In the history of comics, there has been no female superhero that has had a lasting impact on popular culture quite like Wonder Woman. First created by William Moulton Marston back in 1941 as a hero who would fight with love rather than being solely focused on fighting, Wonder Woman has since become a major source of feminist inspiration. Skilled in the art of war but with a mission devoted to peace and love, she stands as one of DC Comics’s greatest heroes, right alongside Superman and Batman. However, even as she has her place in popular culture, Wonder Woman herself has not had a lot of material of her own outside of comic books. Aside from a 1970s television series that starred Lynda Carter and appearances in several cartoons concerning the Justice League, Wonder Woman has not had much to call her own. At long last, she finally has been brought to the big screen as part of the DC Cinematic Universe in her own film. Thankfully, the wait has been worth it. Wonder Woman captures the appeal of its hero, delivering not only on good action but also viewing her idealistic desire to help in the face of grim and commonplace evil.
On the island of Themyscira, the Amazons live hidden away from the rest of the world. Chief among them is Diana, princess and daughter of Queen Hippolyta. She yearns to live like the other Amazons and learn the ways of combat, something Hippolyta is hesitant about. Though she does give in and let Diana learn under the tutelage of their chief general Antiope, something arrives that shakes their peaceful existence: the accidental arrival of Steve Trevor, an American spy. He reveals that the world is consumed in the midst of the Great War, with millions suffering and dying. Believing that Ares (the God of War) is behind this wide-scale slaughter, Diana decides to leave her peaceful home behind so that she can get Steve back to his superiors and hunt down Ares. Thus, Diana finds herself in the world of mankind for the first time, encountering its very different ways. In particular, she finds herself confronted with the sorrows of war and the cruelty inflicted by people like the victory-obsessed General Ludendorff and the psychotic Dr. Poison. Still, even as the suffering seems so widespread and immeasurable, Diana will do what she can to battle against this injustice and bring peace back to mankind.
Wonder Woman’s first film of her own is a very good first entry. In the title role, Gal Gadot delivers an excellent job as Wonder Woman. She captures both the power that she delivers in her fight against evil, but also the heart that cares for people and seeks to bring peace. The rest of the cast also works well, in particular Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. He works as a nice complement and counterpoint to Wonder Woman, similarly wanting to bring peace but more beaten down by the war’s cruelty. As for the film itself, it delivers on plenty of elements. For instance, it is able to take Diana’s fish-out-of-water qualities and explore them for both serious and comedic elements, such as showing her serious condemnation of the war in a grave moment or playing with her reaction to societal gender views in a more comedic beat. Along with that, the film delivers on some very good action sequences. In particular, a sequence of Wonder Woman charging through No Man’s Land to save a village from potential destruction not only offers thrilling action as she battles against these military forces, but it also shows her actually being a hero and saving lives. In fact, that brings up a big and interesting point the film explores: her battle against banal evil.
Even though there are specific villains in the film like General Ludendorff and Dr. Poison, it almost feels as if the true enemy is that of banal evil. By this, I mean the cruelties and injustices that occur simply because people accept that is how things are. In the case of this film, it displays the cruelty of war as shown with its setting in World War I. It is widespread and awful, and it is not the sort of evil that can simply be extinguished by taking down one foe. Its sheer scope is enough to wear down most, such as Steve Trevor’s initial insistence on just sticking to a core mission. For Wonder Woman, however, each act of suffering she witnesses breaks her heart and she cannot simply stand by. She must battle this injustice. In turn, her courage in fighting this injustice inspires Steve Trevor and a band of other soldiers to aid her in this fight. True, this banal evil is widespread, even accepted by many as simply part of the more cruel part of mankind. However, Wonder Woman does not simply accept that cruel half. Sure, mankind has the potential for great suffering, but they also possess the capacity for great compassion and love. That is what she fights for, and that is what she stands for: a light of hope, beaming through the darkness of despair and cynicism.
Though the DC Cinematic Universe may have begun on rocky footing, it at last has a strong entry of its own with Wonder Woman. Not only is it a fun and thrilling ride, it captures the spirit of its hero well with her battle against the banal evils of wartime.