Some more militant feminist types, you know, the ones who want to be left alone among their own gender at women-only screenings, might feel Diana (Gal Gadot), Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, takes too long to show just how fierce she can be, to reveal the full extent of her powers in an origin story that tops out at two hours and twenty-one minutes. But then they’d be remiss in comprehending the delicate balance Wonder Woman toes between masculinity and femininity–like the ultimate androgyne. And perhaps only an actress named Gal could portray someone as femme in the best possible sense, knowing when to temper her softness with a powerful and commanding authority that threatens to kick your ass at any moment and if the circumstances call for it. And perhaps only a woman trained in the Israeli army could so effortlessly execute the moves of Wonder Woman onscreen. Already establishing herself in the role for 2016’s DC Extended Universe film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gadot is the first woman to portray Wonder Woman in cinema.
Elsewhere in the history-making facets of the movie, there’s Patty Jenkins. It may have been fourteen years since the director bestowed us with her debut, the gruesomely hard-to-watch and equally as female-empowering Monster, but she’s proven well worth the wait in breaking the record for biggest opening weekend of all-time for a female director, as well as being the first of her gender to take the helm of a superhero movie. Take that, Sofia Coppola. With such a responsibility on her shoulders to give Wonder Woman the thorough cinematic treatment, Jenkins’ collaboration with openly gay comic book writer Allan Heinberg puts emphasis on both sides of Diana: the beneficent and the merciless.
Molded from clay by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and brought to life by Zeus (though in earlier versions of the comic it was Aphrodite), Diana is eager from an early age to learn from her fellow Amazons how to fight. It is only her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), that attempts to reveal to her the depth and range of her strength, while Hippolyta does her best to shield Diana from realizing who she is by telling her the story of Ares, God of War. Warning Diana that she should never wish to know how to fight lest she be forced into battle, she relays the story of how Ares, son of Zeus, fought against him to subvert his creation: man. Introducing the notion of conflict and jealousy to them, Ares thrived on their turmoil. Zeus, in one final act, wounded Ares and left behind a secret weapon–a god killer–on the island of Themyscira (which, not so coincidentally sounds like “mascara,” a quintessential female accoutrement).
As the story DC Comics has most rooted in Greek mythology, the first publications of Wonder Woman began in the early 1940s, which is why it’s only fitting that original creator William Moulton Marston should see fit to set the stage during World War II, still the greatest embodiment of man’s penchant for destruction. In the film version, conversely, Heinberg opts for a World War I backdrop. Thus, when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a spy/soldier that has infiltrated the German infantry, washes ashore and informs Diana of the bedlam taking place in the real world, she demands to accompany him back so as to fulfill her duty as an Amazon. And yet, Diana is not intended to be a rough, or violence-seeking person, which is so often what people expect a female superhero to be in order to be “equal” with a man. But what makes Wonder Woman so strong is her belief in wielding love as the ultimate weapon. It was with this caveat in her original creation that she was destined to be a feminist symbol. As Moulton Marston put it, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Accordingly does Wonder Woman combine the best qualities of male and female energy in her capacity as a walking yin yang. Moulton Marston, also the inventor of the systolic blood pressure test (a key component in the polygraph), naturally bestowed upon Wonder Woman one of her greatest weapons: the Lasso of Truth. No doubt Moulton Marston’s affiliation with the polygraph was a factor in this. Of course, it took two women–his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their girlfriend, Olive Byrne–to influence his eventual completed Wonder Woman. You might suppose it goes to show that a man can’t create his ideal woman out of solely one female. The greedily desirous-of-all-types pricks.
And so, just because Wonder Woman is a stalwart superhero with unmatched power (no other hero in the DC Comics universe is descended from gods), doesn’t mean Diana doesn’t get lonely at night, too. “Never let your guard down,” warns Diana’s aunt, Antiope. But she defies this warning when it comes to succumbing to Steve’s “above average” representation of the male sex. As they work together to unearth Ares–though Steve doesn’t really believe in the myth–Steve teaches her about the best aspects of humanity, telling her of non-war times and how humans pass the time in those moments of peace, dancing, falling in love and growing old together. And yet, don’t get to thinking Wonder Woman is going to let the dashing smile of a man like Steve get in the way of what she needs and wants to do, as evidenced by her declaration, “What I do is not up to you.”
Her pursuit of Ares, whom she still assumes to be the sole force behind why humans act as they do, becomes all that drives her as the denouement approaches. To her, he is the manifestation of all those who thrive on the chaos of mankind, prey on their vulnerabilities and susceptibilities to evil–the easy way out. Diana doesn’t see this side of humanity until a particularly disappointing revelation about Steve in the third act. But she doesn’t let it stop her from doing the good she was always intended to do, whether humans deserve it or not. Because, as she says, “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.” Now if only someone could get the memo out to the people in charge. The so-called male gods, if you will–in desperate need of a god killer.