Wonder Woman is not just a superhero. She’s an icon of strength, of justice, of feminism. Ever since her creation in 1941, she has become a magnetic figure as part of the holy DC trinity along with Batman and Superman. But, aside from her immense iconography, her most recent adaptation – the first EVER on the big screen, finally! – is huge for a variety of reasons.
I can’t really express what I felt while watching the film. I’ve already seen it twice and both times I was overcome with feels and internal flails because it is so fucking powerful and matters so much.
It’s the first time we get a superhero movie of this caliber that centers on a female hero. Take a second and look at Batman’s filmography, for example. He has appeared in everything from Tim Burton to Christopher Nolan. Take Marvel heroes like Spiderman, who is now going on his third cinematic incarnation, or the Avengers, the team that includes Black Widow and Scarlet Witch basically swimming upstream in a sea of men who get their own independent films while they are relegated to mostly feature in them (*CROSSING MY FINGERS for Captain Marvel though*). And even though it’s ridiculous that it has taken this long for the world to be ready for a Wonder Woman standalone film of this scale, I’m ecstatic because it’s both a win for gender equality and just SO BADASS!
Now, the plot itself may not be world changing, but it is well-crafted. The narrative is enjoyable and action-filled, balancing perfectly the physicality of the movie with the emotional growth of the character. It beautifully arcs Diana’s journey into becoming THE Wonder Woman and seeks to ground the DC cinematic universe within a historical frame. At the same time, it’s a complete story. In a world where superhero movies are all about team-ups, followups and sequels, it’s great to watch a movie that is solid on its own. It tells a story, HER story, independently and lets Diana stand tall on her own two feet without any need for cameos or post-credit scenes. It proclaims it’s ALL about Wonder Woman, leaving the focus on her alone.
This aspect is where the film succeeds. Not in the specifics of the plot, but rather in the way Patty Jenkins uses detail to empower rather than oversimplify Wonder Woman. It would have been all too easy to over-sexualize a character like Diana. As a superhero, a lot of attention is placed on the movement of her body, and, as a woman, there is a fundamental difference in how that movement is depicted and followed cinematically. Unfortunately, when the camera focuses on a woman’s body, be it fighting or walking, it will typically scan and linger. It will emphasize the curvatures of her body, the size of her breasts and butt, etc. Sometimes, she may not even be the focus of the scene, yet her positioning and framing will highlight those assets. The same can be said for poster art and any kind of film promotion. (No one will ever forget the infamous Order of the Phoenix poster that photoshopped Emma Watson’s body to make her more curvaceous. Argh, don’t even get me started.)
And this is the entire point. The WAY in which the female body is represented in film is important because it can reinforce patriarchal notions that are extremely damaging. Most of the time, this scanning of the camera becomes voyeuristic and constructs the eye of the viewer around the male gaze even without actively realizing it. It is limiting and positions the female body as something to be deconstructed and observed for others’ enjoyment. It also disregards the potential for a different type of audience perspective, creating a more gendered space at the movies. The worst part is that we are so used to this type of visual representation that we don’t even notice it being done. It comes as a given that, for example, when a woman is shown swimming there is almost always a sensuality attached to the movement of her body in the water.
But, Wonder Woman does not do that, and I think that’s what is so paradigm-shifting to me and to so many women I have spoken to since my initial viewing. After the movie, my friend – a.k.a. my favorite narcoleptic sloth/warrior princess – told me that in the scene where Diana jumps into the ocean to save Steve, she was expecting the camera to at some point focus on the curb of her butt. This never happened and she was pleasantly surprised. This detail may seem insignificant, but it demonstrates the prevalent issues present in the depictions of women on screen and how this movie fights to break those conventions from the very start.
Throughout the film, her body, along with those of the other Amazons, is shown not as an object to be viewed, but as pure power, strength and ability much like the bodies of her male counterparts. Diana is a full-fledged character and her journey is given the same treatment and respect. The fight scenes are not only AWESOME to watch – she truly kicks SO MUCH ASS! It’s majestic! – but brilliantly and carefully choreographed. She fights with the same intensity and zeal and looks cool AF doing it. Just because she is a superhero and a woman, it doesn’t mean that her body needs to be dissected and made purely desirable. Instead, her body is her vessel and she is in control both narratively and visually, and this is powerful to watch. It shows that something different and more representational is possible.
Patty Jenkins claims that her intent was to make a story about a hero from HER point of view. This concept is central to the construction of the camera’s eye as it frames the story around Diana’s own vision of herself and her perception of the world. She is learning who she is, coming to terms with the brutal reality of humankind and trying to understand her purpose. As viewers, instead of simply observing her, we see through her eyes and get to experience her internal struggles along with her agency and independence. We are with her as she stands at the very center and battles with the dangers of war, misogyny and sexism.
This is all thanks to Jenkins’s vision. I am a hundred percent convinced this movie is what it is because of her brilliant directorial work. As a woman in an industry dominated by men, she is fighting the good fight and succeeds here, showing the world you don’t have to objectify women to sell movie tickets and that having a film led completely by a strong woman can kill it at the box office. I’m impressed by the choices she made, from her casting of badass real world athletes to play the Amazons of Themyscira to her spotlighting of Diana’s depth, to make a movie that, though incredibly physical, emphasizes Diana’s power and complexities as a PERSON over her body as a sexual object. It makes the character more relatable on a human level, while at the same time making her inspirational. In a way, despite being a superpowered goddess, she is more real than many female characters who are visually relegated to imbalanced gendered constructs.
I am grateful this movie exists and is getting such great reviews; however, I wish we wouldn’t have to applaud a movie that does right by a woman for once because all movies should. I wish this wasn’t such a “refreshing” take, but I remain hopeful that there will be more feminist content like this. I praise Patty Jenkins, and I believe only a woman could have taken such great care of Diana and prevented this film from becoming a complete mess. We need more women in spaces of authority and agency, more women making choices in Hollywood to create better content for all.
Personally, Wonder Woman was a total revelation. I came out of the film feeling strong and empowered. I am beyond happy that the newer generations have a movie like this and that she can inspire adults and kids of all genders and non-gender abiding identities to find agency through her story. I think that’s exactly what we need to truly progress. Movies that will create spaces for people to relate, understand and feel represented. I hope Wonder Woman will follow in the footsteps of its pioneer lead character and usher in an era of female-led movies because the world needs more feminist characters breaking the archetypal boxes that foment gender inequality and injustice. We need more little girls AND little boys to want to be like Wonder Woman and not view femininity as weakness.