Lost in Wonder

I am a “She-ra” girl. When it comes to the powerful girl superhero, my go-to has always been He-man’s twin sister.

I may be changing my tune.

While I had access to syndicated episodes of the 1970s television show, I was never a true Wonder Woman fan, and while I appreciate a good superhero movie, I’m usually not a fan of DC comic movies and I did not enjoy the introduction of Wonder Woman in Batman Vs. Superman. In short, this past weekend I did not walk into the movie theater with very high expectations.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.

Like I said, I love a good superhero movie. Marvel movies have been my go-to because I need more than just a lot of fun explosions and strong fight scenes; I need a good story. I want to care about the characters and what is happening to them. I want to see complexity in my heroes, whether they are human, superhuman, gods, or aliens. I want to see a reflection of my humanity in those responsible for saving the world from fictional destruction.

And while I appreciate the artistry of well-done CGI, I also want to see natural artistry on the silver screen. I want to see the world that I know, not just a recreation of the world I know, reproduced and enhanced on a computer. When The Force Awakens came out, I felt that everyone involved had rescued the Star Wars franchise from years of CGI dependence. And superhero movies, no matter how realistic the characters and how engaging the stories, have relied on expensive CGI for box office success. Wonder Woman was introduced in a film that pulled no special effects punches, something that disappointed me to no end.

But in this vein, Wonder Woman did not disappoint. The island of Themyscira and the surrounding ocean looked and felt as real as could be. It is easy to believe how a woman, growing up in that peaceful landscape, could believe in the good of everyone and everything around her. Once Diana Prince and Steve Trevor leave for the front (after a short stop in a CGI created early 20th century London), the trench warfare is dirty and raw and real. And when the CGI and special effects combine into a dramatic epic battle between Diana Prince and Ares, the god of war, I wasn’t already weary of cinematic enhancements. Instead, it felt appropriate and, while perhaps a little longer than necessary, was awesome to behold.

And then there is the introduction of a female superhero at the helm of a film. She wasn’t playing a bit part and she wasn’t a sidekick. This is Wonder Woman’s movie. This is her origin story. And Gal Gadot plays the titular role with fierce elegance and grace. She is believable as a woman who wants to save the world for the sake of peace. She uses violence to punish the wrong doers and to protect the innocent. She is well read, smart, kind, and yes, beautiful, but she doesn’t use her looks to get her way. Yes, she is wearing much less than the typical WWI era woman, but she repeatedly points out that the fashion of the 1910s isn’t very utilitarian for a woman planning to go out into the battlefield.

And while I am a hopeless romantic, at first I was bothered by the addition of the love story, as if we were being shown, yet again, that a woman needed a man. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it make. Women find their strength in love: love for significant others, love for their children, love for their friends. Doubt it? Look for Youtube videos showing women lifting heavy objects off of their children. And in Wonder Woman, love is where Diana Prince finds her strength. She doesn’t need a man to be strong. She was strong all along. And while Steve Trevor tries to protect her, he eventually discovers that she has a job to do that he cannot help her with. The men in Wonder Woman are the sidekicks, not the other way around, and that isn’t some kind of twisted role reversal or destruction of gender roles. Instead, the female director, Patty Jenkins, highlights the very things that makes Diana Prince a woman and shows how those traits make her stronger, not weaker.

Patty Jenkins has crafted a role model for boys and girls, a woman who shows us the importance of love, the importance of seeing the good in people, and the importance in fighting for justice. I left the theater feeling both empowered and inspired. For me, that was a first for a superhero movie.

Which means Wonder Woman has gotten herself a new fan.