I've seen a few of these Marvel Comic Hero films, not really my first choice (!) and have always been left a bit cold. Sure, there's iconic characters, full-blown action, team work, the odd moment of self deprecating humour but in general, totally forgettable. But there seemed a bit of a buzz about this new Wonder Woman flick, I think I even heard the word "feminist" so I thought, I'm getting a babysitter, I need to see this for myself!
This film feels very different to anything I have seen before. The heroine played by Gal Gadot is hugely strong and powerful but also compassionate and earnest. The island of the Amazons where Diana/Wonder Woman grows up is a female only community where toned, kick-ass warriors train to ride and fight. Sure, most of them look like Swedish super models but there is a nod to ethnic diversity and the impression that any little girl who wants to grow up tough and strong can do it if she applies herself. The fact that Gal Gadot spent 2 years in the Israeli army may be politically controversial but gives her a real authenticity which other Hollywood actresses such as Scarlett Johansen as the Black Widow or Barrymore, Diaz and Liu as Charlie's Angels just can't replicate from 2 months' bootcamp in Beverley Hills. The Amazons appear in a more practical leather armour designed by Lindy Hemming after research on warrior queen societies pre-dating Ancient Greece. She says she tried to emphasise how fit and strong the women are rather than oversexualising them, in contrast to the spangled polyester of the 1975 version (Fashionista June 2017). Wonder Woman is outraged at having to cover up her admittedly skimpy battle ensemble in London as she feels it will restrict her ability to fight.
The sense that women don't need men is heightened when we see Diana meet a man for the first time. First off, she saves him from drowning in a scene somewhat akin to Disney's The Little Mermaid. However, she is not coy, confused or love-struck. When finding him naked after a bath, she confronts him with an open, interested gaze and is more fascinated by his watch. To his disappointment, Diana has read all about the pleasures of the flesh in some ancient text and concludes that while men may be necessary for procreation, they are totally unnecessary for pleasure. There is the inevitable love story within the movie, though Diana is never subservient within this relationship and key to that is the marked absence of the hinted at sex scene, which I felt would somehow disempower our heroine who clearly needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, as the saying goes...
Perhaps the angle which resonated most strongly for me within Wonder Woman was the focus on empathy and moral fortitude. From an island paradise, Diana is plunged into the nightmare world of the Front in WW1. While members of her male support team demand she ignore the plight of those around her to focus on a bigger goal, she shows compassion for the suffering of the men, women and children she sees and makes her own decision. Similarly when Aries talks about the undeserving human race, she argues that it is not about who deserves our help, but what we believe is right. While our politicians tie themselves in knots over who is worthy of welfare, aid or asylum, the message that we have a moral duty to help others has huge relevance.
Would I want my daughter to see this? Yes, Would I want my sons to see this? Yes. In gender relations, nothing should be a given. Wonder Woman shows that women can be strong, independent and powerful while at the same time being compassionate and liking babies. Men can be sensitive, they can follow women and be inspired by women. It will not be everyone's cup of tea, but in these times where women's rights are threatened and social inequalities are growing, this film is an important moment.