‘Wonder Woman’ and the Importance of the Female Hero Moment
When J.J. Abrams was wrapping up Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he showed a rough cut to Ava DuVernay, the Selma director he’d recently befriended. It needed something, she told him. Daisy Ridley’s Rey needed to have one more powerful moment, one more show of strength in her final battle with Kylo Ren. Abrams took her advice, shot some new footage, and added a close-up of Rey’s face as she strikes a massive lightsaber blow. If you watch it now, it’s very clear which one it is. Just ask any 15-year-old female Star Wars fan—even now, she can probably recall it from memory. When you don’t expect to see yourself as the hero, you don’t easily forget what it looks like.
Wonder Woman has more than 20 hero moments like this. It even ends on one. They’re not all close-ups like the one Abrams added to Force Awakens, but they do show a hero in action. Filmed in slow motion, almost always in battle, they feature Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), as well as other women. It’s trite to say, but I’ll say it anyway: This is revolutionary.
The hero shot is a staple of superhero movies, and action movies in general. If you had to think of one right now, though, your mind would probably light on Thor hoisting a hammer or Superman floating above Metropolis with his cape billowing in the wind, not of a woman saving the world. Katniss Everdeen got some of them in the Hunger Games films, the female mutants have had their share in the X-Men movies, Joss Whedon gave a couple to Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in the Avengers flicks—but rarely, if ever, has one film been dedicated to them in the way Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is. Viewers not thinking to look for it might not even notice it (looking at you, gents), but the impact of those shots is hard to ignore.
As more and more women saw Jenkins’ movie this weekend, their reactions tended to fall into two categories. First, they liked it. Second, they felt empowered by it. Sure, many were just excited that after 75+ years there was finally a movie dedicated to their favorite hero, but the sentiments went deeper than “yay movie!” MakeLoveNotPorn founder Cindy Gallop tweeted a note to Silicon Valley VCs pointing out that Gadot shot Wonder Woman while pregnant, adding “Don’t ever doubt a pregnant female found [is] not up to it.” Actresses like Lupita Nyong’o and Jessica Chastain took to social media to express their excitement over the film. Some praised Antiope’s (Robin Wright) battle face; others joked about the ability to ask guys in the theater whether they just came because their girlfriends brought them, not because they like comic book movies. DuVernay herself retweeted this:
NO WONDER WHITE MEN ARE SO OBSCENELY CONFIDENT ALL THE TIME I SAW ONE WOMAN HERO MOVIE AND I’M READY TO FIGHT A THOUSAND DUDES BAREHANDED
— meg s.s. (@megsauce) June 4, 2017
Much gets said (and often by us) about the lack of female heroes and heroes who are people of color, but Hollywood is only just now starting to see the results of efforts to diversify. This weekend, Wonder Woman gave audiences something they’d been waiting for for a long time. And, in return, they gave the filmmakers an expectation-shattering $103 million opening weekend in the US, and proof that women could rule the box office and save Warner Bros. and the DC Universe in the process. In Wonder Woman, Diana’s mother Hipplyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her daughter that the world of men does not “deserve” her. That may be true for the Allied powers in World War I, but for everyone who has been championing a proper female-led superhero movie since the dawn of time, they definitely do.
Back to all those hero shots, though. If this had been a Batman movie, their sheer number might have been too much. But for the first female-led, female-directed superhero movie, showing off is necessary. It’s Dottie Hinson doing the splits to catch a pop foul in A League of Their Own—a little performative, sure, but also a way of saying “yeah, I did that.” When Wonder Woman has her first big hero moment crossing No Man’s Land (see what they did there?) to save a village, it’s tear-jerking; when she gets her umpteenth slow-mo shot in the finale, it’s just awesome. Female superheroes haven’t gotten a lot of big heroic movie moments over the years, so to make up for it Wonder Woman got all of them.
Now that Wonder Woman is a massive success, that kind of badassery just got carte blanche. It means Diana Prince can now thank Bruce Wayne for that sweet note he sent her at the beginning of her movie and tell him, “Thanks. I’ll be leading the Justice League now.” It means Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel—already slated to be the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—gets to have a movie that could leave the Iron Mans and Captain Americas in the dust. It means that Whedon’s Batgirl movie has a real shot, and if Marvel was ever wavering on whether or not to give Black Widow a standalone film, now might be the time to green-light it. And it means Rian Johnson should take a good, long look at his latest cut of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Because this time around, Rey gets all the hero shots she deserves.