By JOANNE MIKULA, Staff Writer
Since her creation by American psychologist and author William Moulton Marston in 1941, Wonder Woman has remained a divisive figure. Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film “Wonder Woman” by no means escapes this controversy. Many people have lauded the new film as groundbreaking in the way that it subverts the male gaze and empowers women. Others have questioned whether the film is truly feminist, often arguing that Wonder Woman (alias Diana Prince) and her fellow Amazons are hypersexualized.
My own experience watching the film was similarly complicated. On the one hand, I was excited to see a woman breaking into the predominately male world of superheroes. Diana (Gal Gadot) speaks 180 languages, knows how to fight, and lives on an island filled with other similarly talented women. These Amazons, as they are called, seem to be an endorsement of female strength and power.
Diana seems just as strong as any male, superhero or human. Whether she is running through No Man’s Land deflecting bullets or fending off five male attackers simultaneously, her abilities rival those of heroes like Captain America and Superman. When Diana saves the American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from drowning, it is a powerful role reversal and display of female strength.
Despite the empowering and feminist elements of the film, I couldn’t help but wonder if “Wonder Woman” was truly as revolutionary as it appeared. I was particularly struck by the dynamic between Diana and Steve, which at times felt patronizing. Despite her apparent intelligence, Diana is often shockingly naïve. At one point, Steve must explain to her that killing the god of war will not put an end to violence because there will always be bad people in the world; it was a moment that seemed to epitomize “mansplaining”.
At the climactic moment of the film, Diana is offered the chance to rid the world of mankind and recreate paradise on earth. She refuses, saying that humans deserve to be saved even though they commit horrible atrocities and injustices. This would be a rousing speech, except for the fact that Diana is repeating what Steve told her almost word for word in an earlier scene. Perhaps I’m guilty of holding Diana to too high a standard; she has her flaws, just like any other superhero, or any other person, for that matter.
The occasionally ambiguous feminism of “Wonder Woman” aside, there is no question that it is a good superhero movie. It has all the drawn-out action sequences and unexpected villains that one would expect from the genre. The film is punctuated by some surprisingly witty dialogue delivered by good actors. Actress Lucy Davis is a standout as Etta Candy, Steve’s hard working and unapologetic secretary who says aloud what is doubtlessly on everyone’s mind.
The movie does not shy away from making Wonder Woman a decidedly feminine superhero. She wears dresses, talks about how female sexual pleasure doesn’t depend on men, and runs across a busy London road to fawn over a baby. Most importantly, as she is about to defeat the villain, Diana proclaims her belief in the power of love.
With its nods to traditional womanhood, “Wonder Woman” seems to say that women who embody more stereotypical feminine traits don’t need to renounce these traits in order to excel in a system built by men. This is a powerful and inspiring statement about the possible manifestations of female strength, a message which hopefully holds true in the real world. Perhaps one day male superheroes will be inspired to renounce some of their machismo and embrace more of Diana’s loving nature; it would do them good.