Hello, everyone! In light of the mockery resulting from the leaked Joss Whedon Wonder Woman script, I thought I would focus on the reasons why Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman works as a showcase of empowered female independence, instead of all the reasons that Whedon’s does not. Let me preface this post by saying that I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice, once to watch it without criticism, and the second time to watch it objectively. And while I agree that the film has a few flaws, I’m hard pressed to call it anything less than a fantastic movie. It’s beautifully, energetically shot, the characterization is compelling, the relationships are realistic and engaging, and the aesthetic details from the set design to the costumes to the hairstyling are a feast for the eyes. These elements, however, are only part of what makes Wonder Woman worth the watch. What separates this film from the rest of the billion dollar superhero movies is that, for perhaps the first time, Wonder Woman portrays a woman as she might see herself. That’s a perspective that’s not only rare to see in superhero movies, but in any Hollywood film.
She’s strong without being masculine. One of the traps that films fall into when featuring “strong” female characters into is that they try to make them too masculine, while going high on the sex appeal to balance out that masculinity. Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince doesn’t fall into that trap and neither do her fellow Amazons, or any other female characters in the film. Diana is an intensely fierce warrior. She deflects bullets with her gauntlets, charges across No-Man’s Land through a hailstorm of machine gun fire, and even does battle with Ares, the god of war. But not once does she stop being compassionate, kind, or feminine. She smiles at babies on the street and comforts her PTSD-stricken colleague. Even in the heat of battle, her first thought is for the safety of those around her. When her partner Steve Trevor informs her of his potentially fatal plan to foil Dr. Poison near the end of the film, Diana tells him to let her do it, that whatever it is, she can do it. Even though she’s fighting her own battle with Ares, she is ready to help Steve with his own mission without hesitation. Compared to superheroes like Batman, Superman, or Iron Man who resent their acts of heroism, Diana is selfless, the essence of kindness. She is combative only to protect, not to harm.
Similarly, the Amazons manage to be a warrior culture without being a masculine culture. They rock stylish Grecian gowns and Spartan combat outfits without sacrificing their skill at battle. Jenkins allows them to be gorgeous without it being performative. One standout was how adeptly the script balanced acknowledging Diana’s beauty and sexuality (which could never stay hidden) without sexualizing her. When male characters first see her, they remark on her beauty, but it’s never brought up again, and her looks are never valued over her other more important qualities. The refutation of objectification is something that Joss Whedon, and many other writers, would never think to do. They don’t understand that there is a difference between appreciating a woman’s beauty and focusing only on her beauty. Jenkins understands that difference.
She’s an icon of equality. Another reason that Wonder Woman excels? Diana never puts down the men around her in order to make herself look better. Although Steve is initially skeptical of Diana’s ability to defend herself, one demonstration of her skill shuts him up real quickly. If this was a story about Wonder Man and Suzanna Trevor, Wonder Man would never let that moment of superiority go. But Wonder Woman doesn’t stoop that low. Diana gets her time to shine and so does Steve and the rest of the male characters. For every feat of Diana’s, Steve has an (almost) equal one. It’s a novelty to see such an empowered secondary character in a world where Lois Lane’s only role is to get Superman in trouble and all of Batman’s girlfriends die. Wonder Woman isn’t petty. It doesn’t enact revenge on its male characters for the years and years of Hollywood’s atrocious treatment of women. Instead, the film promotes a spirit of camaraderie between men and women. Diana and Steve support each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Even when they inevitably fall in love, neither becomes the weaker partner. Their plots benefit from each other, but they don’t depend on each other. They have one of the most successful superhero movie relationships to date because both of them are independent, fully developed characters in a mutually beneficial love affair. Now if only the new Justice League movie would accord Lois Lane the same respect. But that’s probably too much to hope for.
And most importantly…she has agency. Don’t tell Diana what to do. Don’t even try. I can’t express how refreshing it is to see a female character disregard every single order mean to inhibit her. Steve tells her to stay back? She steps in front of him. Steve tells her to leave Parliament? She walks right back in. Steve tells her to be quieter? She yells louder. This disobedience seems so simple on the surface, as it’s something that male characters indulge in almost every film. In Wonder Woman, Steve disobeys the Amazons by lying to them when they ask for truth and secretly leaving their island with Diana. He disobeys Diana’s wishes when he doesn’t immediately take her to the war and disobeys his commander multiple times throughout the film to accomplish his own goals. We don’t question these acts because we take them for granted. Throughout the history of film, we’ve been taught that male characters disobey because they have their own agency, their own ideas of what is right and wrong and the ability to choose for themselves whether to act on those ideas. We’ve been taught that women don’t. They obey. So when Diana screams at Steve in the hall of Parliament for lying to her, it’s not just an act of disobedience, it’s an act of rebellion. She’s rejecting every standard that has ever been set for women. Be nice. Be quiet. Be obedient. Diana is none of those things.
It’s the rejection of this entrenched sexism that makes Wonder Woman such an empowering film. From the little things, like Themiscyra’s diverse, democratic government, to the big things, like the fact that the woman v. woman combat never came close to a sexy catfight, Wonder Woman leads the way as an exemplary feminist film, superhero film, and film in general. Here’s to hoping that we get many, many, more. And here’s to knowing that we probably won’t. But if Wonder Woman can singlehandedly end World War I, then maybe Hollywood can change too.