WARNING: Potential Spoilers!
Wonder Woman burst into theaters this weekend with something to prove and it’s safe to say that this was a mission solidly accomplished. Bearing the generational weight of being the first legitimate and most well-known female superhero comic book icon to have a feature film, much was riding on this being a success for DC and Warner Brothers. Sure, there have been other female-centric comic book adaptions such as Catwoman and Elektra but those were basically sequels involving supporting characters from Batman and Daredevil movies, respectively, and were not executed very well. Not only was Gal Gadot shouldering a heavy burden, but so also was Director Patty Jenkins and by all accounts, Wonder Woman is a tremendous win. It’s a victory for little girls who finally have a relatable hero to emulate, a triumph in an industry where female directed films are ridiculously underrepresented, a total success in terms of a properly balanced and nuanced, strong female lead character who also happens to be able to throw down like no one else. Earning a whopping $101 million domestically in its opening weekend, Wonder Woman has silenced skeptics and become a rallying point for women’s equality.
Set during World War I, Gadot’s character, Diana, is exposed to “the world of men” when a pilot, Steve Trevor, crashes off the coast of Themyscria (her hidden homeland), pursued by a German Navy intent on retrieving some stolen property. Diana would later escort Trevor back to Europe and is anxious to get to the battlefield where she hopes to find and kill Ares, the god of war, whom she believes is the source of why men wage endless battle.
World War I, or the Great War as it was known at the time, is a fascinating and perfectly chosen stage to place a female superhero. WWI was the conflict that saw the face of warfare change dramatically from its start to become almost unrecognizable by its completion. A war that began with colorful uniforms, exotically attired cavalry, line formations and bayonets would within a few years see the advent of trench warfare, tanks, heavy artillery, chemical weapons, flamethrowers and air combat. It was also a time when women were not in possession of equal rights by any stretch of the imagination so to see Wonder Woman take to the battlefield with sword and shield, taking fire from machine guns and mortars, was a thrill. Steve Trevor tries to hold Diana back from climbing from the trench into No Man’s Land, explaining to her that sharpshooters will pick off anyone who tries to cross it and that both sides had been fighting to a standstill here for over a year. But our Amazonian Princess is no man and she crosses fearlessly, ending the nightmare for a Belgian village terrorized and held hostage by a ruthless German army.
The Great War saw women also rise to the occasion and begin to find work in the now empty factories and other careers typically held exclusively by men. Women were paid less for their work than their male counterparts and some would go on to strike for equal pay. All this was taking place while the Suffrage movement was in full swing back in America. One area where women dominated, then and now, is in the field of nursing.
The Army Nurse Corps was established in 1901 and the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908 and both groups would serve on the battlefields of the Great War with distinction and bravery, demonstrating compassion and strength. Witnessing the unspeakable atrocities up close, these superheroes put themselves in harm’s way in the hopes of alleviating suffering of the injured and the dying. In a war where death was perfected by militaries desperate to gain some advantage, despairing of being bombed day and night, cowering in filth and amid decomposing remains, there is little way to comprehend what this life was like for participants. World War I still remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history with over 38 million dead and wounded and nurses were there to try their best to comfort and restore lives. (For a thorough understanding of WWI, please check out Dan Carlin’s Blueprint for Armageddon series).
When Diana arrives on the front lines she makes an effort to rush to the aid of a wounded soldier, held by his brothers in arms as he convulses in pain, on the verge of death. Trevor explains to her that it’s not possible to save everyone in a war like this. Diana truly becomes Wonder Woman when she begins to fight, seeking to end the suffering of the people around her. She realizes in the third act that humans don’t need much encouragement to fight and to kill but she knows that in the complexity of the human psyche there can always still exist love and compassion. These most powerful of emotions called nurses into service during the Great War and still call them into service all over the world today.
Wonder Woman had its theatrical debut on June 2, 2017, almost 2 months after the Centennial anniversary of the United States entry in World War One on June 6, 1917. From the fictional narrative of the film to the historical reality of that era of horror, we have seen the female hero rise and change the course of history. Wonder Woman is a great start to acknowledging, respecting and celebrating women of valor and courage. It should also remind us that like the nurses of World War I, to the nursing professionals of today, the greatest superpower of all is heart.
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