This week I went to see Wonder Woman, a superhero movie whose valiant heroine, Diana, has been a sensation for generations. I’d read reviews of this “earth-shattering” new film and understood that Diana’s character, a brave and powerful young woman from the island of Themyscira would ultimately defy gender stereotypes in her journey to the battlefields of World War I. The hype, it seems, has been triggered by the fact that Wonder Woman features a strong female heroine, a big deal for superhero movies, but also for film in general. But while Diana’s strength is certainly noteworthy, the film’s complex approach to myth and history are just as ground breaking. While Wonder Woman’s discussion of gender politics is inspiring, it doesn’t stand alone as the sole contributor to its success.
Wonder Woman has taken on a mission of epic proportions. Its philosophical exploration of long-pondered paradoxes offers insights into the convergence of myth and reality. At times witty and unfailingly genuine, Wonder Woman exceeds the confines of its genre. The film, featuring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, was released on June 2nd 2017.
Set in 1918, Wonder Woman tells the story of Diana (Gal Gadot), Princess of the Amazons. The film’s opening scenes depict Diana as a feisty child whose idolization of war causes her mother, Hippolyta, to worry. When Hippolyta attempts to quell Diana’s military fixations, Diana disobeys her mother and begins to train in secret. Taught by her aunt, General Antiope, Diana immediately demonstrates an inherent prowess.
We also promptly learn of the Amazons, a nation of warrior women whose sole purpose is to protect humans from the God of War, Ares. The centrality of myth and feminism in Wonder Woman is thus clear from the onset, but when an American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) nearly drowns off the coast of Themyscira, a historic component is added.
Here I argue that while Wonder Woman has garnered attention for its feminist components, its historic and mythological elements deserve equal attention. The relationship between myth and history encourages us to consider human nature and the reality of life’s injustices through a new lens. Meanwhile, Diana’s utopian upbringing offers a fresh perspective. Diana’s lack of exposure to real violence has kept her from normalizing acts of brutality, thereby highlighting the extent to which we, as human beings, accept and define violence as instinctual.
Embracing her role as a protector, Diana resolves to collaborate with Steve Trevor. Her aim in their mission is to kill the God of War, Ares, who she believes is responsible for the violence inflicted upon humankind. Steve attempts to describe the war’s complexity, but Diana remains steadfast in her beliefs, claiming that the war will end upon Ares’ death.
While Diana and Steve are clearly from different worlds, their devotion to ending the war could not be more alike. Once again, Wonder Woman explores an interesting dichotomy. Since Diana is assured in her belief that Ares’ death will end the war, she does not initially experience hope in the same way humans do. She adheres to a story-like understanding of war, wherein missions follow linear and predictable plot lines.
Diana’s understanding of war, however, is far from sustainable as she comes to witness the number of atrocities willingly commit by humans. Meanwhile, Steve Trevor demonstrates an understanding of the multi-faceted and ultimately bewildering nature of war, an understanding that reminds us of the importance of hope when attempting to complete missions that stray from desired linearity. Finally, the events that unfold as Steve and Diana navigate their mission are built around commentaries regarding the relationship between hope and defeatism as represented in myth compared to reality.
For anyone questioning whether Wonder Woman is a film worth seeing can rest assured that it is. Wonder Woman offers 141 minutes of thought-provoking action and character development that ultimately overstep its assumed genre. Meanwhile, it shouldn’t attribute its success to having depicted a strong female heroine but rather, its success rests in the fact that a number of important ideas and eras have been given space to collaborate. Wonder Woman is, therefore, unique in its interpretation of female resilience but its interpretation of myth and history is equally notable.