Entertainment news reports say that by its second month, Wonder Woman has broken box office records into becoming the top grossing live-action film, generating more than US$800 million worldwide since it opened in early June and with US$1.50 billion in ticket sales. Helmed by American director and screenwriter Patty Jenkins, the movie has outperformed live action and animated films such as Frozen, Suicide Squad and the Batman and Kung Fu Panda sequels.
I was delighted to see the film, as I thought similarly of how other females would feel seeing a beauty with brawn who wants to stop a war to save the world. Some movies can trigger our guilty pleasures.
Headlined by actress Gal Gadot, a former Miss Israel who competed in the Miss Universe pageant and later joined the Israeli Defense Forces before auditioning for roles in Hollywood, Wonder Woman made her cinematic debut in 2016’s Batman vs. Superman. This year, she broke loose from the two male heavyweight heroes and stood alone as the movie’s lead.
Film reviewers say Wonder Woman, the first female-centered comic book flick to hit theaters in over a decade and the first superhero movie directed by a woman, is likeable because it provided the origins of Wonder Woman, called Diana Prince in her non-hero, non-goddess persona, and her transformation from a young warrior-in-training to heroine. The 70s TV series did not hint at Wonder Woman’s beginnings, only that she had special powers, caught the bad guys with her lasso of truth and used her gold belt and bracelets to deflect bullets while wearing skin tight outfit.
The film recalls Diana as the little princess in the all-female kingdom of Themyscira who wished she would one day engage in fighting as she watched her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) train with the Amazons. When she became a young woman, World War I was happening in Europe, a reality conveyed by American soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), whom she rescued after his plane crash landed onto the seas of her kingdom and was tracked down by German enemies who engaged the Amazons in perhaps one of the most breathtaking battle sequences ever featured in a superhero film, with the Amazons wielding bows, arrows, shields and spears fighting human soldiers using advanced weaponry.
After Steve tells the Amazons about the war that has claimed many lives across Europe, Diana thought the god Ares, the enemy of the Amazons, is behind the war, and so with her sword and shield, she travelled with Steve to the human world in London to defeat Ares, and with her curiosity and naiveté, she discovered the wonders and flaws of humanity.
I saw weak spots in the film. I didn’t like the confrontation scene where Ares looked cartoonish and sounded like Megatron in Transformers. But the movie was worthy of debuting the most famous female superhero to a world that is constantly looking for female empowering antidotes, including in pop culture, which are either accepted as fresh ideas or are smeared by takedowns on feminism and all possible shots at enabling girls. But thanks to this film, not only do its highs and lows lead to important questions but it widens the discussion as well.
In a world where women do the “firsts” – first woman director at the helm of the first female-led superhero film and so on — points are added to the sorry state of female achievements. I think that in my lifetime, if females continue to live with meager opportunities, there will be no end to this exercise, and the list will be increasingly diverse.
For instance, the film’s female German chemist named Dr. Poison, had she not been defeated, would have been the first female to formulate a biological weapon of mass destruction. Her determination to develop a gas to wipe out humans, with the male military commander clinging on her power to do that, was an act of feminism, however ghastly.
The film advocated forone of the working definitions of female empowerment – that of rising above traditional concepts of being female. Being strong and athletic, being able to slash two men with a sword or kill three men with one hit of three bows is kickass feminism, and so are those that didn’t need muscles such as warding off a sexual advance or resisting clothes that constrict movement. It may also mean being able to tell a man “What I do is not up to you” or sharing what she learned, not from experience but from reading, that men are vital to reproduction but unnecessary for pleasure.
Conflicting thoughts can emerge when Wonder Woman’s unadulterated thinking about saving humankind from violence emanating from males is marred by her response — countering it with violence — all these while she’s wearing a skater skirt but is not affected by males ogling at her.
Her appearance can be her objectification, as it is always the case with films made for the conventional, sexist male gaze. She can be a badass and a cheesecake. In one scene where she throws a man across the room, one of his male back-ups says: “I’m both frightened and aroused.” But she regains near perfection because her strength and ability to win can liberate the otherwise woeful situation of females who are belittled and restrained.
TV’s Wonder Woman was one of my childhood memories of fictional heroines and as I grew up watching TV and movies, they marched their way into my consciousness: Ripley in Alien, Sarah Connor in The Terminator, Princess Leia in Star Wars and, heck, the Philippines’ very own Darna. Years later, my list shifted to women who just did what they had to do –The Bride in Kill Bill, the mother in Antonia’s Line, Thelma and Louise, Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, the First Wives Club, and Amelie’.
Societies have their own conventions on what females should and should not do, but to date, Wonder Woman is by far one of the strongest female representations in film without hard selling feminist hoopla, only that it was further subjected to societal interpretations as it entered theaters outside the US.
Because of lead actress Gadot’s Israeli identity, Lebanon barred the showing of the film.Countries such as Algeria and Tunisia followed suit, citing their aversion to Zionism. Jordan banned the film then reversed its decision.Talk about a comic book film not only throwing in conversations on sexuality into the picture but Middle East politics and religion as well.
Reviewers even unearthed what they call the absurd and kinky background of William Moulton Marston, the American psychologist, comic book writer and Wonder Woman creator who fathered children with hiswife and mistress who lived with him under one roof. Marston invented the lie detector (remember Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth that is used only for men?). He was also a fan of pin-up erotic art. He wassaid to have been inspired by the women’s suffrage movement and in women’s rights and contraception activist Margaret Sanger.
Demanding for women’s rights to vote and their rights to their reproductive health was the order of the day when Marston created Wonder Woman for DC Comics in 1941, perhaps an apt way of creating a new vision of femininity when the world was at war. The comic story was an instant hit among girls.
The heroine filtered into history that in the 1970s when the TV series was to be shown, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, one of the editors of Ms. Magazine, put Wonder Woman in the mag’s cover, signaling a new era of women in TV, pop culture and media.
Decades later, femininity and feminism have evolved into their niche in more enlightened discussions about women and their standing with men and the constant encouragement not to polarize genders to prevent divisiveness and violence. Wonder Woman may have contributed to the change, but she continues to represent what women want to be, albeit still struggling with their imperfections in their day-to-day realities.
For instance, the awesome Wonder Woman gets her man who is as comfortable with his masculinity as Steve Trevor, but then loses him in the end. In feminism, live action has its romance even in this day and age of female uprising.