How ‘Wonder Woman’ Does Not Placate Audiences

Commentary
By Abby Olcese 6-02-2017
Image via Wonder Woman Facebook Group 

“The future of justice begins with her.”

At first glance, the meaning behind this tagline for Wonder Woman feels obvious, it is the next step on the DC franchise road to November’s Justice League movie. But of course, there’s more to it than that. Wonder Woman marks a feminist milestone, too, one that feels like artistic justice: it’s the first major superhero movie to feature a female hero, and the first to use a female director, Patty Jenkins.

But it’s also a mission statement. In addition to being about feminism and patriarchy-smashing, Wonder Woman is a movie about the hunger for justice for all oppressed people, women included. It tackles sexism, racism, and the horrors of war, all tied up in a mightily entertaining summer blockbuster package.

Wonder Woman gives us the origin story of our titular heroine, providing the backstory of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who first showed up as the lone bright spot in last year’s bleak Batman v. Superman. We’re introduced to Diana in the present, recollecting her memories growing up on the island of Themyscira. This is the home of the Amazons, a race of warrior women tasked to inspire mankind to reject corruption and live into their potential.

This isolated paradise is interrupted by the arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) a WWI spy, who Diana rescues when his plane crashes into the ocean, followed shortly by a group of German soldiers. Steve’s recounting of the horrific, sweeping scope of the “war to end all wars” compels Diana to join the fight. She’s hoping to take down a particularly nasty German general (Danny Huston), who she believes is actually Ares, the god of war and corrupter of men.

Of course, Wonder Woman’s greatest triumph is its fantastic portrayal of women.

Jenkins shoots her heroine, and her fellow Amazons, like male action stars. During a battle between the Amazons and attacking Germans, the women perform gravity-defying feats of combat, swinging from ropes and vaulting from horses with the grace of acrobats. Diana herself smashes through windows and beats back bullets as easily as any of her male counterparts — more easily, in fact, since she never pauses before jumping into the fray.

But Diana and her allies are also dynamic characters, with characteristics and backstories that allow the film’s scope to explore additional themes of injustice, forgiveness, and grace. Diana begins the film as a capable fighter, but has a naive sense of the real world, including a very black and white view of good and evil. Her experiences in the world of mortals help her to understand the nuances of humankind — both good and bad.

One way Diana learns this is through the band of allies she teams up with. Each member of the group is a victim of man’s inequality to man. Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) turned to a career as a mercenary after racism barred him from pursuing an acting career. Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) is a Native American fighting alongside an ally, Steve, whose people were responsible for killing and oppressing his own. Steve and Charlie (Ewen Bremner) are scarred in different ways by their experiences in battle. Despite the fact that each of these characters could easily be embittered or distrustful toward each other, they still choose to fight together for a greater cause, and through that bond, discard their prejudices.

Wonder Woman does suffer a bit in its final scenes from the same issues that have plagued its male-dominated predecessors. It scraps a more morally and emotionally interesting resolution for bloated fireworks, though it’s worth noting that even those fireworks contain resonance — complete with religious allusions. The film’s ultimate message of mercy and love is a little underdeveloped as well, settling for what feels like good vibes instead of a more powerful, definitive statement.

However, despite some third act disappointments, on the whole the film, makes major efforts that are worth applauding. Wonder Woman isn’t placating audiences with its representation. It’s using that opportunity to address larger injustices. It may not be perfect, but it’s an encouraging step in the right direction.

Abby Olcese is a freelance film critic and writer based in Kansas. You can find her on Twitter @indieabby88.

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