Dear Wonder Woman,
I don’t mean to add to the pressure…but please remember who you are.
A little over a week to go from the official release of DC’s Wonder Woman, and the amount of pressure put upon the first theatrically released modern female superhero film continually rises. If you didn’t know, Wonder Woman is covering a lot of firsts and so it has more riding on its success than the standard superhero property. It’s the first time a modern day superhero movie in this new age of superhero blockbusters is led by a woman. It’s the first time Wonder Woman, an iconic character, sees a theatrical debut on the big screen in her own film. And it’s the first time a female director tackles the modern world of big budget superhero films.
Thus everyone is watching with careful eyes to see what happens to it upon its release. Because of all of this pressure, the what if is overshadowing the film itself. The fear that if it fails, all of these firsts will be lasts is overwhelming.
It’s no secret that DC has been failing miserably comparably to Marvel when it comes to their film releases in the past few years as it tried to expand its universe to compete. Its Snyder run Batman and Superman properties have been universally panned. While Marvel hasn’t exactly been striking gold as of late either, the dreary Grimdark aesthetic of the DC films make trudging through a not so good script or film a real effort.
At least when you’ve got a terrible Marvel film (ahem Avengers: Age of Ultron) there’s a levity that passes the time and allows for some laughs to get you by. You might leave the theater annoyed and disappointed, but not frustrated and angry in the same way most have when leaving the most recent DC films.
But, Wonder Woman has the potential to be everything Man of Steel should have been and wasn’t. It can turn the Snyder-verse around.
We don’t know exactly what Wonder Woman will be until it comes out. We have trailers, clips, and interviews to go on, and they are incredibly telling. And the film certainly has stacked up many positives, including a great cast, a great and incredibly talented female director, and an aesthetic that breathes some life and color into the genre. However, full judgement has to wait until the actual release. But, from what the director, cast, and crew continually insist upon during their most recent press tour, there is a core to this film that all the other DC films have been lacking. A core that most modern superheroes have been lacking. There’s a vision. There’s a cultural awareness. And most importantly, there’s a theme.
When asked in a recent AOL Build interview with the cast about the importance of the project and why he was drawn to it, Chris Pine who plays Steve Trevor, Diana’s love interest, mentioned that at its heart, its theme is love winning out. Love and compassion. “Love conquers all,” he states. And despite how cheesy that might sound, it is so needed. Especially in today’s world and especially in DC’s never ending Grimdark aesthetic that is literally drowning its films.
One of the biggest issues with Man of Steel is that it lost the core of what Superman is. In fact, so many of these supe hero movies forget what was originally the real message behind these super beings in the first place. They have turned into senseless war films. From endless explosive fights that you cannot keep track of to insurmountable deaths on and off screen of civilians and “bad guys,” you often leave the theater with the impression that the greatest solution is to punch all of your problems and an everlasting numbness to death and violence.
These films have become about brute strength and cool action sequences, rather than the inner strength of these super human beings and when they choose not to use the greater physical power they are given. The humanity is gone. While Superman smashed through buildings in Man of Steel, through the people he was supposed to protect, it was hard to recognize him as the representation of good. He punched through his issues the whole movie and destroyed the city as he decapitated his enemy. The superhero genre has become defined by its violence in a way that it was never before.
Wonder Woman, at her center, was developed in the expression of pacifism. The original inception of that might have been steeped in misogynistic ideals of womanhood but that notion has been strengthened and shaded in further explorations of her character. That’s not to say she doesn’t fight. She does. But all of her fights are fights for peace. Fights to stop the fighting. She wants to save humanity.
In a world where studios and filmmakers are starting to equate the term ‘strong female character’ with a female character who is devoid of any feminine traits and just likes to fight and be sarcastic, the possibility of Wonder Woman, one of the most famous female characters in pop culture, being so much more than that (as she had originally been intended to be) is more uplifting than the film just being a good film on its own. I don’t want more of what we already have—just with a woman tacked onto it. Because what we have, or at least where we are headed with the genre, isn’t somewhere good. (There are a few beacons of light of course, but not the majority).
We had originally praised the modern telling of these superhero stories as transcending their genre because they were so grounded. They brought a humanity to these super beings that past live action iterations have failed at doing. However the more and more we pushed into being so concerned with stepping away from the light of the genre, the Grimdark started suffocating these movies. The heart has been taken out.
The uplifting feeling has been taken out. Kids now wearing these costumes and parading around with superhero film merchandise have to also carry around the added weight that these heroes they are being told to look up to are maybe not great people. They are often times ruthless killers and teach messages of fighting over compassion, the last thing we need to be telling our kids right now. You can have fighting in your film with the overall message still being that of compassion. It’s all to do with framing and that is the key issue.
The genre itself just stopped opening itself up to children and inspiration. It stopped giving way to messages of hope, resilience, love, and the core values we want our children to learn because it was too busy patting itself on the back for being so adult. You no longer leave the theater after a superhero movie feeling inspired or even that childhood mentality of wanting to tackle the world. Diana, in her very essence, is about love. She is a perpetrator of love and a fighter for good. Her weapons are weapons of deflection and protection. She can be that gap that is needed, that heart and care, and compassion that is needed to bring the genre back to what it was meant to be.
We will get to see Diana tackle these themes and issues, wrestle with her fight for love and compassion as she leaves her ethereal island of Themiscyra to be confronted with one of the most violent wars in history known for its insurmountably senseless and brutal counts of death. Gal Gadot, star of the film, has talked about what the character means to her. She has spoken about what Wonder Woman means as a feminist, in a genre dictated by men and until her, featuring pretty much all men.
She has also talked about her relation to Wonder Woman as a pacifist and how despite serving in the Israeli military, her greatest hope is to not need an army. Sometimes it is necessary, true pacifism isn’t exactly possible in a world where not everyone thinks that way. However, the overarching goal is peace. That’s Wonder Woman. Her lasso and her bracelets represent her fight for truth, justice, and good.
Thus, all I am asking of a film that I know at the very least is in good hands with Patty Jenkins at the helm, is to truly believe in its themes. Bring some light, levity and heart back into the genre. Remember what the genre is in the first place. Jenkins is known for exploring these themes in her past works, and even in one of her most famous films about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, the weight of death and killing was always felt and the importance of compassion was the transcendent theme of Monster. Wonder Woman is set up to be exactly that and can even do so in a way that is more presciently adult as the genre has been permitting.
War is brutal, often times senseless, and sad. Wonder Woman, essentially also a fish out of water film, allows her to really see the violence and senselessness with new wide opened eyes. She can show young girls that strength is a virtue; physical, emotional, and cerebral strength. So please, I know there is already a lot of pressure on you to be everything and more than what I’m sure you even set out to be, stay true to your themes and wear them with pride. Return the genre to its home and allow these heroes to return to a world where they are not swallowed up by the Grimdark violence, but can be true role models for the children who admire them so, transcending the violence with missions of compassion and love.