Sarah Ann Cattell on Patty Jenkins’ ‘Wonder Woman’ (2017)
In December 1941, within the pages of All Star Comics #8, a radical new superhero was born. Star-spangled and ready to fight the forces of evil, her character was unlike any other seen before. Yes, you guessed it: she had a vagina. And yet she fought with the same skill, intelligence, and strength as her illustrious male counterparts. If anything Wonder Woman was an invocation to us all, a demonstration that women could be more than just passive and nice, but strong, forthright and good. Despite William Moulton Marston’s utopian desire for a future in which both genders are considered equal, it has taken a shocking 76 years for her origin story to finally be told on the cinema screen.
Patty Jenkins’ belated film tells the story of Diana, Princess of the Amazons (Gal Gadot), who is raised on the mythical island of Themyscira: a secluded paradise populated exclusively by badass female warriors. Diana’s idyllic life is interrupted when a pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands on the Amazonian shore. After rescuing him, she learns that World War I is ravaging the entire planet. With the aid of her “God-killer” sword, bullet deflecting bracelets and Lasso of Truth, Diana vows to help fight injustice and restore peace to the world. Despite its conventional superhero narrative, Jenkins provides us with a touching exploration of the complexity of mankind and the importance of love and kindness in the face of corruption.
Being the first female director to receive a $150 million budget, as well as the first to direct a film of this genre, the context surrounding the film alone is enough to consolidate its place in filmic history. And yet the beauty of Wonder Woman lies in the narrative ability to satisfy comic book fanatics and feminists alike. The strength and sense of camaraderie among the Amazons is impressively epitomised by the opening shots of the warriors in training. Here we are introduced to the brawn and tenacity of womankind: each warrior just as fierce and adept as the last. Indeed, the moment you realise you are witnessing history comes within the first battle sequence, when a swarm of female warriors is seen riding horseback in a bid to defend their homeland from German intruders. If the feminist rhetoric wasn’t enough to get your heart swelling with pride or your fists pumping with power, then the action scenes alone can be appreciated on a technical level for their skilful and dance-like execution.
One such scene stands out amongst them all. It is a scene that took my breath away. Three words: No Man’s Land. The irony being in the name and thus reiterated by Steve’s line: “It’s No Man’s Land, which means no man can cross it.” Protected by her bullet deflecting bracelets and shield, Diana takes it upon herself to take all the fire, giving the British army room to advance. Jenkins’ aerial shot of Diana, crouched low and steadfast, with bullets ricocheting profusely is, without doubt, the most powerful image of the entire film, as if she was deflecting years of systematic prejudice against women. She is deflecting every sexist comment ever made, every unwarranted belief that women cannot perform as well as men, and every instance in which intersectional feminism has been ridiculed. Her stance, so deeply embedded in the ground, becomes the ultimate symbol of solidarity.
Despite the incredibly empowering fight scenes, for there is nothing more empowering than seeing Diana fight with as much grace and athleticism as her DCEU male associates, the feminist current throughout Wonder Woman is also evident within the script. I will even go as far as to say that it is closely informed by contemporary feminist issues. One such issue is outlined when Diana, after informing Steve that she has read “12 volumes of Cleo’s ‘Treatises on Body and Pleasure”, concludes that men are essential for procreation but not necessary for sexual pleasure. This indeed runs parallel with current feminist campaigns to reclaim and demystify the female orgasm, with such sites as OMGYes soaring to popularity. In this way, Diana becomes an inadvertent spokeswoman for contemporary feminist issues.
As mesmerising as she is hilarious, Gadot brings a refreshing burst to the character of Diana, who thus becomes a vessel through which we can laugh at the absurdity of social convention and gender hierarchy. After the DCEU’s previous failures of Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman, Wonder Woman is an invigorating film that subverts the male gaze, offering — arguably for the first time — a hero that female audiences can truly identify with. Conceived by a man but brought to life by a woman, Jenkins provides us with a profound origin story worthy of womankind. She may not be the hero mankind deserves, but she is definitely the one audiences need right now.
Wonder Woman is showing in cinemas now.