Though its namesake is derived from perhaps the most famous of super-powered fiction females, Wonder Women goes beyond just looking at the development of comic book heroines, examining female role models and revolutionary characters in television and film. In looking at wider cultural contexts, the film also incorporates such real-life empowerment movements as the ‘riot grrrl’ punk rock scene, with Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre present as a particularly entertaining talking head.
In analysing the development of the Wonder Woman character, from her 1940s inception to the character’s status in today’s comic culture climate, the film never shies from criticising the fictional subjects it promotes. The aforementioned Hanna makes a particularly interesting point in suggesting that due to the low quantity of empowering female characters to choose from, women may be prone to putting whatever they can get on a pedestal, even if the character still proves far from ideal. As such, the documentary acknowledges criticisms of the likes of Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman as packaged, ‘sexy feminism’, but also that portrayals of them have provided ways to inspire some positive attributes and messages for young women, despite the imperfections. Lynda Carter recalls getting letters from fans of the Wonder Woman TV series who have now become astronauts or engineers, thanking her for the inspiration her role gave them.
A brisk feature, Wonder Women’s journey through the decades since Wonder Woman’s launch has a sense of rousing empowerment to it as the viewer sees the radical shifts in attitudes through the twentieth century, and just how far advanced characters like Buffy Summers or the Sarah Conner of Terminator 2 really are in comparison to their forebears. Additionally effective are the personal stories presented throughout, including the beautiful articulations of very young Wonder Woman fan Katie Pineda. The documentary’s form doesn’t break any status quo itself, but the film ends on a powerful note with a class of young women working on their own fictional female creations; with many of the documentary’s comic, TV and film heroines being the brainchilds of male writers, the hope for the future is that a new generation of women can seize the development of role models for themselves.