Wonder Woman Review: The Wonders of Love, Justice and Empowerment

Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Ashley Tan (18A13A) and Choi Hoe Chang (18S07A)

[Warning: This review contains major spoilers to the film.]

“If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.”

– Steve Trevor

This pithy saying aptly captures the essence of Wonder Woman, where the protagonist, Diana of Themyscira, sets out on a treacherous but deeply rewarding voyage of self-discovery, sacrifice and love.

Based on the comic book created by William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman is the fourth installation in the DC Extended Universe franchise. Directed by Patty Jenkins after a 13-year hiatus, the film was the biggest project ever lead by a female director, and roused a great deal of hype and astonishment from fans all over the world.

patty jenkins
Left: Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman
Right: Poster of Monster (2003), Patty Jenkins’ previous film.

To understand the significance of this film to the industry, we must first understand the long struggle behind its production. There had been numerous attempts to put the Amazonian princess on the big screen, dating back to 1996. Dozens of prominent directors and writers had joined and subsequently dropped out of the project. Some blamed the delay and hesitance on the long unsuccessful history of female superhero films.

Nevertheless, the first-ever big screen adaptation was confirmed with the announcement that Gal Gadot had been cast as Wonder Woman in 2013, as part of the DC Extended Universe. Michelle MacLaren was first approached to direct the film, but eventually dropped out due to “creative differences” in early 2016. Only then was Patty Jenkins approached to oversee the majority of the film’s production.

The Unfortunate History of Female-lead Comic Book Films (Clockwise from left bottom): Supergirl (1984; rated 7% on Rotten Tomatoes), Elektra (2005; rated 10% on Rotten Tomatoes), and Catwoman (2004: rated 9% on Rotten Tomatoes). All of these movies suffered humiliating box office flops.

One of the main reasons why the film generated much excitement and buzz on social media is attributed to the fact that it is the first female-led superhero film in recent years. With female empowerment as one of its core themes, Wonder Woman has delivered a strong cultural impact by serving as an emblem of female representation and autonomy in a largely male-dominated society.

While Wonder Woman, as eponymously suggested, is widely recognised as a superhero blockbuster, it was chiefly angled as a film that advocated female empowerment. Diana Prince (played by Gal Gadot), daughter of Queen Hippolyta of the island nation Themyscira, was raised amongst the strongest of female warriors known as Amazons. While growing up in this female-centric environment helped foster a strong sense of confidence in her own skills and capabilities, it also meant that she was wholly sheltered from the harsh realities of misogyny and prejudice that exist in the real world.

The film followed Diana on her quest to save the world, which was trapped in the thick of World War I. With assistance from her partner Steve Trevor and a trio of seemingly rowdy and unorthodox heroes, Diana stormed the frontlines of Europe to put a stop to the chaos and destruction caused by Ares, the God of War.

As a member of the audience, it was particularly amusing watching Diana navigate through several precarious predicaments in early 20th-century London. Without having been conditioned to believe that women were inferior to men in any shape or form, Diana brought a venerable attitude of self-righteousness – or perhaps a sense of foolish naivety, depending on one’s perspective – to these situations.

This was exemplified in a scene where Diana spoke up passionately against a group of British military strategists, who believed that the best course of action was to simply do nothing and wait for an armistice to be signed. During the time period in which the film is set, a woman’s mere presence in any political setting was frowned upon, let alone her opinion on matters concerning war. Diana’s desire to stand up for the principles of justice and protect the sanctity of life, despite being surrounded by imperious male politicians, and her eventual act of leading a battalion of soldiers to fight against the Germans, signified her ability to subvert the moral ambiguities portrayed in many superheroes. In our current political climate, Diana’s unwavering internal moral compass that manifested in her actions reminds us of our duty to uplift humanity while striving to preserve the principles of justice and love, even if this requires sacrifice.

Though Diana was a key influencer in this endeavour, the part that the supporting characters played in helping turn these ideals into a reality must not be ignored either. We saw Diana’s love interest, Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), contribute significantly to this crusade against war. Steve was first introduced as an intruder to Diana’s world, but the roles soon reversed when Steve became Diana’s guide, navigator, and companion in the outside world. This partnership slowly blossomed into a romantic relationship that was largely built on the shared desire to save humanity, and eventually culminated in Steve sacrificing himself to neutralise the chemical weapons that would otherwise have delivered a cataclysmic effect.

“I can save today, you can save the world.”

– Steve Trevor

Moreover, the gang of mercenaries that accompanied Diana and Steve throughout their missions added further depth to the film. This trio of unlikely heroes, hired by Steve, comprised Charlie the Scottish marksman, Chief the Native American smuggler, and Sameer the Turkish con artist. While their character development was undeservingly brief, their position as the ostracised outsiders of the society gave us further insights to the injustice involved in issues of the time, such as racial discrimination and treatment of individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are still relevant today.

The group photo of the gang. Left to right: Sameer, Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman, Chief, and Charlie. This photo first appeared as an Easter egg in the previous film Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and was re-introduced in the solo film as a storytelling tool.

Furthermore, the interpretation of the villains gave us a some brilliant insights into the notions of good and evil. Super villains are traditionally one-dimensional, in the sense that their interests tend to be singular: most often, they aim for world domination. Ares, the main villain of the film, gave us a more nuanced view. He was not the warmongering maniac Diana believed him to be, but a mere catalyst that stimulated humans’ natural tendency towards violence and chaos. This added depth to Diana’s understanding of the world, as she realised the inherent moral imperfections of mankind.

It is true that the film suffered from several storytelling flaws and certain stylistic choices that ultimately undermined the audience’s ability to enjoy it fully. However, it was still a competent and robust adaptation of the Wonder Woman lore. The multi-dimensional characterisation of Diana, coupled with the adroit portrayal of her dynamics with the supporting characters, stayed true to that of the comic books. The mercenaries and villains undeniably added further value to the film, pushing this version of Diana’s origin story to one that is distinct from, and yet equally competent as, the ones offered in the source material.

The many incarnations of Diana of Themyscira:
(Top) Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in the beloved 1970s TV Series Wonder Woman (or The New Adventures of Wonder Woman).
(2nd row) Wonder Woman (voiced by Susan Eisenberg) as seen in the animated series Justice League: Unlimited.
(3rd row) Wonder Woman (voiced by Michelle Monaghan) as seen in the animated film Justice League: War (2014).
(Bottom) Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the solo film and DC Extended Universe

Overall, this film was an undeniably powerful tribute to one of the – if not the – greatest superheroes ever to exist. Aside from impressive stunts, Wonder Woman also provided a timely reminder that love and compassion are the heart and soul of heroism. In the words of Wonder Woman herself, “Now I know, that only love can truly save the world. So now I stay, I fight, and I give – for the world I know can be. This is my mission now, for ever.”

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