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6 June 2017updated 29 Jul 2021 10:44pm

Can Wonder Woman make America great again?

“In times like this there’s an appetite for a hero who represents pure good.”

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Like the majority of DC superhero films since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman is darker than the primary-coloured Lycra-fests of previous decades: both literally and figuratively. After the bright, shining paradise of Diana’s home, the island Themyscira, we move to the grey smog of early 20th century London (“It’s hideous”, Diana remarks) and the desaturated grit and mud of the First World War trenches. Even Diana’s Wonder Woman outfit seems duller than her predecessors’ — less red, white and blue and more burgundy, bronze and navy.

There is a general trend of superhero movies continuing to reject the kaleidoscopic aesthetics of classic print comics. But Wonder Woman‘s outfit hints at something more. Jingoistic Fox News presenters expressed their disappointment at a costume they felt was deliberately un-American. “Her outfit isn’t red, white and blue,” Neil Cavuto said on his show Your World with Neil Cavuto. “It’s cool to hate America these days,” guest Mike Gunzelman chipped in.

It’s an extreme and antagonistic discussion, but the anchors have picked up on something. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson, when working on Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman outfit for the Batman V Superman film (in which she first appeared), decided to look more to the ancient Greek influences behind Diana’s origin story than to the American-flag designs culturally associated with the character. “We knew we really wanted to create our very own look for Wonder Woman, [compared] to how she’s portrayed in TV shows and graphic novels, so we went back to her roots and where she came from,” Wilkinson explained to the Hollywood Reporter. “We wanted her to look like she’s been wearing the same costume, in a sense, for thousands of years — since she’s immortal, after all. We were inspired by the metal armour of Greek and Roman warriors and gladiators.” The new Wonder Woman outfit still bears an eagle on the bust and red and blue colours, but these vague nods to the USA are not supported narratively.

A less visibly American costume makes sense in this Wonder Woman film. Diana’s backstory in Themyscira and Israeli Gadot’s performance (Gadot says she played the role with a “a heavier accent” than Batman V Superman) gives Diana an international feel. Chris Pine plays the only American character in the entire film. And, of course, not a single scene takes place in the USA. We start in present-day Paris, before flashing back to Themyscira, moving to wartime London and Belgium, before finally lurching forward in time to Paris again in the film’s closing final seconds.

It’s easy to overstate the geopolitical implications of this. The current Wonder Woman screenplay was conceived long before Donald Trump’s presidency, and filmed between November 2015 and March 2016, a very different time in terms of America’s position in world affairs. Director Patty Jenkins revealed that, had the casting been down to her, she would have, “just looked for an American girl”.

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But something about the timing of this less outwardly American US superhero movie feels right. One of the key concerns of the movie is the importance of justice and peace for all, regardless of trivial matters like borders between nations. While other citizens of Themyscira are sceptical about joining a fight that doesn’t concern them, Diana is compelled to help any person affected by violence, and vows to end the war. When she finds herself alongside British troops in the trenches, she is overcome by the desire to help British soldiers, Germans and Belgian civilians alike. While Wonder Woman has always been aligned with traditionally American-associated values like freedom and justice, her attitude in this film feels notably at odds with the “America First” mindset that elected Trump.

When Uproxx discussed the political climate the movie finds itself in, noting to its director, “In times like this there’s an appetite for a hero who represents pure good,” Jenkins responded: “That is so true. And it’s interesting because I can’t believe this film is landing when it is, in that way.”

But over at Vox, Alex Abad-Santos observed that Gadot’s Wonder Woman outfit has become more clearly red and blue since Batman V Superman. Indeed, Wonder Woman’s production notes confirm that costume designer Lindy Hemming did intentionally dial up the colour from the more subdued tones of the earlier film. Could the character continue to move in this direction?

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A sequel is on the cards, and it feels as though Wonder Woman will be returning to her all-American World War Two origins. Jenkins has said she is “definitely planning” something from the 1930s onwards, set back in the USA. “The story will take place in the US,” she told Entertainment Weekly, “which I think is right. She’s Wonder Woman. She’s got to come to America. It’s time.”

“I’m excited for her to come to America,” she added to the Toronto Sun, “and become the Wonder Woman we are all familiar with from having grown up around her as an American superhero.” Perhaps this is Jenkins’s opportunity to create a visibly American superhero who prioritises peace and love over patriotism and global dominance, and to envisage, even just for a fleeting, on-screen moment, an America more in line with those values. Could Wonder Woman make America great again?


Now listen to a discussion of Wonder Woman on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY: