As the first female-led superhero film since superheroes made a Hollywood comeback, the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is already revolutionary. But the latest trailer gave us a glimpse into a new kind of coming-of-age story, which begins to cut away at stereotypes that have marked heroines’ character arcs for decades.
Female-led action and sci-fi movies have made a huge amount of money in the box office in recent years, proving that films with strong female characters and multiple leading women have a significantly large market. But despite films slowly becoming more progressive in their approach to women, female superhero storylines continue to fall short.
The Hero’s Journey, a narrative pattern that can clearly be seen in the origin stories of Superman, Spider-Man and Captain America (‘ordinary’ people discover that they are extraordinary; are trained in some way or another, often by a mentor; and leave home to save the world) is hard to come by among heroines.
Not that female characters should necessarily have stories filled with Hero’s Journey clichés, but the contrast between the plot of Spiderman and Captain America, and Black Widow or Scarlet Witch’s backstories begs the question: do filmmakers view male and female character development as fundamentally different?
Television has been much more progressive in this aspect. Shows like Supergirl, Jessica Jones and Agent Carter have delved deep into character development with diverse and nuanced approaches. But television is still considered niche; a less ‘risky’ way to cater to female audiences. Superhero movies continue to be a male-led area.
But with the release of the new Wonder Woman trailer, something new appears on the horizon. We are given a glimpse at a female coming of age story that closely resembles the Superhero’s Journey.
The trailer steers clear from focusing on Diana’s relationship with Steve Trevor, keeping most of their scenes as strictly platonic or even comedic. He doesn’t seem to ever fall into the role of ‘protector’; their relationship is reminiscent of Thor and Jane Foster, showing that Diana clearly has the upper hand when it comes to powers.
There’s also a ‘Chosen One’ element which, though not new to female characters, is now being depicted in a refreshing way: her mentors are actually women as well. Even in films where there are strong female characters, it’s incredibly rare to have the wise people that train them also be women. There’s a lot to be said for having empowering female relationships depicted on screen. (Also, this is a sure-fire way to beat the Bechdel Test.)
And more than anything, it’s the triumphant, colorful look of this trailer that makes us excited for Wonder Woman. Women’s badassery is often depicted as a consequence of terrible physical or mental torture, and while it’s probably a realistic depiction of the way women are treated in society, it can be demoralizing to never have a heroine do what she does merely because she feels compelled to, like Superman or Captain America. Women can also be heroic by nature.
Instead of a story of terrible mental, physical and often sexual abuse culminating in a morally driven heroine, it would be encouraging to finally see a woman who just trained really hard and decided to become a hero.
Wonder Woman isn’t the only film that’s opening up possibilities for female coming of age stories: there’s clear potential in Laura’s character arc in Logan and in Rey’s story in The Force Awakens and upcoming Star Wars movies. But Wonder Woman seems like it might be the closest we’ve gotten so far to a story that puts female superheroes at the same level as male ones.
After DC’s lack of success with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, a lot hinges on Wonder Woman doing well with fans and critics, especially as they work up to Justice League, which will be released later this year. If DC can get Diana’s story right, then they’ll finally convince audiences that they have something new and fascinating to offer.