Director: Patty Jenkins
Screenplay by: Allan Heinberg
Feminism in film is a widely discussed topic, as it should be. In historical cinema, there have been plenty of times when the women characters have been pushed to one side, one-dimensional or merely there for voyeuristic purposes. In some media, it has now taken a 360 turn to the point that there can’t be a woman on screen without them exhibiting some form of ‘girl power’. But what is girl power, really? In some cases, the need to show how strong women are has been stripped down to seemingly masculine traits like physical strength, emasculating those around them and screaming cliché girl power lines from the top of their lungs.
Wonder Woman is the stand-alone origin story of the DC superhero of the same name, otherwise known as Diana. The Amazonian Princess sets out from her home of Themyscira when it is stumbled upon by American spy, Steve Trevor. Set in World War I, the pair set out to the front in Belgium in order to fight against the Germans’ new weapon – a deadly gas that could wipe out millions of people – which Diana believes has been crafted by Ares, God of War.
When I started to watch this film, I intended for it to be one that I would just add to my watched-list and that I would undoubtedly forget about. DC have created a mixed barrel of films with mixed reviews from fans in recent years while trying to keep up with their rival, Marvel. Many of the ones I’ve seen have been easily forgotten about or do not resonate as strongly as their predecessors before comic films became as prevalent as they are today. But I can happily say how wrong I was.
Not knowing much of the source material myself, I really didn’t know what to expect when going into this. The link backs to Greek mythology are a little rough at times but I don’t think it’s intentional – they want to make it their own. It’s more of an inspired by Greek mythology as obviously, Wonder Woman isn’t in the original texts. So those criticisms are kind of moot. The opening sequence did take me back to my days when I was obsessed with Xena: Warrior Princess, though.
Diana, portrayed by Gal Gadot, grew up on the all-female island of Themyscira, never knowing the impact of a male patriarchy simply because there wasn’t one. The male looming threat of Ares is a distant one, nothing more than a bedtime story that her mother, Hippolyta, shrugs off as she never wants Diana to have to fulfil her destiny. When Steve Trevor, portrayed by Chris Pine, stumbles onto the shores of the paradise, Diana’s eyes are opened. She knows that she has to return with him in order to fight against Ares, who she believes is at the root of everything evil in the world outside of Themyscira.
Steve and the other men in the film are often bemused and shocked by how Diana acts. She’s never been taught about social constructs such as having to be fully covered, keeping her mouth shut in the presence of a man (something which was actively being fought against in the film as it was around the time women were fighting for the vote.) Despite this, Diana continues to fight for her voice to be heard and speaks up in the cabinet meeting. This is clearly a very feminist moment but it isn’t forced.
When I speak of forced feminism, I’m talking about the ‘girl power’ moments in films that are literally there in order to make the feminist audience happy while adding nothing to the story. More often than not, they are also written from a male perspective so in the writing room they’re like ‘aww, yeah, we’ll have all the girls come together even though they’ve been on completely separate parts of the battlefield and they’ll all show their physical powers and woo! Girl power!’ I’m looking at you Avengers: Infinity War.
Patty Jenkins, the director, keeps an equal balance alongside this. While the screenplay is created by a male, it doesn’t fall into the same trap of those that have these forced feminism moments does. Because a lot of the time, the forced feminist moments are the female characters showing their physical strength rather than their emotional strength – or, in fact, finding strength in their femininity. This is something that Wonder Woman captures masterfully. While Diana could easily break a man’s hand, she doesn’t feel the need to show it all the time. She is still interested in how she looks, she still coos at the sight of a baby and is irrecoverably empathetic – all traits which previous films have seen as ‘weak’ or have been too afraid to show in their female characters because it doesn’t fall into their construct of girl power.
Another criticism that I’ve seen is that Diana is lead by Steve but I really don’t think that’s the case. Yes, he bosses her around when they first arrive to London but it’s because he has a mission to fulfil. She does let him do it because she can’t exactly go away on her own – she doesn’t know where she’s going. But she constantly battles against his ideals, is the catalyst for him to decide that they’re going to go to the front. She’s still the one in charge. As for the final boss battle, it is Steve’s death and Steve’s words that give her the strength to fight Ares but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there before – Diana’s true strength has always been in her heart, they showed that from the opening scenes on Themyscira. A female character can be in love without it defining her character.
Wonder Woman was a refreshing addition to the DCEU and made me very excited for the sequel. I hope that it can prove a change in forced feminism and will allow writers to see that sometimes women’s strength can come from their femininity.