Spoilers for Wonder Woman lie within. Proceed at your own risk.
Right now, superheroes are everywhere. In fact, it can be downright fatiguing when you consider not only the number of superhero films that have been released within the last several decades, but also the titles that have yet to debut on the growing roster. In a world of seemingly endless reboots of comic book characters like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, Wonder Woman is finally getting the opportunity to seize her own place in the pantheon this year. The good news is that her first solo film is more than worthy of the distinction. More than that, Wonder Woman offers a fresh, sincere perspective on what it means to be a superhero, a perspective that’s fallen somewhat by the wayside within the last several years of these big-screen adaptations.The movie kicks off with the version of Diana we met in Batman v Superman, and who should be recognizable to fans across the board–the one of the present age, working and living under the alias of Diana Prince. An unexpected delivery from an employee of Wayne Enterprises unearths something of a blast from her past; when Diana glimpses a photograph depicting the faces of Steve Trevor and her other World War I-era compatriots Sameer, Charlie, and Chief, it’s difficult to read her expression. Her voiceover monologue, however, reveals much more. “I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place,” she says. “But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learned this the hard way a long, long time ago.” Based on those words alone one might come to the conclusion that this Diana is more cynical, more disillusioned than her former self; however, as the story rewinds back to her origins we discover that even in spite of those challenges to her ideals, she maintains a hope in humanity.
Diana’s early years growing up on Themyscira were almost defined by her isolation. Her education was limited to what she had access to on the hidden island of the Amazons, but even the most comprehensive library could only teach her so much about the outside world… until Steve Trevor crashed into the ocean in his stolen German plane.
It took leaving the place she’d inhabited all her life for her to learn the lessons that come to define her as a superhero, as well as the story itself. Diana’s wide-eyed hopefulness and belief in the goodness of mankind could have potentially come across as overly saccharine or naive, but the movie steers her away from that outcome. Instead, it’s her optimism that becomes her impetus once she gets to the World of Man, leading her in pursuit of some of her most heroic moments.
Unquestionably, Diana’s biggest conflict throughout the course of the film is faced within. She wants to believe that the cause of the War to End All Wars is an external force (the spell of Ares) rather than something than lies within humanity itself. Once she’s faced with bitter reality she has a choice of her own to make. Diana’s final battle against Ares pales in comparison to her stronger clash of emotions. Does she renounce her vow to protect man, or does she renew her commitment to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves?
The crux of that decision is what makes Wonder Woman stand head, shoulders, shield, and lasso above other recent films, not just within the DC Extended Universe but across the superhero canon as a whole. Diana’s choice to reaffirm her hope in mortals rather than retreat and succumb to a more embittered perspective is what contributes to the uplifting narrative. When we get a glimpse of her a hundred years later in scenes that bookend the film, she’s continued to maintain that optimism despite the passage of time. It’s a heartening conclusion when juxtaposed against the brooding male heroes she’s frequently ranked against; out of all of them, Wonder Woman is one of the few who continues to put her faith in the people she’s protecting rather than being motivated by a need for vengeance.
Wonder Woman‘s sincerity points to the potential of a new direction for the superhero genre, and where future movies can go moving forward. At the very least, it certainly portends the possibility of an interesting team dynamic when Diana joins the Justice League later this year. Thanks to this film, we get to meet a superhero who we can really believe in. And who believes in us, too, even if we may not deserve it.
Images: Warner Bros/DC
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