Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Two or three months ago, I had no intention of seeing Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Firstly, that title. Secondly, Ben Affleck as Batman? Really? Thirdly, I’ve seen enough superhero movies full to bursting with conflicting testosterone and superheroes full to bursting their suits with rippling pectorals and steroids.
And then Warner Bros. released a new trailer. There was no longer just men clenching their fists, clenching their brows, clenching their muscles like their problems were the only relevant problems in the world.
There was a woman whose appearance was accompanied by a badass guitar riff and the most powerful smirk I’ve ever seen. You could tell she was as done with the conflict and the boys as I was.
I was so ready for Wonder Woman.
When I told my male coworkers that I was going to see it, they said, “Zack Snyder isn’t really for girls” and “Be prepared, there’s a lot of action.” I looked them dead in the eye and I said, “I don’t care. I’m just going for Wonder Woman,” to which the only one of them that had already seen it replied, “Oh, well, she’s not that important.”
Funny he should say that. Before the movie had even entered post-production, when we first learned Wonder Woman was going to be present in the movie, male movie goers and comic book “buffs” immediately began lamenting Gal Gadot’s casting. As Gadot stated frankly, “They said I was too skinny and my boobs were too small.” So her physicality and physique — her potential to remain secluded to a role as sexual icon — were important, but to the plot, apparently, she wasn’t.
Similarly, first reviews of the movie featured click-bait titles such as “Wonder Woman has a whopping seven minutes of screen time in Batman v. Superman.” Granted, it’s a relatively true statement. As Aliza Weinberger notes in her article of the same title, she timed the appearances on screen with stopwatch in hand: “Gal Gadot’s heavily hyped Wonder Woman only appears onscreen for about seven minutes…. In fact, she gets just 20 lines total in the film … and every line she speaks is to Batman.” So, in the movie, we witness Wonder Woman relegated to not only a silent role, but a role made visible only when she interacts with a man.
It is important to note that Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince rarely interacts with any other characters but Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. When we witness her for the first time in a backless dress and a steely resolve in her eyes, we see her from Bruce Wayne’s point of view (not Batman’s). She seems, at first, to fit the bill for all the girlfriends we’ve seen Bruce Wayne collect and quickly discard. In her alter ego as Diana Prince, she seems, as Weinberger also suggests, “to serve as Batman’s Manic Pixie Dream Amazon,” drawing his attention and, potentially, his sexual interest — the role that many male viewers think should be her only role.
In their first interaction, Prince and Wayne just make awkward, slightly antagonistic eye contact several times. The next time the two meet, Wayne falls into the male role of “enlightener,” explaining the origins of a several thousand-year-old sword to Prince. At the end of both occasions, however, Wonder Woman turns their relationship on its head, reversing and flouting the expected outcome of each interaction. Rather than speaking, maybe flirting, and becoming Wayne’s latest conquest, Diana Prince disappears into the night; Batman now wants her and the source of information she has stolen, but she bars both from him. Later, Prince reveals she knows more about the history of the sword Wayne is trying to explain. She is miles ahead of him in collecting intelligence, and, when she walks away, she is the one to propose a relationship — a political alliance rather than a romantic partnership, as Wayne would have. In very few appearances and even fewer words, Wonder Woman, in her alter ego of Diana Prince, subtly proves her power and intelligence to Bruce Wayne, effectively exerting her dominance and gaining his respect in even less time than it takes for him to get along with Superman.
While popular responses to the movie and Gal Gadot’s character as well as the movie’s surface portrayal of Wonder Woman promise a “not that important” female character, she continues to wow throughout the movie.
Consider, for a moment, the overall plot of Batman v. Superman. Batman hates Superman; Superman hates Batman; Lex Luthor hates them both; everyone argues and they fight. A lot. Their interactions and relationship are characterized by vengeful, no-holds-barred violence and competitive growling and muscle-flexing. It’s a male fight for dominance and authority if I’ve ever seen one. (The only reason the title characters come together in the end is because their mothers happen to share the same name. What kind of dues ex machina-type coincidence is that?)
I’m not fully aware of Wonder Woman’s origin story, though I’ve been researching it more lately, and even I can tell she’s not one to participate in blind vengeance or violence. Unlike Wonder Woman, who revels in the fight and the fight alone, not the violence it brings, Superman and Batman try to strong arm their way through situations and, as such, cannot deal with the powerhouse of an supernatural antagonist at the end of Batman v. Superman on their own or as a team. It is Wonder Woman who not only saves both Batman and Superman from Doomsday, but also significantly weakens the monster’s strength when she enters the fight.
The most significant moment in the movie for me, as a viewer, is when Wonder Woman swoops into the final battle and awes both of the film’s primary characters. Superman, the alien-turned-hero likened to a god by the rest of the world, and Batman, iconic figure of power, vengeance, and the darker side of humanity, mouths agape and eyes wide. Superman turns to Batman and asks, “Is she with you?” to which Batman response, “I thought she was with you.”
The men automatically attribute power only as belonging to or associated with another man. Once again, standing alone on the battlefield and staring down a monster that Superman and Batman together could not defeat, Wonder Woman reverses the men’s expectations and tears down what they consider their implicit dominance. While the boys spent the movie arguing as to whose ideas and whose authority were to rule the world (seriously, these men think at such a huge scale that’s simultaneously so myopic and somewhat self-centered, why is that?), Wonder Woman doesn’t ask permission and she doesn’t wait for the decision to be made.
Wonder Woman comes with only herself and she stands alone. She smirks in the face of danger and revels in battle. As many heroines have said: She belongs to no man and with no man; she is no man.
Some argue that, when she is effectively silenced by the film’s script, the patriarchy is allowed to win. But is this true? So many male heroes and protagonists have been categorized as the “strong but silent type,” and there’s never been anything wrong with that. One thing I think many feminist critics tend to erase in their criticism of popular media is that there is more than one way for a female character to be “strong” or, preferably, empowered. As Tim Hanley, a leading graphic novel historian and academic, insists, Wonder Woman should be “a character full of fascinating contradictions.” Perhaps one of these contradictions is portrayed significantly in Batman v. Superman: her surface character, visible at first glance, and her deeper character, visible only when one pays attention to her actions, words, and intentions. Those that see her surface character miss her importance; those who see her deeper character revel in her importance.
So what if Wonder Woman’s character is portrayed more in her actions than in her words? She gets a lot done either way.
And she’s just as important as any male character, in more ways than one.
But mostly because she majorly kicks ass.