An early scene in Wonder Woman highlights in a way what is at stake. On a mystical hidden island, a dark-haired youth watches wide-eyed as hardened warriors train in ancient arts of war. With obvious hero-worship, the child is stirred to half-conscious imitation, little fists and feet flying.
But for two things, that youth might be me at 10 or 12, swinging a plastic lightsaber or shooting a cheap plastic web-shooter, or any of countless other lads thrilling to the adventures of their heroes.
First, her heroes really exist in her world. Second, Diana, who will grow up to be Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, is a girl, and her heroes are the Amazons of Themyscira.
The stakes for Wonder Woman turn on all of this.
To begin with, that wide-eyed hero worship, and the heroic qualities that inspire it, have become practically as elusive as invisible jets in the modern cinematic superhero landscape. This is particularly true in the troubled, grimdark DC universe pioneered by Zack Snyder, though the problem exists even in Disney’s fizzier, stunningly successful Marvel universe, with its roster of heroes who are mostly semi-redeemed bad boys (arrogant hedonists, brawlers, former assassins, thieves and so on).
At least the Marvel universe has its straight arrow: Captain America. Snyder managed to kneecap the most quintessentially noble of superheroes, Superman himself, as an aspirational figure, though maddeningly other characters still talk about him that way.
But DC has one other archetypal superhero who is defined by her ideals as much as Superman — and in a way she’s even more important.
That’s because, in the entire roster of classic comic-book superheroes, Wonder Woman stands alone as the only female hero in her own right. That is, she’s the only superheroine who is neither a knockoff of a male character (like Supergirl or Batgirl) nor one who traditionally exists only in partnership with male heroes or in mostly male teams (like Black Canary or the Invisible Girl).
And now, despite more than 15 years of ever more frequent superhero films, Wonder Woman has become the first big-screen superheroine to get her own franchise. Where Disney has so far never allowed characters like Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Gamora to be more than one-fifth of mostly male teams, Wonder Woman still stands alone.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.