She was arguably the best part of the gloomfest that was Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Every time her electric guitar theme rang through the theatre, there was a perceptible change in atmosphere, the fun and hope of the comic book genre finally peeking through the overwhelming darkness. DC Entertainment, which has thus far not scored critical success with any of its DC Universe movies (i.e., pretty much anything since Christopher Nolan doffed his directorial cap), is really, really counting on her to save the world, and also, their flailing pride.
Wonder Woman comes to a screen near you in June 2017. Played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress best known for her performance in the Fast and Furious franchise, this marks the 75-year-old’s comic book character first live outing on the big screen. She’s been on TV, she’s been in animated movies, notably The Lego Movie (2014), but she’s never been in a feature of her own. Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, then, is historic, not only because it’s a first for the character, but also one of the first superheroine-led movies of what promises to be a long-drawn-out war between Marvel and DC.
The Jennifer Garner-led Elektra released in 2005, but for some reason no one seems to remember that.
Trailers have been leaking out for the past few months, and put together, the rough outline of the story of Diana Prince (Wonder Woman’s alias) is visible. Raised on the island of Themyscira, Diana and her fellow Amazons are protected from the woes of the modern world, until an American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands there, and jerks them back into the present. Unsettled, Diana recalls the ancient edicts of the Amazonians, to protect mankind, and enters the fray of what turns out to be World War I or, as Trevor gasps dramatically in the trailer “the war to end all wars”.
Unlike many of its predecessors, which have largely operated in a time much like ours, Wonder Woman enters the territory of the period piece, locating the heroine as a fish out of water in a world that would be, for many of today’s viewers, foreign territory. In this way, it’s close to Captain America: The First Avenger, which also took a leap into the past, telling the origin story of a man who fought in World War II and then landed up in the present, confused about cell phones and other things we take for granted. But Diana is much, much older than Cap, a demi-goddess whose memory spans events no human can possibly remember.
Wonder Woman is one of DC’s flagship heroines, a founding member of the Justice League and its most famous powered figures. Where Superman stands for “truth, justice and the American way”, Diana Prince has long been a symbol of women’s empowerment and LGBTQ representation. The film addresses the former in obvious, and rather hackneyed ways. Grasping for what to call her, Trevor labels Diana his “secretary”. The trailers have made clear Diana’s disdain for the term. When told what a secretary does, she blithely retorts, “Where I’m from we call that slavery.” Raised on an island of women, sexism would be an entirely unfamiliar concept to Diana, and her incredulity over flouncy dresses is completely understandable.
Tied into this is Diana’s understanding of sexuality. Comics writer Greg Rucka recently made headlines for saying that Wonder Woman has “obviously” been in romantic relationships with women. She was raised on a paradisical island of women, where “you’re supposed to be able to live happily”, Rucka pointed out. Romantic love, a part of that “happy” life, would have been found only with another woman.
It’s not clear whether the film explores this aspect of her personality, though Gadot stated in an interview that the character “can be bisexual. She loves people for their hearts”. Perhaps a franchise, not planned at the moment, could open it up further.
DC has a lot riding on Wonder Woman, and not only because they need a hit to counterbalance all the bad press their movies have been getting. Diana’s status as a queer icon has only been raised after her public outing. The United Nations’ rather controversial decision to appoint her an Honorary Ambassador of Empowerment of Women and Girls has put her in the spotlight as well. Taken together, the cultural weight of Wonder Woman has only been increasing. The audience is being prepared to see her as more than a breastplate-wearing, female version of He-Man. Hopefully, Patty Jenkins and her crew will deliver more than that.