It took Hollywood 76 years to make a big screen version of Wonder Woman. Multiple directors tried and failed, partly because Wonder Woman is a difficult character to bring to life and partly because of fear of something new. “The [superhero] genre became synonymous with young men, and so I think there was a concern that they wouldn’t be as interested in a female lead, and it’s taken years for that to sort itself out,” director Patty Jenkins told Cinemablend.
Now, she’s finally here—and in theaters today.
Although the film’s release is groundbreaking, the story itself is still informed by a male-led genre. Wonder Woman is for fans of Captain America, because that’s what this film is, essentially: Captain America in female form. The story is light and idealistic and takes place in the past—World War I, in this case. The good guys are rewarded and the bad guys have simple motives. Like Captain America’s alter ego Steve Rogers, Wonder Woman’s Diana—played by Gal Gadot—is a hero who believes in black and white but is thrust into a world of grey. She defines herself more by her ideals than her invulnerable powers. And she meets another true believer (Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor) who, though a mere mortal, fights the same fight for similar reasons.
The simple plot is made more interesting by “pretty” fight scenes (Diana looks like an Herbal Essences ad in the middle of a battlefield), by the funny moments of Diana’s confusion about the “real world,” and by Diana Prince herself (never actually referred to as Wonder Woman), who manages to be both stately and emotive, powerful and innocent.
Although the film follows a somewhat traditional script, it also deviates—because superheroing while female is a radical act.
Unlike most female superheroes, who for commercial reasons were invented as derivative versions of various superheroes (Supergirl, Batgirl, et al.), Wonder Woman was created in 1941 by a man immersed in the women’s rights movement.
“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power,” said William Moulton Marston, as part of his pitch for Wonder Woman. “Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are.”
In her making of the film, Jenkins—the first female director of a superhero movie—nods toward Wonder Woman’s controversial origins but steers clear of any overt feminist statements. There are no identity politics on display, perhaps because the movie itself is enough to spark a fire. (Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, provided some kindling by offering women-only screenings of the movie, launching protests online.)