Wonder Woman vanquished the box office its opening weekend with $103.1 million in revenue. The film was the largest opening ever for a female director (Patty Jenkins), and the first big budget superhero movie featuring a female lead (Gal Gadot as Diana/Wonder Woman). Gadot’s acting and stunts are powerful, and the film gives deference to her beauty and strength with dignity. But the cogency of Wonder Woman lies in its acknowledgement of the feminine genius.
The film follows Diana, Princess of the paradise island Themiscyra. Diana is a multifaceted leader, intellectual, and polyglot, as well as a lover, friend, and humanitarian. She belongs to the tribe of Amazons, fierce warrior women for whom her mother is general and queen.
Beginning a quixotic search for Ares, the god of war, Diana desires to negotiate world peace. Along the way, she tears up the absurd corseted fashions of 1918, coos over an adorable baby, comforts afflicted villagers, and disarms six bad guys at a time with her lasso and sword. Diana’s character centers herself as the subject of the film, divorced from neither strength nor softness.
But as she seeks her quarry, war continues around her. Men die on the battlefield, animals suffer, residents flee the carnage. The human toll grieves Diana, and increases her determination to end the war for good. She approaches each person with care, and a desire to serve each for who they are.
When a mother begs Diana to save her village from destruction in seemingly impassable No Man’s Land, Diana is moved with compassion. Her companion Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) warns her, “We can’t save everyone in this war! It’s not what we are here to do!” She responds, “You’re right…But it’s what I am going to do.” No soul will go unnoticed. Not on her watch.
In this heroic scene, we see Wonder Woman unveiled as the true protagonist, complete with dramatic slow-motion shots. Striding into No Man's Land, Diana takes fire alone, blocking bullets with her bracelets, until Steve and the other soldiers take heart at her courage and leap onto the field after her. Her mythic heroism fulfils her call to fight as a warrior for the weak. She is indefatigable.
Wonder Woman’s armor gives her room to move and to show off her skill. Based on her style from the original comic books, her dress remains spare but modest. She wears her armor for its breeziness, to highlight the strength of her arms and the power of her legs as she fights for justice. She lands from a towering leap and her thigh jiggles. Instead of sexualizing her costume for eye candy, her garb never nods to the male gaze. She is a woman phenomenally, unapologetically.
In many films today, writers assign female characters a one-dimensional extreme: sensitive, love-lorn ingenues who exist simply as love interests, or stoic bad-asses with a traumatic backstory who cannot show feelings. Male leads, on the other hand, are allowed to show strength and vulnerability. Director Peggy Jenkins refreshingly addressed this double-standard in an interview saying, “…women superheroes or strong women characters had to be, ‘I don’t need anyone, I’m the toughest person in the world.’ That’s not fair to anybody. No human being is an island like that.”
Growing up on a literal island without men, Diana originally believes the male sex is superfluous. But over the course of the film, she discovers a harmonious friendship and delightful chemistry with Steve Trevor. Their relationship is complementary, loving, and sacrificial. An interdependent superhero, Diana is exceptionally skilled in close combat, yet relies on the unique gifts of Steve and their team for the success of their mission. When one of her companions offers to leave their quest since he can no longer fight, she reminds him of his other gifts: “Who would play piano for us?” Diana calls him back to his dignity and purpose. She may bear a sword and shield but her ultimate weapons are her courage, compassion, and indomitable spirit.
The great philosopher Edith Stein writes, “The world does not need what women have. It needs what women are.” Diana’s character offers an authentic representation of who she truly is: virtuous, empathetic, and fierce all at once.
Young girls need true heroes. Like Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, Sophie Scholl, Malala Yousafzai, and Claressa Shields, human history is filled with wonder women who were spurred by a cultural moment and a deep sense of the rights of the most vulnerable. Diana represents the strength of women who are unafraid to embrace the vocation they have been given. In this way, Wonder Woman is a reminder of the immense power women possess, and a call for them to wield it.