By Andrea Thompson
Since Film Girl Film will be helping to host a 70mm screening of “Wonder Woman” for International Women's Day, it seems only fitting that today's column would be about the 2017 film adaptation, which against all odds, did the character justice.
Wonder Woman is an amazing character, but let's face it, it's hard to do a character with a magic lasso justice. And DC Comics didn't exactly have a record of doing right by their other iconic heroes on the big screen. Wonder Woman herself has undergone many changes, which is to be expected from a character who's been around since 1941, but she's mostly remained a strong, capable Amazon warrior of compassion who is devoted to equality for all, especially for women.
This has made Wonder Woman controversial from the start, especially since her creator William Marston never hid the fact that he wanted his hero to stand for a new kind of woman, one who would make an ideal leader, and not only stand against oppression, but against prudery. Marston himself was involved in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and another woman. There was even a film around this time that delved into this relationship and how it affected Wonder Woman's creation, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.
So it makes sense that the 2017 film would also court controversy. It languished in development for years, beginning in 1996, with everyone from Ivan Reitman to Joss Whedon attached to the project. Such a long beginning generally doesn't bode well for a movie's chances, but the movie would become a critical and commercial success, topping many best of 2017 lists, and is also considered one of the best superhero movies ever made, with much of the credit due to Gal Gadot's incredible performance as the lead.
We meet first see Wonder Woman when she's still Diana, a young child on her utopian island Themyscira, populated solely by Amazon women. After some resistance from her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), she is also trained to be a warrior, which she embraces and excels at. After she completes her training as an adult, she learns of the brutal World War I conflict raging in the outside world when American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island. Feeling a strong sense of duty, she decides to leave the island and try to end the war, which she believes the god Ares to be responsible for.
What works about this movie is the fact that we see a rare fusion of the actor and the role. Gadot doesn't just play Wonder Woman, she becomes her, much in the way that we associate Chris Evans with Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. with Iron Man. Similarly, we get to see her journey, and watch her come into her own. Crucially, we also get to see this from her perspective, not from Trevor's which is what Whedon's script originally intended. On that note, Pine also does great work as the man who is essentially not only Wonder Woman's guide to the greater world, but to men in general. He is the first man she meets, and of course he becomes her love interest, one that is respectful of her and has to inform her about how his world works without coming off as mansplaining to the audience. He gets the kind of treatment that all superhero love interests should receive.
Wonder Woman's journey in the film is also deeply engrossing without the usual ingredients that seem required to make heroes, especially women, interesting. Diana is not conflicted about her goals, which are to end war and make the world a better place without forgetting about the civilians who are caught in the middle. This concern is what led to the iconic No Man's Land scene, wherein Diana puts on her superhero garb and steps out onto the battlefield to save the civilians on the other side, despite being warned of the dangers, both to herself and the mission, by Trevor. Director Patty Jenkins had to fight for this scene, and it's hard to imagine the movie having the impact it did without it. I myself was in awe throughout this scene, and have only remained in awe since. To this day, whenever I don't want to do something I know I need to get done, or I have a task that seems impossible, I put this scene on for motivation.
When Diana does become conflicted, it's for a heartbreaking reason. She has so much faith in people that she honestly believes that killing one villain will lead mankind on the road to peace. Her decision to continue the fight even though she becomes aware of the darkness at the core of humanity is genuinely inspiring, especially since it incorporates the stories of the people around her, who are often treated as less than.
While this film was undeniable success, there were those who not only found it too feminist, but not feminist enough. Wonder Woman herself was also criticized for her costume, which some found undermined the feminist message, or thought the movie objectified her. Then there were some of the ridiculous reactions to the women-only screenings, which some men were dumb enough to argue were discriminatory. Makes sense then that they apparently some of the best reactions to the film.
For myself, I find it deeply saddening that how a woman looks or dresses still takes precedence over her actions and any other admirable qualities she may have, even for other women. I myself can think of no better way to celebrate International Women's Day than a screening of a film that wholeheartedly embraces what Wonder Woman has come to stand for, namely, compassion, and the dedication to fighting injustice in whatever form it may take.