First appearing in comics in 1941, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who helped invent the polygraph. Marston believed comics had incredible potential in terms of educating children, and he wanted to create a hero with a modus operandi that set him apart from his contemporaries — a hero who would conquer with love.
It was Marston’s wife Elizabeth who said the character should be female, and Marston based Wonder Woman’s physical appearance on his student and other significant other, Olive Byrne.
The rest is history. As part of DC’s famed Trinity, Wonder Woman is on par with Superman and Batman in terms of ability, leadership, and respect. Her comic has been continuously published for more than seven decades — minus a four-month absence — and she just celebrated her 75th anniversary.
So, it’s actually a wonder that it so long for Warner Bros. and DC to bring her to the silver screen. She first appeared in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and I thought she was by far the best thing about the movie. Now, in her first solo outing, Wonder Woman gets her chance to show the cinematic world that she deserves her place amongst the World’s Finest.
The film begins on the island of Themyscira, land of the mythical Amazons — a race of warrior women tasked by the Greek gods to inspire men back to good deeds after the jealous god Ares corrupted humanity with war. Ares’ interference sparked a war between the gods that ended when Zeus struck him down.
Fast forward a few millennia — young Princess Diana (Emily Carey) grows up in paradise and wants nothing more than to be like everyone else. Her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), forbids it, which leaves Diana in a tough spot. She’s the island’s first child in many years, and everyone treats her with kid gloves. The special treatment is inhibitive, and it doesn’t help that everyone on the island believes she was literally molded out of clay. The queen’s sister and warrior general, Antiope (Robin Wright), knows the actual truth about how Diana came to be, and she trains the child in secret.
When Antiope finally persuades Hippolyta to let Diana become trained in the warrior ways, a grown Diana (Gal Gadot) shows incredible and fearful potential. She injures Antiope with a sudden and unexpected blast of power in reaction to being struck, which forces Diana to seek solace on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. There, she sees a plane carrying Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) fly through the illusory wall that hides Themyscira and crash into the ocean. Her meeting with Trevor kickstarts her journey to save the world of men from the war to end all wars.
In comparing Wonder Woman the film against the rest of the superhero movies out there, it’s got a lot of what you’d expect — an origin story, a plot that puts the world at stake, and some brilliantly choreographed and filmed action sequences. The cinematography is beautiful, and the musical score is well done, eliciting the appropriate response — whether it’s an adrenaline rush or a moment of reflection.
What the movie brings to the table that’s been lacking in the genre is a new perspective that’s been sorely missed — the female one.
While Superman serves humanity as Earth’s adopted son and Batman fights urban crime with technology to ensure no child will ever be made an orphan because of crime, Wonder Woman’s defining characteristic is her compassion which is magnified by her innocence. In one scene, as the English generals and government authorities choose a path to peace by letting more soldiers die, Diana shames them for not being on the front lines themselves.
This sets her apart from her cinematic contemporaries because she is, by appearance, the most heroic. She isn’t a tortured soul coming to terms with what it means to live among and act like other human beings. Nor is she a jaded ex-superhero burnt out and filled with the kind of rage that makes him just as bad as the criminals he pursues.
She is a superhero — through and through.
And when it comes time for her practice what she preaches, she climbs the ladder out of the trenches in No Man’s Land and walks toward the German line — and through fire — in order to get to the village on the other side. She isn’t the most tactical superhero out there, but she doesn’t need to be at this point. She is a spear cast headfirst into darkness.
It’s inspiring and empowering, and not just for women. Patty Jenkins’ film is not a movie about women first — it’s about women also. And in this film, women can fight, heal, and take on responsibilities because heroes come in all shapes and sizes. It’s not the outer appearance or a particular power that makes one a force for good — the measure lies in how much one wants to do well for others.
Gadot is brilliant as Wonder Woman and almost perfect as Diana Prince. In armor, carrying sword and shield, she’s iconic. She’s action’s newest star, and I never felt she was out of her depth picking up tanks, mowing down a group of soldiers with a flurry of punches, or snapping machine guns in half. As Diana, up close and personal, Gadot gives the character a more naive and innocent personality that differs from the grown-up socialite who sports a bit of world-weary cynicism in Batman v. Superman. Diana in Wonder Woman thinks she can solve the world’s problems by killing Ares, but the journey shows her that men are more than unwilling thralls — we’re just really good at killing each other.
If you’re thinking Pine’s Trevor is the film’s damsel in distress, think again. He’s just as instrumental to the movie’s plot and character dynamics. He’s a romantic lead whose dedication to ending the war has forced him to miss out on regular life. His ability to keep his sense of humor and see things as they are makes him a perfect counterpoint to Diana who relies on a golden lasso to see what hides in the hearts of men.
There are some minor issues with the movie — a third act that relies too much on CG, a supporting cast that needs more to do, and cookie-cutter villains (the evil German and a character whose name, Dr. Poison, says it all) — but those are redeemed in some way, shape, and form. Ares’ influence on men is only one aspect of his character, but seeing him fashion weapons and armor out of the ruins and debris he creates makes him a true god of war.
It’s a film worth seeing, and not just because it will tell the studios that there’s a place for women superheroes. It’s the best DCEU movie — though you don’t need a golden lasso to admit the competition isn’t all that fierce. But it says a lot that Jenkins’ movie does right what Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad got wrong. Against the overabundance of doom and gloom, Wonder Woman is a shining beacon of hope that recalls the essence of why we love superheroes.
They not only have the power to save the day — they have the heart for it as well.