Neo-feminism?: Wonder Woman Movie Review

The following article contains spoilers from Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017).

With it’s immaculate Rotten Tomatoes score and mega hype on the box office front, I figured it would be foolish not to go see DC’s new Wonder Woman. And I must say, it met every one of my expectations. On Saturday I had a movie viewing experience that I haven’t had in a long time. I sat, filled with an unexplainable elation and found myself in wonder of Wonder Woman.

This was for a number of reasons. It was a treat to see the first successful DC film since The Dark Knight (2008). Seriously, after the fuster cluck that was Suicide Squad I feel that fan audiences were owed something more substantial. The proper execution of Wonder Woman was in high demand, as the film acts as both a redeemer of DC films and a starting installment of the upcoming Justice League franchise. After seeing the film, I can confidently guess that hardcore fans were not let down. Finally, we have the makings of a true blockbuster, comparable to the likes of the Marvel money-making machine. Oh, and there’s that part about Wonder Woman being a woman.

If you’ve been keeping up with the happenings of DC Entertainment, Wonder Woman has been a Hollywood idea for quite some time. Wonder Woman was originally pursued by director Joss Whedon, who dropped the project in 2010. Skipping the savory details, Whedon allegedly left the film with issues in casting. It was understood that Whedon wanted to take Wonder Woman in a Lara Croft-y direction. Flash-forward to 2015, when Wonder Woman has been re-written and turned over to a female director– an appropriate destination for a film that carries a lot of gendered weight.

A female hero protagonist, on paper, shouldn’t be so hard to bring to life… right? This was the main concern of both filmmakers and viewers. We wanted Wonder Woman to be the ultimate feminist. However, filmmakers needed to find a harmony between her strength as a woman and compatibility with male audiences. Blatant feminist-themed films have failed commercially in recent years because of a lack of this harmony. Wonder Woman needed to relay femininity in such a way that made us all feel empowered.

Feminism has taken a turn in the last year or so. On the media front, the political pendulum has swung from a liberal embrace of feminism to this bizarre extreme of proponents and opponents. In Trumps’ America, conservatism is slowly creeping back into the mainstream, providing cushion for those who deny feminism. On the other end of the spectrum, many think feminism as a political movement has become weighed down in the wrong areas.

The “Red Pill” movement has come to my attention recently. This is a brand of feminism that incorporates skepticism into the understanding of the modern movement. By taking the “red pill”, feminist women indulge in the criticisms of anti-feminist males and study their male perspective. The goal of “Red Pill” is meant to illustrate where feminism, as a movement, misses the mark on gendered issues for males. I’ve seen outwardly liberal, self-proclaimed feminists discuss this movement and encourage the skepticism it calls for. Society has begun to take a neo-feminsit approach to equality; tackling issues a little more…equally.

That exact approach may be what makes Wonder Woman so successful. The feminism in the film wasn’t exactly subdued, rather it was strategic. There was no point in time where Diana made a speech about her feminism– she did not use words to convince us of her power. I think Patty Jenkins and the screen writers had in mind that rather than developing as a feminist, Diana was to employ a pre-existing feminism into her actions. In Wonder Woman’s world, women were crafted at the hands of the Gods to bring peace to humanity. In the mythical training grounds of Themyscira, the amazons are trained like work-horses and educated with the knowledge of many cultures. That’s a seriously feminist starting point for young Diana. Establishing feminism in this way does not leave it up for debate later in the story. Before the action unfolds, audiences simply accept Wonder Woman’s feminist foundation.

Since there is no feminist hump to climb over, Wonder Woman is able to explore Diana’s journey into the mortal world with a fresh gaze. Diana’s relationship with her partner Steve is a symbiotic one. They learn from one another and I felt a natural rapport between their two different perspectives. Diana is righteous and beneficent; Steve is practical and covert. When one character challenged the other, it was warranted. Steve never took Diana’s naïvety as adorable or distinctly female. This film allowed its male and female main characters to stand alone as equally dynamic people.

The war motif in Wonder Woman also brings about an interesting feminist perspective I have not yet encountered. Diana’s DNA made her just– she was wired to save people from the downfall of man. But upon entering the war-to-end-all-wars on Earth, she became enlightened about human morality. She learns in her time with her team that war is multifaceted and good and evil can exist in all people. Diana learns that goodness is a responsibility and she takes it upon herself to maintain that responsibility as Wonder Woman full-time. I think allowing a female character to unpack the challenges of war, a characteristically masculine tradition, was a brave move on Wonder Woman‘s part.

Overall, I would say if you haven’t seen this movie yet, make plans with your friends and family to go see it. Tonight. Wonder Woman is epic and timeless. The action sequences are perfect, while the storytelling is tender. Diana and Steve’s romance is also well developed, free of the tropes we see too often in other superhero films. Borrowing knowledge from one another along the way, we saw a male-female relationship that was truly grounded in feminist ideals of sharing, communication and mutual respect. Sure, there were a handful of sex jokes that came at their expense, but the jokes were innocent in nature and in no way degraded Diana’s worth as a female. After all, she’s fully aware men don’t need to be part of the equation for pleasures of the flesh.

Of course, as with anything good in this world, there has been negativity hurled Wonder Woman‘s way. Some have criticized the film for not taking a deliberate enough stance on feminism. This quieter, neo-feminist approach has been seen as a way to water down a very pronounced feminist opportunity. While Patty Jenkins and company could’ve really, really went for it, I think the end result was just fine. Even better than fine, Wonder Woman is the top grossing film for a female director ever. That alone speaks to one female’s craftsmanship of female-led film.

On the anti-feminist forefront, recent all-female screenings of the film in Austin have caused outcries of reverse sexism. While it may seem discriminatory at a base level, allowing a female dialogue in an artistic environment will always be a good thing. The emotional intelligence of Wonder Woman allows this dialogue to continue at home, school and work with other genders. The fact it’s an incredible film only works in this conversation’s favor.

Gal Gadot was meticulously cast as Diana and, from what I can tell, for good reason. She’s fierce with a distinct kindness and she’s got that something that makes it hard to take my eyes off her on screen. We won’t be seeing the last of her in Hollywood. Her beauty is most likely a factor in this. Many fans criticized her appearance in the film, as she subscribes majorly to Western beauty standards and is, for all intents and purposes, a total babe. Is it totally impossible to move away from the Hollywood standard of woman and her sexy superhero attire? I don’t know. To me, it ain’t that deep. When I saw this gorgeous, brave woman in all her bad-assery, my heart soared. The top blockbuster this month was about a female who sticks up for others and leads with her heart. Any positive female representation is positive female representation. Was 2017’s depiction of Wonder Woman too sexy? There’s a chance. But when I think of all the little girls who choose to be Diana this year for Halloween, who will wear their gold arm cuffs and headbands as badges of honor, none of that matters. Just as Diana was sculpted from clay to make the world a better place, this film reassures us that women are powerful, prominent and necessary.