Honestly, I haven’t historically been a big fan of Wonder Woman. My first exposure to her was really the DCAU Justice League cartoons (which is the reason I can ship her with Batman hehe). While I liked her character there, she never really stood out to me.
This began to change last year, when I read The Secret History of Wonder Woman for our GeekyNerdy Book Club, and then attended a symposium for the 75th anniversary of her creation. I still haven’t read any of her comics, but I feel like I have some understanding of her character. And from that perspective, I was really pleased with the Wonder Woman movie, and I’m sure her many fans around the world are, too. The movie definitely stayed true to the spirit of Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman did a great job mixing in her famous symbols while at the same time creating a new story for Diana. I liked the nod to both her “traditional” origin (a clay statue made by Hippolyta) as well as her New 52 origin (daughter of Zeus/demigod). Her outfit has been nicely modernized, and her headband even has a special meaning within the story.
We get to see plenty of action with both her traditional, defensive weapons (bracers and Lasso of Truth) as well as her newer, offensive weapons (sword and shield). I think both of these aspects are important to Diana’s character. For once, we get to see a superhero fighting to defend regular people, in the form of a Belgian village caught between the two sides of WWI. Wonder Woman always seeks to defend the innocent, and sometimes that requires going on the attack with confidence.
Diana also has many talents that are not combat-related. We got to see the Lasso of Truth used not just as weapon but also a tool (WW’s creator was the real-life inventor of a blood pressure lie detector test). She presents herself ably as a diplomat who speaks many languages, seeking to increase communication across nations.
One frequent symbol over Wonder Woman’s history is bondage…not in the kinky way. Early feminist propaganda used images of breaking chains to symbolize the struggle of women for equal rights, and Wonder Woman comics often co-opted this imagery by having Diana be bound or chained and have to break free. There was a nice nod to this during the climax of her fight with Ares where her body is completely wrapped in sheet metal as she’s struggling to overcome her doubts about humanity as well as deal with the loss of Steve.
One thing I kept going back to constantly when thinking about this movie was how it correctly presented Diana as a “superheroine” instead of a “female superhero.” (Check out this post for more on this distinction.) These two narratives are quite different. Instead of trying to defeat and expel the villain, Wonder Woman always seeks to turn her antagonists back into the fold of society. In movie, she says something like, “If I kill Ares, the Germans will be good people again.” In her mind, she is not fighting against the Germans and their allies; she is fighting against war and conflict itself (personified as Ares).
Wonder Woman also does not keep herself separate from humanity; she doesn’t go back to isolation on Themyscira at the end of the story. Though we don’t yet know exactly what happens to her after the events of the movie, she appears among Western society in the present day.
Overall I was thrilled with the treatment of Diana’s character, and I really enjoyed the movie as a whole as well. Do any big Wonder Woman fans have more thoughts on her characterization in the movie?? Feel free to share in the comments!