What kind of an unfundamentalist (read: feminist) parent would I be if I do not rush to the first showing of a movie featuring a female warrior directed by a woman?
Four days before the June 2 release in America, I got to see Wonder Woman on the big IMAX screen here in Taiwan. The movie carried heavy expectations to shed the stigma from a string of ill-reviewed DC comic book movies as well as to represent feature films with a female superhero as the lead. Launching in a year where the political climate is particularly threatening to women, and after the rallying cries of resistance from the Women’s March, it is more than a little cathartic to watch a woman unleash goddess levels of power on screen, echoing the cries from the streets.
Image: Warner Bros Official movie poster
As a parent, I am glad to see Patty Jenkins (director) choose to begin the origin story from childhood. Seeing 7 year old Diana aspire to be the Amazonian female warriors in her mystical island is a poignant reminder of how our children cannot become what they do not see. You should take your daughter (& son) to see Wonder Woman for the obvious reason that our children need to see women in stories not just as damsels-in-distress but as the superhero warrior as well—that our daughters can save men and our sons can be saved by women.
But sometimes it feels as though we use terms like strength, power, courage, and love without translating them into embodied realities. What does strength mean precisely? Physical prowess? Mental resilience? Gritty perseverance? These are the universal human themes Wonder Woman explores.
Diana Prince (she was never called Wonder Woman in the movie) has natural fighting instincts along with literal, superhuman powers. She did not need to learn how to be adept at her powers like Spiderman or Superman. She is strong and always has been, but what she had to learn was that courage and strength alone isn’t enough to save the world.
In her first battle scene decked in complete Wonder Woman gear, she faces an entire army against German occupied ‘No Man’s Land’ and takes the village back. She was fierce and skillful (stunning choreography sequence), and her love and compassion for the villagers compelled the men who had given up to join in her cause. Her infinite optimism changed the outcome of a brutal reality.
After that glorious victory, her and her rag tag team continue on their mission but with two separate objectives. Diana was convinced killing the god of War, Ares, would end the war (WWI) and peace would reign on earth forever, while the rest of the team had much less sensational goals.
The audience hangs in this tension between hope and realism. There was a part of me that wanted Diana to be right despite the odds. This is a superhero movie, I self-justified, let her defeat the evil monster so everyone can live happily after. Let these short 141 minutes be a respite from what we know to be true—a world filled with complexities and nuance and where evil sometimes reigns.
She does indeed kill who she thought to be Ares in dramatic fashion with the god-killer sword striking through the heart of the devil. She becomes the hero that she thought she was meant to be, but the skies remained gray. The war does not end. In fact, the enemy unleashes a deadly poison gas bomb and kills everyone in the village she had valiantly saved in the prior scene. It devastates her, and the audience cannot help but grimace the way we do the moment a child loses their innocence. What does it take to save the world, if not by scapegoating our problems onto one evil figure and crushing him with brute strength?
We find out, alongside Diana, that sometimes hope does not come from happy endings, that might cannot always save, and that love does not cover a multitude of evils but is powerful enough to help us resist another day.
I’m not saying a male director and a male superhero lead could not have told a story interrogating universal human values of strength and softness without sacrificing all the action and humor elements that make for a fun flick.
I’m saying a woman and a female superhero did. And did it beautifully.
That’s why you should take your daughter (& son) to see it.
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*Please use your own discretion when taking young children. The violence in the movie is comparable to Marvel superhero movies. The setting is WWI, but there are no overtly graphic images, and much of the violence is implied.*