Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice has received a frosty critical reception, to say the least. Despite this, I found myself coming away from the cinema filled with hope. Certainly not for either of the titular characters – who have never been less inspiring. Instead, the future finally seems bright for superwomen. Although Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is given far less screen time than her male counterparts (and is not even referred to as Wonder Woman), she steals the show when she appears in superhero costume for the finale.
Wonder Woman initially appears as a nameless beautiful woman of mystery, dressed in a succession of slinky backless dresses and gold jewellery – including what could turn out to be her signature bullet-stopping bracelets. Gadot is also known for being Miss Israel, linking her with former beauty pageant winner, Miss World Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman in the 1970s television series.
Rather than concentrating on this link, however, interviews have been keen to play up Gadot’s two years’ military service as a suitable grounding for a superheroine. Gadot’s Wonder Woman is admired by Ben Affleck’s Batman, but she is not cast as his love interest.
Not-too-subtle clues are given to Wonder Woman’s identity, and they are grounded in the world of Greek mythology. She first appears at a party where villain Lex Luthor is making a speech about Prometheus and Zeus. Her second appearance is in a museum, looking at a (fake) sword used by Alexander the Great to cut the Gordian knot. We learn from a flight attendant that her name is Miss Prince, and she tells Batman that she has avoided the world of men for 100 years, but returns to help in the end. This is a Wonder Woman who likes to go her own way.
The character of Wonder Woman was originally conceived by US psychologist William Moulton Marston in 1941 for what would become DC Comics. Wonder Woman, known by her alias Diana Prince, is Princess Diana of the Amazons, a tribe of women living on Paradise Island.
According to Greek mythology, the Amazons were warrior women who lived in the Black Sea area, on the edges of the ancient Greek known world. They would take local men as lovers for the purpose of procreation, but would only keep female children.
Unlike Greek women, they hunted and fought battles. In literature and art they are often used to epitomise the opposite of what it meant to be Greek and civilised. Archaeological evidence has been found in the modern Ukraine of women from the sixth to fourth centuries BCE buried with horses and weapons. It is now believed that nomadic Scythian women who lived in the Eurasian Steppes did in fact hunt and fight, leading to the origins of the myth of the Amazons.
In the comics and in the Warner Bros Wonder Woman television series that aired from 1975-1979, starring Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman’s potential as a female superhero is impaired by romance. In the original story, she falls in love with US military intelligence officer Steve Trevor, whose plane crashes on the island, and returns with him to 1940s America, where she helps to fight the Nazis and other criminals. Her romantic relationship with Trevor holds her back.
This positioning in relation to a male hero is also a defining feature of the Amazons from Greek mythology. Although seen as brave warriors, skilled at fighting, they ultimately exist to be defeated, conferring heroic status on the male heroes who kill or pacify them. Heracles (Hercules) takes the belt of Hippolyte, the Queen of the Amazons, as one of his labours. Theseus abducts an Amazon Queen (either Antiope or Hippolyte). Achilles defeats Penthiselea in the Trojan War, falling in love with her at the moment she dies at his hands.
I feared that the latest incarnation of Wonder Woman would be similarly defined in relation to men. But Wonder Woman’s latest incarnation is confident and self-sufficient. In a film where the other female characters, Lois Lane and Martha Kent, are used and cast in the roles of female victims who need to be saved, the appearance of a Wonder Woman who is more than a match for the male superheroes leaves me with hope that finally we will see a female superhero who can live up to her potential. Let’s just hope that the Wonder Woman feature (to be released in 2017) does the same.