Wonder Woman, Or The Passion of Joan of Arc

A virgin inspired by a divine sense of mission. A legendary sword. A bitter battlefield stalemate. And a France in need of saving. “Wonder Woman,” the summer’s biggest hit, has been hailed for resurrecting one of the great heroines of the past. But the heroine being revived isn’t only the comic book phenomenon. It would be Joan of Arc, as well.

The story of St. Joan was one of the strangest black swan events in all of history. I’m sure the English and Burgundian French military planners laid out many possibilities during the Hundred Years War; it’s unlikely they were worrying much about losing to an Army of God led by a teenage girl hearing voices from The Beyond. That’s what happened at Orleans in 1429 and for the next year or so, as Joan’s army ran rampant against the the English and their French allies.


When Joan’s army arrived at the siege of Orleans, the two sides had exhausted each other in a six-month stalemate. She took only a week or so to lift the siege. So it’s noticeable in Patty Jenkins’s blockbuster when Gal Gadot’s fish-out-of-water Amazon arrives at the battlefront in 1918 and takes about twenty seconds to charge into No Man’s Land.  Like her fifteenth-century antecedent, it seems less her strength as a fighter than her ability to inspire the men around her to shake off their complacency and act.

Joan of Arc seems to be the most popular saint in Hollywood at the moment. The “Star Wars” crew has explicitly named her as an inspiration for “The Force Awakens” and the films to follow. One should note that Rey finds a sword hiding deep inside a giant stone building (this mirrors the Joan of Arc mythology. Stopping at a church  on her way to Orleans, Joan asked that an unknown sword be pulled from the deepest rooms of a church where no one had gone in many years). Once she touches the saber, Rey  likewise experiences a divine vision, one that shows her fate tied significantly to a powerful prince.


Is this simply a by-product of modern feminism and the drive for female empowerment? Most likely, yes. Most of the best answers in life are simple. I would add that the motivation is less altruism than a desire to expand the action genre into all four quadrants of the box office. Like most things in Hollywood, dollars are the ultimate motivation.

There’s not much to say about the rest of the film. Its humor, emotional sincerity, and Gadot herself, an Israeli army veteran, prevents the action from running into the “Star Trek” problem of frail women overpowering Klingons every week. On the other hand, the third act twist is a pretty lousy one, like someone realized they needed a new villain, looked around the room and pointed the finger at a random character. The comic book action is pretty average at best: all speed and no exasperation. I get that that’s what the kids like these days, but it’s a calorie-free, taste-free experience.  The real Joan took arrows to her leg and neck before being burned at the stake. It’s unlikely Wonder Woman will face the same fate when there’s an ocean of money to be made.

Kevin Bowen is senior contributor to Screen Comment (@Kevin_Bowen).

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