Movie Review: Wonder Woman

I was late to the game for Wonder Woman, only getting to the theaters to see it after it had been out several weeks.  That meant there was plenty of time for me to see all the Facebook comments and have all the conversations about how amazing it was, and how empowering my female friends found it.  And to be honest, I heard all that and thought, yeah, okay, cool, I like strong women stories.  Then I saw the movie.  And they were ALL SO RIGHT!!  There are other (not enough) strong female characters in movies, but this one was something special.

Wonder Woman gives us the origin story of Diana (Gal Gadot), daughter of the Amazon Queen, who grew up in an entirely female community on a magically-shrouded island.  She grows up among female warriors who fight for peace, and is trained by their greatest fighter (Princess Buttercup–I mean, Robin Wright).  When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy pursued by German ships, breaches the island’s secrecy, Diana learns of World War I raging across the planet.  Convinced Ares is behind the conflict, she leaves with Steve, intent on ending the war by destroying Ares.

Diana is amazing–but I think the real hero(ine) of this story may be Patty Jenkins, the director.  Like I said, there are other strong women in film, but this one felt different–and I think it’s the female director, making different choices.

Watching the Amazon women go into battle together was incredibly powerful.  I feel like I may have a new insight into why men (speaking broadly) like action movies.  There really is something empowering about watching people like you perform feats of strength and skill.  And then of course there’s the added layer here of women warriors defeating male German soldiers, a flip of the historical reality where women at the time had no vote and few rights.  I hope the day will come when that imbalance is purely a historical thing; watching the movie today, women are still fighting for equality and watching victorious Amazons is moving.

I heard somewhere that the movie cast female bodybuilders as Amazons and that was a good choice.  These aren’t cute little model Amazons–they look like warriors, and it’s plausible when they take down the Germans despite being vastly outgunned (literally).  And besides–let’s show some women with actual muscle!

Diana is in a landscape of powerful women, and emerges as a strong character who still leads with her heart, and that’s important too.  She doesn’t go to World War I for the glory or the power or the joy of fighting.  She is always driven by the desire to help people and to bring peace.  She’s horrified by the human cost of war.  But the movie portrays her emotional motivation as a strength, not a weakness.  No one ever tells her she’s being an emotional girl and she needs to man up and be strong.  That whole concept would be utterly foreign in this narrative.

The sequence that sticks with me most is when Diana chooses to enter No Man’s Land, between the French and German trenches.  She does it because another woman tells her that the French civilians in the village nearby are suffering, and pleads for help.  I think I get the Bechdel Test a little better now.  I still think it’s imperfect (because it doesn’t say anything about how women are portrayed, just whether they’re there), but I got the point here.  This was more meaningful because it was one woman asking another for help.

When Diana rises up out of the trench to enter No Man’s Land, the camera pans over her body.  And here we see a female director again.  The shot highlights her boots–her lasso–her sword and shield.  There’s no shot of her chest.  Because the director chose to show her as a fighter, not as eye candy or pin-up material.  And that’s true throughout.  Yes, that’s a fairly revealing outfit she’s in–but it’s not actually that low-cut, plus there’s an entire sequence demonstrating that she can’t fight in more concealing clothing.

Oh, and once she gets into No Man’s Land, and a woman leads troops of men into a fight who are apparently cool with following her?  Yeah.  That’s awesome too.

The female power extends beyond Diana and the Amazons–Steve’s female secretary coordinates the infiltration mission the heroes are on, and we have a female villain.  She’s extremely unsexy, and excels in the traditionally male area of science.

I’m citing specific moments and examples, but the values they suggest carry through the whole movie.  Diana and the women around her are never held back by their gender, and they can use feminine strengths without being viewed as weak or as sex objects.  And that is an amazing portrayal.

But it shouldn’t be.  This was an incredible, mind-blowing, empowering movie.  And now I want to see Hollywood shift far enough, make enough movies giving women equal power and positive portrayals, that it stops being an incredible thing.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy Wonder Woman.

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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4 Responses to Movie Review: Wonder Woman

  1. mervih says:

    I agree with you review; those moments were great. While the movie isn’t perfect (which movie is?), I loved it.
    I’m really, really hoping Captain Marvel will be even better and that we’ll get more female leads in action/superhero movies. (But Hollywood is an old boys’ club so I’m not holding my breath.)

  2. Have you seen costume designer Amanda Weaver’s Twitter thread on the influences on Wonder Woman’s armour? If not, I highly recommend it because it’s fascinating to see the armour through a costume designer’s eyes and understand more of how the film creates the impact it does. She has some great explanations on how, whatever else the Amazon’s outfits (especially Diana’s, of course) are, they’re first and foremost designed to remind viewers of armour. It’s just such a wonderful attention to detail and… I think it’s an aspect that can be very easy to miss until someone points it out to you.

    I wasn’t wholly satisfied with Wonder Woman when I saw it, I admit, but oh goodness I cried and will definitely enjoy rewatching it because I was still utterly blown away.

  3. Karen Blakely says:

    I completely agree with you! Leading with her heart is a strength, not a weakness.
    I loved that those were bad-ass, strong women who looked sexy because they were strong. They weren’t eye-candy! I got misty eyed when they fought the Germans on the beach.
    Someone in a review noted that when Gal landed after a large jump her thigh jiggled. That had thrilled that viewer because women are so often airbrushed to look perfect. I hadn’t noticed it the first time, but I saw the movie a second time and watched for it. Yep! They didn’t airbrush it away. And seeing that made me smile, too. My hat’s off to Patty Jenkins!!

  4. dianem57 says:

    I’m not a big fan of action movies, but your review makes me want to go see this one. I’ll have to check if it’s still in the theaters or whether I’ll be watching it as a DVD. 🙂

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