We were introduced to Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman in the controversial Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and she was a hit. Fans and critics alike praised the character, fascinated by her warlike portrayal, her love of battle, and her regal beauty.
Now, it falls to director Patty Jenkins to step back in time and unveil Wonder Woman's origin story. 2017's Wonder Woman is easily one of the most hotly-anticipated films of the year, but it faces a real challenge in having to explain what drives the character.
Most superheroes take on their iconic role because of very personal reasons - perhaps they realized the hard way that "with great power must come great responsibility," or else they saw their parents gunned down before their eyes. Not so for Wonder Woman, whose motivation is much more ideologically driven. As Jenkins explained to Empire:
"What motivates her is philosophical. She isn't just taking out bad guys or fighting crime. She believes in goodness and love. [She] is fierce and willing to fight, but only to protect a better vision for mankind. Hers is really a coming-of-age story."
This motivation alone makes Wonder Woman stand apart from the world's other superheroes. She isn't fighting because of a vendetta against criminals, or because she wants to become a symbol; she battles for a vision of what the human race could become. It's a powerful and truly heroic motivation, and it cuts to the heart of a very real problem that Patty Jenkins faced.
The Problem with Wonder Woman's Motivation
The issue was first highlighted in September 2016 when comic writer Greg Rucka explained why he was revisiting, and subtly reworking, the comic book origin of Wonder Woman:
"When we talk about agency of characters in 2016, Diana deciding to leave her home forever - which is what she believes she’s doing - if she does that because she’s fallen for a guy, I believe that diminishes her heroism. She doesn’t leave because of Steve. She leaves because she wants to see the world and somebody must go and do this thing. And she has resolved it must be her to make this sacrifice."
In the original comics, Wonder Woman's motivation is somewhat open to interpretation. On the one hand, you can argue that she chooses to enter the world to fight for equality, to fight for justice and to work to transform a male-dominated society. On the other hand, the comics hint that she's motivated by a far more specific love - her attraction to Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine in Wonder Woman).
To Greg Rucka, the second possibility is frankly insulting to the character and concept. He believes that for Diana to leave her home and enter the world of men "because she's fallen for a guy" makes her less of a character, less of a hero. Whether he's right or not is open to debate, but his comment still indicates just how complex an origin story this is.
The overarching narrative of the #DCEU adds to this complexity, though. In the DCEU, Wonder Woman entered the world of men during the First World War - and then disappeared completely, only returning in 2016's Batman v Superman. So not only does this origin story have to explain why Wonder Woman becomes a hero, it also has to explain why she loses faith in her own heroism for nearly a hundred years!
Patty Jenkins's Answer
Patty Jenkins's response is a clever one, because it emphasizes a truly heroic, ideological dimension to the character. This superhero fights for a vision of a better world. Jenkins compares her to a god, who sees the horrors of the world of men displayed before her. Jenkins told Empire:
"I wanted the audience to understand the horrors that a war on this scale makes possible and how shocking that would be to someone who comes with a strong sense of honor and justice. She doesn't realize yet just how senselessly dark the world can be."
So Wonder Woman throws Gal Gadot's dynamic character into the so-called 'War to End All Wars.' We know from the trailer that Wonder Woman even winds up on the trenches, where over 200,000 people died. She's brought face-to-face with the horrors of war, and stands as a symbol of another age. Devastatingly though, we can assume that we have a bittersweet conclusion, that she triumphs over her enemies, but in so doing loses her belief that the world of men will ever change. Perhaps Chris Pine's Steve Trevor will make a morally questionable decision, one that makes her lose faith even in the man she is beginning to love.
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Whatever the case may be, Patty Jenkins's comments suggest that DC Film has a good handle on the character of Wonder Woman. Not only does this motivation show how the superhero will be driven to interact with the world in which she lives, it also prepares the way for her retreat back to Themyscira. Better still though, if her encounter with Batman and Superman can only rekindle that idealistic dream, it also shows why she'd become a part of the #JusticeLeague!
Which DC movie are you most looking forward to in 2017?
(Source: Empire, Poll Image Credit: Warner Bros.)