Why I Needed Wonder Woman
I didn’t even know how much I needed Wonder Woman until I saw it. I won’t pretend to be someone who has been hyped up about it from the beginning. I knew I wanted to see it, but being a Marvel girl, I am less familiar with the Wonder Woman lore. I was excited to see it the day of, but beyond that I wasn’t trembling with anticipation.
That’s probably why it shocked me when I first found myself crying in the theater. It was not a particularly touching scene, but there I was crying all the same. And then found myself crying during a 5-minute action sequence, again surprising me.
I know it isn’t the first movie to have a well-developed, and competent woman at its center (Shout out to the Alien series, New Hope and Rogue One). But there was something about this portrayal of Wonder Woman that felt significant and weighty in a way some of these others were not. Maybe it’s because I have faithfully gone to midnight showings and opening weekends for every major super hero movie, identifying with and embracing male-centered stories, it’s a culture I have been immersed in for a long time, and have appreciated for a long time.
So seeing Diana (aka Wonder Woman) at the center of the story, as the catalyst of the plot, not the prize, not the significant secondary muse who inspires and sets the hero on the journey, not one of many in a team where she gets 15 minutes of screen time, stirred something in me that is surprising.
Even as someone who recognized the portrayal and variation of women in film is fairly unflattering, as someone who has recognized the troubling belief that male-centered stories are more lucrative because women can identify with male characters but men can’t identify with women characters, I have been lucky enough to be raised in a family that put me in the path of the exceptions – Princess Leia was a fixture in our home, I wanted to be like Linda Hamilton in the Terminator series when I was 11 years old, I had action figures of Storm, Rogue, and Mystique in my collection of toys.
But still there was something completely unique in the experience of watching Wonder Woman.
Of course, some of the enchantment I felt in the movie came from the natural and effortless way Gadot lit up the screen as Diana, the way she excitedly and hopefully engaged with the world around her without ever making us doubt her competency. The chemistry and natural humor between her and her supporting character (Chris Pine) added a great deal of charm and magic to the movement of the movie.
There was a refreshingly unapologetic lack of hip cynicism and a deep embracing of goodness, kindness, love and compassion as heroic. In a sea of movies with tortured antihero’s at the center, Wonder Woman gave a hero who is so compelling and simultaneously complex and simple. She is almost childish in her wonder, without ever being infantilized. She lights up at the sight of a baby, and it’s never imagined that that compromises her strength as a warrior. The moments of bravery, or realization, and heroism are held out into the stark light of day without a hint of irony; and I had almost forgotten how much I truly am inspired by that.
All of these things made for a good movie, but not a perfect movie, like any superhero movie you could find plot holes that you need to set aside your critics hat to accept, and underdeveloped supporting characters that distracted from the natural rhythm of the movie.
But it didn’t need to be perfect any more than any other superhero movie, and there was something much deeper than just the quality of the movie that for me, and for many others, resonated so deeply. And despite what people say, despite what even I may have told myself many times, it mattered that at the center of all of that, of a good movie, a good story, a high-budget, was Diana.
It was odd to feel like my heart was being cradled by Diana throughout the movie, like there was some comfort being spoken to it that I didn’t know I needed.
She isn’t a cynical antihero. She isn’t like Jyn or Katniss (also great characters), unwittingly thrust into greatness. She deeply believes in others, and she deeply believes in herself. She did not need to be coaxed into an understanding of her purpose, and she didn’t waste any energy trying to convince others of her purpose. She does not become a hero but is one from beginning until the end, with no doubt of her call. There is never the moment of needing to be talked out of hiding, or to embrace her destiny- she is running full speed to it from beginning to end.
And something about that did bring me to tears. Something about that DID make me feel heroic. Something about that did make me want to change the world. Something about that made me want to be more compassionate, more justice-minded, to love better and harder, and to speak hope into the world around me. It’s simplistic in that message, but none the less heroic. I cried thinking of a new generation of little girls who can look at Diana and not have to pretend to be a boy to be a superhero. I cried as she led a battalion of soldiers into battle after being moved by the sight of a mother clinging to her crying infant.
I do say this hoping, it’s not always going to be a big deal. I do hope that it becomes so common that it doesn’t make me cry, I do hope that it’s so normal that the girls in my youth group grow up never hoping that a superhero movie with a woman at its center is successful just so there’s a chance that another one can be made. I hope it’s so normal that the young boys in the youth group can identify with and see themselves in heroic women leads without thinking twice about it. I think that’s the best thing to hope for.
But for now, I am going to enjoy this with all of my heart! And patiently wait for a Rogue and Storm origin story.