Wonder Woman: Refreshing and Emotionally Powerful

Wonder Woman stands on a battlefield, deflecting a bullet with her gauntlet.
Image: Warner Bros via Wikipedia

Genre: Superhero

Synopsis: Diana has grown up in a land of Amazons, isolated from the rest of the world. They are the keepers of a weapon that can defeat Ares, the god of War, waiting for the time when he returns to wreck chaos and slaughter. Then World War I intrudes onto her island, and Diana takes this as a sign that Ares had arrived. She sets off on a mission to kill him, believing that without him, the war would end and the world would know peace.

Verdict: Really good.

This movie flew by, it was so enjoyable. I honestly wasn’t expecting to be so emotional about it, until I was sitting in the theater, watching young Diana dream of becoming a warrior.

Despite being a DC production, Wonder Woman felt more Marvel-style to me–hopeful rather than angsty. It even incorporated a frank humor into many of its scenes. The movie still portrayed the stark realities of war–refugees, chemical weapons, trench warfare. But it always looked at the those things with fresh eyes, with an absence of jaded cynicism. With an aim towards trying to make a difference.

This is mostly because of Diana, whose empathy and determination are her core traits. She’s powerful and well-trained, but completely new to real violence, starting off the story as naive. But as she gains real experience with the world–with the very worst of the world–she never stops believing in something better. That naivete morphs into a determination to make a difference, a refusal to accept things the way they are. She doesn’t take her cues from anyone else, instead coming to terms with what she experiences through the lens of her own personality.

Wonder Woman portrays Diana’s brand of optimism as both a flaw and a strength. It’s a flaw because before she steps out into the world, she had a simplistic view of it–that Ares is corrupting humanity, and without his corruption, they would become good and pure. It keeps her from understanding and dealing with reality. But it’s a strength, because she continues to look for ways to fix problems that everyone else has given up on.

I’m thinking of the powerful No Man’s Land scene. Leading up to that moment, Diana wants to help every refugee along the way, and she needs to have it explained to her how unrealistic that is. That’s her learning about the realities of the world, that she needs to pick her battles. But when the characters reach No Man’s Land, her companions continue to insist that this is another reality she can’t change, that–although this is the root of every problem Diana’s been restraining herself from fixing up to this point–there’s nothing to be done. Even knowing what she can do.

But this is where Diana digs in her heels. And it makes sense. Because where everything else she’d seen was simultaneously happening to a thousand people, so that she couldn’t help them all, this was the source of those problems. And where everyone else has accepted this as a lost cause, Diana doesn’t.

In No Man’s Land, her refusal to accept the way things are allows her to see an opportunity when a new factor–herself–comes into play. Never having done something like this before, she couldn’t have been sure how it would work out. But she’s always driven to do something. That’s who she is.

Diana’s character journey has her growing from naivete to an optimism more grounded in reality. Her core qualities–empathy, determination, and hope–ultimately remain the same, even as she sees the worst of humanity. Her openness stops stemming from inexperience, and instead becomes a testament to her emotional resilience.

Then there’s the trailblazing aspect, pushing the movie to even greater heights. A superheroine lead really does make a difference. I knew it would, but I didn’t realize how much until I saw it. So long as Black Widow is always 1/6 of an otherwise all male line-up, or a supporting character, she could never fill this void.

The thing is, if a similar movie were written with a male lead, it would still be really good by action movie standard–well-executed, simple but efficient, evocative with no major stumbles. But there would be a thousand other movies like it. ‘Dude discovers his power and does great deeds’ is the plot summary of many, many movies out there.

All things being equal, there should be a thousand other movies like this with a female lead, too. But there’s only this one.

And that’s what makes Wonder Woman not just a great movie, but refreshing and powerful. My favorite scenes were early on in the movie, when Diana is still with the Amazons. When the movie shows her as a little girl, watching the other Amazons fight, emulating their moves with a series of her own kicks and punches–I almost thought I would cry. Because despite gravitating towards media that pays attention to and respects its female characters, I have never seen a scene like that in my life. And I should have. This shouldn’t have been the first time.

So yeah, watching Wonder Woman was a profound experience.