SPOILER WARNING: Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)
Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017) almost feels like a film out of time. In the age of endless tie-ins, reboots, sequels, and prequels, what the film does is truly unique. Even though it is technically a prequel to 2016’s Batman v Superman (Zack Snyder), Wonder Woman still functions as its own film with the exception of the needless opening scene, which could be easily cut from the film without any real consequence. The film seems to think so too, as the transition from Diana (Gal Gadot) in modern-day Paris to her origins is the clunkiest element of the film. Past this brief stumble, the film immediately finds its footing as it actually takes its time to spell out the origins of the film’s titular character. The entire film is a flashback, and unnecessary flash-forwards and flashbacks are nary to be seen. This pacing style serves the film well, as the audience is able to fully take in the development of Diana as she comes to terms with the world that she finds herself in. Facing isolationism in her home island and complacency in Great War-era Europe, Diana is forced to face the reality that the world truly does not deserve her. Wonder Woman presents Diana as someone whose beliefs have not been polluted by the world around her, and because of this she fearlessly embodies feminism, activism, and a belief that the world has the potential to be a better place.
Diana’s “innocence” should not be mistaken for ignorance, and in its own way, her innocence is more a hopefulness than anything else. Diana sees the world as a place that can be better, and her annoyance and bewilderment at the reactions to her behavior are understandable once it is considered that she is from a place that is free from the male chauvinism and complacency that she encounters outside of her homeland. The latter element has actually found its way into Diana’s homeland in the form of isolationism and a general sense to forget history. But even there Diana still stands apart from everyone else, with the exception of the fierce and inspiring Antiope (Robin Wright) who decides to train her to be a warrior in secret. Leaving her home as the wars are not there and she feels obligated to fulfill what is eventually revealed (in a twist everyone saw coming) to be her purpose for existence, Diana discovers that the war that is currently ravaging the world is not only much more complicated than she could have imagined, but also that it is part of a seemingly endless cycle of violence. But these revelations do not startle her for long, as Diana quickly proves herself to be adept at adapting to the situation.
Diana’s adaptation capabilities serve her well. Not be mistaken for conforming to the oppressive environment that she finds herself in, Diana instead quickly comes to understand her current circumstances and find a way to overcome them. Even the moves by Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to “protect” Diana are not mistaken by her for anything other than what the truly are: a stifling of her character and agency. He describes her as his “secretary” and she does not immediately correct him, as she seems to be more bewildered than anything by his actions. But when the time comes, and it comes often, she is more than ready and willing to stand up for her self and others and do what is right. Coming out of the trenches (literally) on the Western Front, Diana fulfills her potential, and then pushes it even further and fulfills it again and again. With each subsequent conflict, her capability is raised even higher until she literally takes to the air in the final shot of the film.
Those that try to hold Diana down are either authority figures or men, and in many cases they are both. At first restrained by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) out of concern, and later by each of the male military figures that she encounters in London, her responses to adversity come to define her. But in all of these cases the film is fair to those that Diana comes up against. Each viewpoint is clearly defined and Diana’s counterview is also equally well defined. Diana is right in almost every case, and the film provides Steve Trevor to explain why people don’t do things the way that Diana wishes for them to be done. The oppression that Diana faces is embodied in a physical threat by the revelation that Ares (David Thewlis), the God of War and Diana’s target, was a politician the whole time. This turn is presented as much less cartoonish than it sounds, and it is justified by the story and by Ares himself. Those who oppose Diana are dedicated to maintaining the status quo, the very thing that she rises above at every turn.
Overall, Diana is a character that is driven by what she believes the world can and should be. Not so much following Steve Trevor as much as she is depending on his knowledge to lead her to what he wants, Diana is fortunately not shown as character that can do anything and everything solely on her own. She depends on others to train her, others to introduce her to a new world, but in the end she always knows what she wants and needs and, in many cases, how to get it. Were the film to argue that Diana were the end all be all of characters it would not only make the film dull, but it would also present a somewhat naïve viewpoint of its characters. This is not to say that Diana is incapable or helpless by any means, but rather that all of the characters are portrayed fairly. Everyone is a product of their environment, and though this does not mean that all of the incorrect viewpoints and actions should be condoned, the film does not present them without explanation. Even though Diana is right about most things, her own views change to see more of a complex portrait of the world by the film’s conclusion. Diana’s black and white views go away, but replacing them are ones that are almost still as hopeful, though her voiceover states that she “…used to want to save the world.” But perhaps this statement is less of a defeatist statement and more of a realization that the world does not need saving, it needs guiding, and a lot of it. Diana does ultimately fulfill her purpose and defeat Ares, but in this victory she realizes that simply killing him will not save the world. The world does not deserve Diana, and she cannot simply save it. But by way of her unique viewpoints, she can certainly guide it.