It’s no secret that I’m a fan of superhero movies, but when it was announced that Wonder Woman would get her own origin film as part of the DC Justice League franchise, it was more than just another instalment in the timeline…
Wonder Woman has been a symbol of feminism since she landed on comic book pages in her invisible plane back in 1941. This Amazon from Themyscira, with her golden bracelets that can stop bullets, and her magic lasso that will force anyone she ropes to tell the truth, was the work of William Moulton Marston, a psychologist with a PhD from Havard who created her (and the first lie detector machine) to “fight for peace, justice and women’s rights”.
Marston’s history is an unusual one and not one that you’d necessarily expect of the creator of a feminist icon. I’m not going to go into his life story in this post, but I would highly recommend reading Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman if you want to find out more about Marston and the cultural history behind Wonder Woman’s creation.
Anyway, 75 years after Diana Prince burst onto our pages, Wonder Woman finally got her big screen debut in Batman v Superman, where she completely stole the show and a year later Wonder Woman was released to critical acclaim the world over.
While Wonder Woman is by no means the first action film to have a female lead (Sarah Connor in the Terminator franchise, Ripley in the Alien films, Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and more recently Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series, to name but a few), there was something about Wonder Woman — perhaps the fact that it lies within the superhero genre or the historical links to feminism that the character already has — that made it seem that little bit more significant.
NOT The First Female Superhero Film
Photo by BagoGames on flickr
Of course, Wonder Woman isn’t even the first big budget movie based on a female comic book character, though you may not remember them all too well. There was Halle Berry’s Catwoman and Jennifer Garner’s Elektra (cringe), 1984’s Supergirl portrayed by Helen Slater that sadly failed to take flight, plus there are the cult classics like Tank Girl featuring the unconventional hero portrayed by Lori Perry and The Fifth Element (though you could argue that Bruce Willis is more of a lead in that movie, despite Milla Jovovich being the ACTUAL fifth element).
Still, one thing all female-lead superhero films seem to have in common to this point is they’ve always been considered ‘alternative’ or ‘cult’ movies — which usually translates to fairly rubbish and only really loved by the diehard fans of the original comics or feminist, movie geeks like me!
With the recent success of Marvel Studios’ X-Men and MCU franchises, it does make you wonder why none of the female heroes ever got an origin spinoff?! I for one would love to see Black Widow’s history on the big screen, particularly considering the vast amount of teasers and flashbacks they include in all the Avengers movies (UPDATE: looks like I’ll finally get my wish!)
Not Perfect, but Significant
Photo by Sebastian Vital on flickr
For sure, Wonder Woman is by no means perfect. There’s still a fair amount of flesh on show and, despite living her entire life on an Island of self-sufficient amazon women, there’s still an uncomfortable submission to the will of the human man once Diana leaves Themyscira…
But, as Zoe Williams writes, far more articulately than I could, in this article for the Guardian, Wonder Woman is a masterpiece of subversive feminism:
Yes, she is sort of naked a lot of the time, but this isn’t objectification so much as a cultural reset: having thighs, actual thighs you can kick things with, not thighs that look like arms, is a feminist act. The whole Diana myth, women safeguarding the world from male violence not with nurture but with better violence, is a feminist act. Casting Robin Wright as Wonder Woman’s aunt, re-imagining the battle-axe as a battler, with an axe, is a feminist act. A female German chemist trying to destroy humans (in the shape of Dr Poison, a proto-Mengele before Nazism existed) might be the most feminist act of all.
Women are repeatedly erased from the history of classical music, art and medicine. It takes a radical mind to pick up that being erased from the history of evil is not great either. Wonder Woman’s casual rebuttal of a sexual advance, her dress-up montage (“it’s itchy”, “I can’t fight in this”, “it’s choking me”) are also feminist acts. Wonder Woman is a bit like a BuzzFeed list: 23 Stupid Sexist Tropes in Cinema and How to Rectify Them. I mean that as a compliment.
As with all media, representation matters and now, thanks to Wonder Woman, little girls, teenagers and women all over the world get to see and imagine themselves as the strong, kick-ass superhero that ‘don’t need no man’ to fight her battles!
Which leads me nicely onto the reason why I cried when I saw Wonder Woman on the big screen! The No Man’s Land scene…
Yeah, THAT scene…
I mean, I feel there’s nothing really more to say!
I’ve been a fan of Wonder Woman since before I knew what feminism was, but really, when you think about it, I guess that’s kind of the point.