Within the context of a great narrative, few superhero movies deserve the title of God, let alone God-killer. Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman surpasses each and every DC offering (and some Marvel offerings) since The Dark Knight so completely that it sets the standard for “female-driven” action/adventure.
To observe the slate of upcoming attractions attached to this blockbuster, one would think it a simple case of replacing the usual male lead with a female. Dress her up—make her bad ass—and suddenly you have a culturally “hip” female-friendly crowd pleaser.
Unfortunately, everyone instinctively sees through the ruse.
Wonder Woman, on the other hand, does far more than simply provide eye-candy in a skirt and boots. The film promotes a female approach to problem-solving, eschewing the predominantly male perspective of playing with the odds for something more definite. Something more concrete.
Running the film through the Dramatica theory of story provides a framework for a greater understanding of how they accomplished this monumental—and super important—feat.
NOTE: The following analysis provides numerous spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, we highly suggest you see it first, then return here after. Trust us…you’ll love it!
Diana, Princess of Themyscira and Daughter of Hippolyta (Gal Gadot), is more than royalty—she’s a God. More specifically, she is a God-killer, a Situation her mother works hard to keep secret and one Diana only fully realizes during her final battle with Aries, the God of War (Main Character Throughline of Situation). Zeus sculpted Diana out of clay as a final gesture of love for mankind—fulfilling this Work represents her greatest personal Issue (Main Character Issue of Work).
The truly feminine characteristic Diana brings to this world, and one that those pandering to the Audience miss, is her Certainty that she is always on the right path (Main Character Problem of Certainty. This knowing, often mistaken as “female intuition”, motivates Diana to leap before she thinks, cross battlefields before ascertaining the odds, and—in sharp contrast to the positive aspects of this knowing—murder Ludendorff (Danny Huston) thinking him Aries (Main Character Approach of Do-er).
This final act challenges her resolve to stay true to her calling. While following her intuition saves the village, it also leads her to kill the wrong person. For a moment, her sense of knowing seems to fail her and Aries—representing the ultimate male perspective—steps in to break her certainty down. Using Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) as an example, Aries (David Thewlis) shows Diana the potential all humans possess for horror, demotivating her and manipulating her to change her approach (Main Character Solution of Potential). In fact, Aries manipulated the war itself into existence in order to get Diana to conceive of man’s ultimate fallibility (Story Consequence of Conceiving).
And if it weren’t for Steve Trevor’s valiant act, she probably would have joined him.
Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) challenges Diana throughout the narrative with his fixed belief that Gods aren’t real, and that real men are capable of despicable horror (Influence Character Throughline of Fixed Attitude, Influence Character Concern of Contemplations). As Influence Character, Steve’s play-it-safe attitude challenges Diana to question her own beliefs. Thinking himself “less” than the average man, minimizing conflict by playing yes-man to his generals, and even reducing Diana’s status of Princess to just “Diana Prince” presents a completely foreign approach to solving problems (Influence Character Problem of Reduction).
Steve isn’t the only man to think this way.
The generals themselves and the politicians in the backrooms work to minimize casualties and slowly reduce the enemy’s capability of making war—an approach that only serves to extend and increase the ferocity of the atrocities (Overall Story Problem of Reduction).
Diana and Steve develop a budding romance around the struggle to conceive of the other’s world (Relationship Story Concern of Conceiving). Letting a clock tell you what to do, sleeping alone because you shouldn’t lie with someone you’re not married to, acknowledging their need for one another, and discussing the comical sexual deficiencies of the male species provide thematic context for their relationship (Permission, Expediency, Need, and Deficiency—all Issues found within a Concern of Conceiving). Instigating that first step—whether it be on the boat, on the battlefield, or on the airfield at the end—drives them to come into conflict and eventually drives them towards the ultimate symbol of love (Relationship Story Problem of Proaction—self-sacrifice).
The development of their relationship eventually leads Steve to change his approach (Influence Character Resolve Changed). He confesses his love to Diana, gives her his watch as a symbol of altering his thinking towards the feminine, boards the airplane and destroys Maru’s poison gas. By literally making a big scene, he tosses aside the male preference for probability over time and shows Diana what mankind truly deserves (Influence Character Solution of Production). This heroic act motivates Diana to reaffirm her initial intention and stand-up to defeat Aries once and for all (Main Character Resolve of Steadfast).
In a slight structural misstep that perhaps made its way in as a result of a more male-oriented understanding, Diana confirms her steadfastness to Aries by telling him: “It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe.” Belief, or faith, is the Male understanding of Knowing. For Diana’s line to truly resonate with the rest of the narrative, it should have read: “It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you know.”
That knowing—that certainty that drives her to jump in without doubt and without second-guessing—that’s the true power of the feminine hero. Faith is close—and works fine—but for a film that so eloquently encodes the feminine experience of problem-solving, an alignment with that intuition would affirm what so many are taught to ignore.
The story begins with the theft of Dr. Maru’s book, turns with the discovery of Diana’s island and the killing of General Luddendorf, and ends with the final destruction of Aries (Story Driver of Action). Diana’s great show of force at the end confirms her intuition and fulfills the story’s central concern of teaching Diana that mankind is worth fighting for (Overall Story Solution of Production, Story Outcome of Success, and Story Goal of Learning).
To say Wonder Woman is fantastic is an understatement. To say that it takes the plight of feminine understanding to the task of standing up against the forces of doubt and reduction is to honor its truest intentions. The unexplored chasm of knowing and certainty and “female intuition” deserves more than a girly costume and a gender attribution search and replace. It deserves a greater understanding and respect for its ability to save the world.