also unfair. There is more weight than one film by one director about one woman should bear. Much has been made about the movie being “a first.” If it had flopped, would the industry be willing to fund another opportunity? You can practically hear the studio executives Monday morning quarterbacking. “We tried a female superhero and it didn’t work.” Or, “We gave a female director a $150 million budget and we lost a fortune.” Quite simply, male directors are not held as accountable.

As Jenkins herself observed, “I can’t take on the history of 50 percent of the population just because I’m a woman.” But, she’s also quick to challenge the misogynistic status quo. “I’m sure there’s a long history of belief that certain jobs are masculine. But, why a director would fall into that makes me confused. Because it feels like a very natural job for a woman. It’s incredibly maternal in a way. You’re caretaking all sorts of things.”

Along with taking care of an iconic superhero and massive Hollywood budget, Jenkins had to strike a number of delicate balances. For example, between serving a loyal (and sometimes quite literal) fan base and a need to attract new audiences. And, between leveraging tried-and-true big screen formulas and breaking new feminist ground.

Some critics have pointed out that Wonder Woman, for all of its female warrior glory, still falls prey to sexist stereotypes. Again, I think that there may be too much pressure on this one movie to solve all of the industry’s issues. Of course, I can see some of their points. But, I would counter that while Gadot is undeniably easy on the eyes, male movie superheroes aren’t exactly homely. The “Man of Steel” in particular is about as dreamy and chiseled and beefcake as you get. Jenkins cast a beautiful actress, but has fun with preconceived ideas. In fact, one of Wonder Woman’s most delightful recurring motifs is when Diana’s male companions notice her looks first and are completely turned around once they see her in action. When their progress is stalled in the trenches, Trevor explains that there’s been no movement for months. The barren fields standing between their troops and the Germans are “no man’s land.” When she understands that “no man has been able to make it across,” Diana’s eye gleams. After all, she’s many things; but she’s no man.

Jenkins, along with screenwriter Allan Heinberg, has instilled Wonder Woman with something for everyone. It’s a mix of different movie genres that somehow work together. The character’s origin story has logic (although it deviates from the original comic book and I did miss the masked tournament in which Diana won the right to return Trevor to man’s world). There is a sweet love story; a satisfying battle between good and evil; and a redemptive if not wholly happy ending. And, of course, in today’s world of CGI, there are epic battle scenes. Wonder Woman is a trained warrior and we aren’t allowed to forget it. She kicks bad guy ass, often and spectacularly.

When all is said and done, however, Wonder Woman is a lover as well as a fighter. Face-to-face with Ares at last, she challenges his assertion that war is everything. Diana explains, “But, I believe in love.” You will too.

Love can save the world — or at least this summer’s box office.

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