Not what you expected and better than you could have ever hoped, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot save DC’s world.
The question of Wonder Woman was a relatively recent one for me. As someone who grew up primarily on Spider-Man (Amazing) and Batman (West, then Keaton), she was always floating in a peripheral fog along with your Super/Iron Men and Hulks and Green Lanterns. The Lynda Carter TV show didn’t get the airtime in the UK that was given to Adam West’s camp Bat escapades, so she never really had a place in my superhero fantasy landscape. Then, as TV shows became movies and parts of shared universes, it was the male figures that led the way (albeit with Scarlett Johansson brilliantly snapping at their heels). So, to me, Wonder Woman was little more than a curiosity.
That only really changed a short while before Batman V Superman. Inspired by some fantastic art popping up on Twitter by the likes of Adam Hughes and Mahmud Asrar, I bought Sensation Comics feat. Wonder Woman Vol.1. Its approach of using different artists and writers to tell unconnected stories appealed to me; as it turns out, it was the perfect tool to learn about the character. For the art styles and narratives may have been wildly different, but they were tied together by Diana’s key attributes of empathy, compassion, strength, intelligence, and love. She immediately stood out against the backdrop of the superheroes that I was used to. Instead of furrowed brows and clenched fists struggling to deal with multiple identities and motivations, there was a person that lived with a purity of intention, absolute love for all beings, but with the ability to fight for those that could not do so for themselves. Combined in a heady mix of Greek Mythology set against modern settings, it’s a wonderful anthology that led to the immediate purchases of Volumes 2 and 3.
(Side note: Vol.2’s Wonder World, with words by James Tynion IV and art by Noelle Stevenson, is still one of the best Wonder Woman stories I’ve ever read and had me fist-pumping for joy by the end.)
I’ll admit that my new love for Wonder Woman was heavily influenced by my love for my daughter. I’ve always tried to bring in influences that will weaponise her optimism, turn resilience into armour, plant the seeds of creativity and empathy and confidence in the hope that they’ll grow into a forest. Wonder Woman fit that requirement perfectly, giving her a bright, vibrant character to emulate and idolise. Everything she does now come with a mantra, an attempt to meet her heroine’s high standards –
I’m brave! Strong! Powerful! A good friend! And…fast!
When portrayed correctly, Wonder Woman is a delicate balance between empathy, love, and strength; three interwoven points of a triangle. Hard enough to achieve in comics, let alone in a movie. Batman V Superman, though, was the first sign that everything might be OK. In the middle of that fuddled mess of a movie rose Diana, led with confidence and charm by Gal Gadot, ending in a climatic grey CG-fest where the only shining light was her smile. It was both comforting and frustrating; to finally have a great on-screen Wonder Woman, but buried in the sludge of Martha’s Boys.
The announcement of her own, standalone movie was greeted with trepidation, with lingering questions over its script and structure. There’s no question it was a gamble; from focus, to star, to director, there were a thousand separate elements that could have doomed the project, but the final result was spectacular. My first viewing was like basking in the sun, the glowing energy of Gadot’s characterisation blazing through the grey torture of WWI.
The second viewing was all about detail; a finer appreciation of the film’s pacing and quadruple climax (one being fake, of course), and a surprisingly deeper emotional punch that left me reeling. Each time, though, I was so impressed how Jenkins had interwoven Diana’s personal journey – her change from innocence, to shock, to defiance, to final brilliance – into Chris Pine’s narrative as the head of his tenacious WWI squad. Instead of focusing purely on yet another superhero origin story, the film intelligently used one plot stream to enhance the other.
And then there’s Gal Gadot. Her casting may have shocked some at first – there was never any question of her ass-kicking abilities, more general concern about her tiny frame for an Amazon goddess – but every single concern disappears within the first twenty minutes. However, the stroke of genius here is that as much focus is given to Wonder Woman’s soft, loving side as to her skill as a combatant. The liberation of Veld is one of my favourite movie sequences in years, and one that shows Diana’s true power as a fighter. However, it’s her reaction to the townspeople afterwards, lining up to show their appreciation, that shows Gadot’s understanding of the character. Here, Wonder Woman is all smiles and eyes, not coy but filled with true, genuine love that radiates out of the actress like a sunbeam. It’s such an effective display, further solidified by her actions in the last third, that makes it hard to imagine the part being played by anyone else.
It’s this message of love and belief that resonates long after the final credits roll. It’s such an important movie, not just for finally elevating a female superhero to A-List status, but also for what it tries to teach: that love is important, and the choices we make affect everyone. This is perfect, loyal portrayal of a character that is already empowering more girls and women, boys and men. At a time where much of the world seems to be intent on pointing fingers and building barriers, there could not have been a better time for Wonder Woman to prove them all wrong.