By Julia Clausen
After a 10-year barrage of Marvel superhero movies, the world finally has its first major female hero origin story with the newest release of “Wonder Woman,” instead by Marvel’s underdog rival DC Comics.
In an attempt to compete with the enormous “Avengers” franchise, DC has rushed to release three “Justice League” films within the span of a single year, and after the critical failure of “Batman v Superman” in 2016, DC needed a win.
“Wonder Woman” could be just that. With a 94 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a projected estimate of $100 million in its opening weekend at the box office (the highest domestic debut for a female-directed film), the film and its director Patty Jenkins are receiving praise from all sides and major press coverage for their feminist claims.
According to reports from The Hollywood Reporter on Friday, the audience for “Wonder Woman” is evenly split between males and females, unlike most comic book movies that have majority male audiences. As a result, the film grossed higher on its first day than any other origin story movie, like “Captain America,” “Thor” or “Doctor Strange.” DC may be behind Marvel in many ways, but in bridging the gender gap in popular cinema, DC seems to be coming out on top.
Wonder Woman (alias Diana Prince) has been a feminist icon since her origins in the 1940s as a comic book character who fought in World War II against the Nazis and championed love over hate. She was created by William Marston to be a symbol for the new, liberated, Rosie the Riveter-esque woman, rather than the damsel-in-distress figure which was so common of comic books at the time.
Now in the 21st century, the figure and message of Wonder Woman still feels as necessary as ever, and a superhero film with a woman at its helm seems long overdue.
As with the first of anything, “Wonder Woman” and its success have been under intense scrutiny. As a result, the film took a long time to get off the ground. Over a process of about 10 years, Warner Bros has been hiring writer after writer to craft a story that would stand up to critics and draw in Marvel fans without making it too similar to any of the rival production company’s films.
At the beginning, “Wonder Woman” does feel like a female version of “Captain America” — a patriotic, peace-loving and old-school soldier with a magic shield who also lives forever. Their determination not to copy “Captain America,” who also fights in WWII, might explain why the writers switched the setting to the Western front of WWI.
However, the film quickly proves to be in a league of its own, as it confronts the chaos of humanity with a bold and witty directness made possible by the un-corrupted mind of the leading lady. Gal Godot’s performance as Diana Prince quickly wins over the audience as she maintains an innocent and pure heart without sacrificing her confidence in her skill and leadership. She and American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) keep the best lines of dialogue all to themselves. As Steve shows Diana the ropes of living as a human in a world at war, they banter about human nature and share their vastly different experiences, creating a charming and undeniable chemistry.
The film embraces its feminist status, as characters make quips about how men are “necessary for reproduction but unnecessary for pleasure” and highlight how ridiculous an idea it is that Wonder Woman, the most powerful and capable warrior on the Western front, should hide behind the trenches because of her gender. Steve Trevor also proves an admirable ally to Diana’s empowerment by embracing her superiority as a soldier, despite other men’s constant protestations that “women shouldn’t be here.”
Occasionally the attempts to garner feminist sympathies are a little too much. The first 10 minutes are set in what could fairly be described as a white feminist’s paradise: an island full of long-legged warrior princesses run by fierce blonde women in a castle, with not a single man in sight. (There are only three prominent women of color on the island, and only two have a speaking line.) Throughout the film, Diana exhibits perfection in every area — beautiful face and figure, skill in battle, fierce wisdom, and a heart of gold — to the point that she becomes more god than female role-model.
“Wonder Woman” also tries to bite off more than it can chew by attempting to tackle the lack of diverse racial representation in Hollywood, the cruel treatment of Native Americans, and women’s suffrage, to name a few.
Unfortunately, in its attempt to right all the wrongs of the world, the film takes a very reductive view of the first world war — in reality, a far less morally clear-cut war than WWII — and produces a rather painful and empty German stereotype. Both the primary villain Ares and the German officers come across as hollow facades, posing an uninteresting adversary for Diana and her team. The dialogue tends towards cheesy, and the film’s “the answer is love” argument could have been handled with much more subtlety.
Even so, the loveable protagonists and solid action will keep audiences entertained. Overall, “Wonder Woman” is too optimistic, genuine and fun to dislike.