“Wonder Woman” Is Overdue, But She Arrived At Exactly The Right Time

This review contains spoilers. 


Near the end of the first act of Wonder Woman, Diana tells Steve Trevor that he wouldn’t like Amazon writings on sex. The conclusion of the 12 volumes, she says, is that while men are necessary for reproduction, they are not necessary for pleasure. “Preach!” a woman in my packed theater in New York City cried out at Diana’s declaration, and a delighted ripple of laughter made its way through the crowd. That moment of collective bliss, however, had nothing on the unified chorus of cheers that went up 30 minutes later when Diana of Themyscira hoisted herself out of a World War I bunker in the middle of No Man’s Land, revealing her full regalia to the audience for the first time. Sword of Athena. Bracelets of Submission. Lasso of Truth. Wonder Woman, at last, on the silver screen.

Wonder Woman stands alone with Batman and Superman when it comes to iconic American superheroes — but unlike Batman and Superman, most people have no idea where she came from or why she took on the mantle of fighting bad guys. Everyone knows Clark Kent fell out of the sky over Smallville and Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down in an alley in Gotham City. Superman’s a do-gooder alien. Batman’s a tortured vigilante. As their faces and costumes have shifted from big screen to small screen to comic book and back again over the last 75 years, Superman and Batman’s origin stories and characterizations have remained largely the same. But until now, the only thing most people knew about Wonder Woman is that she looks like Lynda Carter.

The reason why is pretty obvious: To tell the story of Wonder Woman’s origin you have to introduce the world to Themyscira, a utopia where there is “no want, no illness, no hatreds, no wars.” There are also no men. Paradise Island is home to only women. Women warriors, women caretakers, women artisans, women governors, and a woman queen. “How can they not all be in same sex relationships?” current Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka wondered aloud recently. It caused a stir, but he was only echoing what other writers have been saying on and off since Robert Kanigher first declared all Amazons lesbians in the 1960s. There’s a reason Wonder Woman and the her sisters exclaim “Suffering Sappho!” every time they turn around. The Amazons of Themyscira don’t need men for anything, not even for pleasure. Is it any wonder Hollywood had to be strong armed and shamed into making this film?

Gloriously, director Patty Jenkins lingers in Themyscira. Like Hippolyta, she is in no hurry to see Diana grow up and leave. Diana trains as a wide-eyed young girl. Diana trains as a rebellious teen. Diana trains as an adult and finally surpasses her mentor, her aunt, as the greatest warrior on the island. These sequences are breathtaking. The scenery, yes, but more than that: the women. Swords and shields and bows and arrows and javelins and fists and endless acrobatics. They delight in each other’s strength, never doubting their place as the rulers of their world or their ability to protect it. I felt such a pang of sadness and annoyance when Steve Trevor’s plane crashed through their barrier and into their sea. I only recovered my happiness when the Amazons decimated the soldiers who followed him.

An origin story is more than just the place that birthed our hero; it’s the journey from who they are at home to who they become to the world. For Diana it’s all very simple: She needs to defeat Ares, the God of War, so that men will lay down their arms and the planet will be at peace again. World War I is an unfamiliar setting for a superhero movie, but it’s a welcome one. World War II is always Good Guys vs. Nazis but the Great War before it was impossibly complicated treaties that came to bear on a royal assassination, tens of millions of men in trenches mowing each other down with machine guns for reasons they didn’t even understand. “They haven’t moved an inch,” Steve Trevor tells Diana when they arrive in No Man’s Land. It’s a metaphor, see? She moves them more than an inch, more than a foot, more than a mile. She takes on an entire German battalion with minimal cover and blows past them to rescue a town from enslavement and destruction.

What Diana finds as she makes her way across the battlefields to the castles and strongholds of the men who are controlling the madness is that things aren’t as black and white as she was taught on Themyscira, that Ares whispers suggestions rather than commanding obedience, and that humankind is weak and fallible and has a bottomless capacity for evil.

Wonder Woman‘s action sequences are stunning. Her sword, her shield, her bracelets, her lasso, her fists: she uses them all in equal measure and to full effect, over and over and over again. She leaps and she punches and she stabs and things around her go KABOOM! The pacing of her fighting is that precise kind of breathlessness that leaves you nothing but satisfied. Again: Jenkins. It’s an action movie and it’s a war movie and it’s a love story and it’s a character-driven origin story, and she balances all of those demands with uncommon aplomb. Critics will look for flaws to undermine her work because she’s basically an unknown woman director and how dare she, but they won’t find better fighting from even Chris Nolan or Joss Whedon.

There was always going to be too much Steve Trevor in this movie for my liking, even if he’d died in the plane crash that sent him careening into the ocean at Diana’s feet — but he is her sidekick. He knows it and we know it. There’s never any question. Wonder Woman flips nearly every gendered superhero trope it encounters. He follows her lead; she saves his life (repeatedly); hers are the lessons that need to be learned; his is the body that is scrutinized, objectified, and consumed by the gaze of the camera. She never listens to Steve’s advice, never heeds his warnings. She’s a princess from an island ruled by women; why would she stay outside while the men decide whether or not to go to war?

It’s impossible not to bring the real world with you into Wonder Woman. It’s a Warner Brothers backlot and you will see Aleppo. It’s an arrogant madman and you will hear Donald Trump. The men beside you in the theater will squirm and exaggerate their yawns and when it’s over they’ll flee from their seats as fast as they can or linger to complain that Batman didn’t appear after the credits (even though he was the center of the Justice League trailer that aired for four minutes before Wonder Woman even started). When Wonder Woman begins to lose her optimism as she comes face-to-face with the dark and complicated truths of the world, you’ll feel that too. A punch in a gut that feels constantly pummeled these days.

But maybe you’ll take something out into the real world too. Even as Wonder Woman finds her true strength and uncovers the magnitude of her powers, even as she unleashes fire and destruction, she finds glimmers of goodness in those who have stayed to fight alongside her. Something to believe in. She doesn’t have Batman’s cynicism, Spider-Man’s sarcasm, Iron Man’s arrogance, Hulk’s misanthropy, Thor’s battlelust. Oh, she’s as powerful as all of them and more so than most. But unlike them, she has hope and she has love. They aren’t gimmes; she chooses them.

When Diana of Themyscira stepped out of that bunker in her full Wonder Woman suit, the little girl behind me gasped, “It’s her!” And it’s true. She’s Lynda Carter, that cover of Ms. Magazine, and now she’s Gal Gadot.

Wonder Woman arrived in the world in 1941 fighting fascism and preaching the power of women, and despite all the diversions and oppressions her writers have inflicted on her over the decades, she’s been born again in a new and lasting way to a generation that needs her as desperately as ever. “Time beckons,” Charles Moulton wrote in Wonder Woman’s first days in Sensation Comics, “and Wonder Woman comes — to weave her spell of love and beauty and peace over throbbing human hearts.”

It’s her. 


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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1037 articles for us.

104 Comments

  1. I took my 8-year-old daughter to see it on Saturday and we both LOVED the movie. Most of the points I’d make about it have already been said better by others (the women! the action scenes! the jab at men not being needed for pleasure!) so I won’t repeat them. But I will add that as a parent of a young girl, I appreciate how kid-friendly it is. There’s a lot of action, but no blood or gore. There’s some romance, but nothing overtly sexual. The women are all strong & independent & in charge. And the core messages – that you should fight for what you believe in, and that when you see something wrong in the world it’s better to do something than to do nothing – are poignant/relevant but also simple enough for a child to get from the film. It left both me and my daughter feeling empowered (and her trying to leap over railings on our way back to the subway) and wanting to see it again. Two thumbs way up from both of us.

  2. Just saw this last night and really really enjoyed it! The things that stood out to me were: 1) Would 100% watch an entire movie just about the Amazons; 2) I love her delight at discovering her own strength and capabilities- that little smile she gets! 3) The message of turning pain into power by refusing to give up on her belief in love and people’s inherent goodness was just what I needed to hear right now.

    Also, as a historic clothing nerd, I was super impressed with the World War I era costumes! The fact that the outfit she settled on to blend in was still period-appropriate says a lot about how women’s fashion had adapted to the practical needs of women being a lot more active in various work roles than they had been before the war. It was really cool to see that depicted onscreen!

  3. Thanks for the great review, Heather. I hadn’t been in an actual movie theater in 13 years just because I prefer to watch at home and most movies just aren’t worth the cost and effort. I typically wait for a film to show up on Apple TV. This Saturday, i made an exception because Wonder Women deserved it. I ventured out (thankfully, my sister told me that you now order your tickets online and reserve your seats because I would have been looking for the person in the ticket booth) and saw a brilliant film with a strong, compassionate hero who is a true badass. Gal does a wonderful job bringing WW to life, and I admire her as well as Patty for her great directing. This is a movie all girls and women should see because we now have a hero that we can admire and that young girls can look up to with admiration. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth it!

  4. I haven’t been to the movies in about 2 years. Something told me to go see this by myself. I’m glad I did, because the tears kept rolling down my face. It was unexpected and overwhelming, honestly. I felt like a little kid.

    This whole thread makes me feel warm and comforted.

  5. I am so happy that WW 2017 is a roaring hit! I wanted it to succeed very badly so this can continue with its own franchise and not weaved in with Justice League or delegated to a part player in another super-hero franchise in the future. I hope it encourages the studio to produce a few more sequels. Yes, I made an exception and went to the theatre with my 13 year old niece to watch this one because I wanted her to finally have a Woman Super hero to look up to.

    It was glorious that the camera did not fix on WW’s bounties. The initial training/fight sequences were a treat to watch. But…

    Maybe I watched in 3D, but I was more disappointed than pleased with the movie. Yes, it was glorious in bits and parts, but it was too long, and downright boring for about 30 minutes at the end. I started fidgeting right before the final fight started. Sigh.

    Steve Trevor- Was too disappointed and annoyed with the amount of screen-time (though I like the actor). Their Romance was just….

    The boat talk- About men not necessary for pleasure- Diana says that ‘they’ have come to the conclusion or it was concluded. She doesn’t say that herself!

    The dialogue with Ares- Earlier on Diana says that she had no father. Her mother sculpted her from clay and she was brought to life by Zeus. Later Ares tells her that she IS the Godkiller, not her sword; that she was not made out of clay but a result out of her mother’s association with Zeus. Are they trying to assuage the men that Diana is the result of copulation between a man and a woman at the end?

    Gal Gadot- I loved her voice. At the same time, I am completely at odds with most here. She became the source of my utmost disappointment. Yes, I did want someone to look appealing to me while she did all her ‘Wonder Womany’ things, but I also expected that this 5’10 Amazon to be toned and have some definition to her hands, her whole body (She completely ruined it for me). Come-on, she is an Amazon, she has to be beautifully rooted (Lucy Lawless was so damn believable as Xena), Mila Jovovich would’ve been a more apt choice. I wanted to root for her when she leaps, fights, thrashes during the fight sequences, but it ended up very ‘unbelievable’ for me.

    David Thewlis- As Ares was another major put-down after seeing Kevin Tod Smith in Xena.

    Maybe the cheeziness was the necessary allowance made to mainstream market, maybe some of these could be changed, bettered in the future offerings….One can only hope!

  6. I agree with almost everything in this review except Steve Trevor screen time, he served a purpose as a sidekick and introduction/navigation to a world WW was unsure of. He was the comic relief and never once was presented as anything but secondary to WW in every way. Also you lost me here *The men beside you in the theater will squirm and exaggerate their yawns and when it’s over they’ll flee from their seats as fast as they can or linger to complain that Batman didn’t appear after the credits*…..

    I saw it 3 times at the cinema and each time it was full of men with their daughters and sons, with their wives/sisters/girlfriends/friends, groups of teenage boys, groups of male movie/comic fans. All were there for entertainment and excitement and enjoyed the movie as much as women did. I even saw a few wearing WW T shirts, one father and daughter were both wearing the headband.

    The types of men you talk about – sexist, misogynist & archaic wouldn’t bother seeing the movie. Let’s not lump all men into this category.

    WW was a success because it is a great movie and is one of the few big budget studio movies to give us a strong, aspirational female action hero. It’s fantastic that so many kids, women, men, whomever have loved it because it means we’ll get sequels and more like it. Well done Patty Jenkins!!!! Can’t wait to see more

  7. I sorry to say that what little sapphic subtext you saw in Antiope and Menalippe relationship was not intentional. In the myth of the Amazons (upon which the Wonder Woman story is based), Hippolyta, Antiope and Menalippe are all sisters (and all daughters of Ares actually). And in the ramp up for the movie, Patty Jenkins herself stated that these three sisters raise Diana while the movie’s novel explicitly states that she’s her aunt. It’s possible Jenkins might have decided to change things so that Menalippe is an aunt by marriage but then one might ask why the concept of marriage is novel to Diana in that boat scene. Perhaps the Amazons have an equivalent to marriage. Perhaps they call it a “union of love”. Due to the time constraints of the film and the need to focus on Diana’s journey into Man’s World, they don’t explore Themyscira and its unique society nearly as much as I wanted. Thankfully the film only explicitly states (and shows) that Hippolyta and Antiope are sisters and that Menalippe is the latter’s deputy, so they have some leeway to clarify their relationship in the sequel.

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