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Playing like a breezy, cinematic college term paper, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines uses the iconic comic book character as a springboard for a freewheeling examination of positive pop culture role models for women. While Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s documentary is ultimately more entertaining than enlightening, it should prove catnip to comic book aficionados and might even spur studio bigwigs to contemplate finally bringing the iconic character to the big screen.
The film begins in straightforward fashion, detailing the history of the character who was created by Dr. William Moulton Marston in 1941 just as women were entering the workforce in droves because of World War II. Envisioning a matriarchal society to come in the next hundred years, the eccentric Marston was also an inventor of an early version of the lie detector, which no doubt inspired Wonder Woman’s “lasso of truth.”
The character thrived despite such obstacles as Frederic Wertham’s 1950s book The Seduction of the Innocent, which decried the ill effects of comic books’ heavy doses of sex and violence on impressionable young minds. Decades later she was prominently featured on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine, with the headline “Wonder Woman for President!”
Although Wonder Woman’s popularity declined in the ‘70s, especially when D.C. Comics took the unfortunate step of briefly stripping her of her powers, she hit her pop culture zenith with the hit television series starring Lynda Carter, one of the film’s many interview subjects.
Besides Carter, who clearly still relishes the popularity she enjoyed as the character, the film also includes interviews with figures ranging from academics to feminist icon Gloria Steinem, as well as comic book fans, including one guy dressed as a Star Wars character who credits the character for “helping teenage boys through puberty.”
The film falters somewhat when it ambitiously but superficially branches out into explorations of such similarly female-oriented film and television shows as The Bionic Woman, Charlie’s Angels, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even Thelma and Louise. But its fast pacing and clever use of comic book-style graphics make the sometimes heavy-handed educational content go down easy.
Venue: Savannah Film Festival
Production: Vaquera Films.
Director: Kristy Guevara-Flanagan.
Executive producer: Erin Prather Stafford.
Director of photography: Gabriel Miller.
Editors: Carla Gutierrez, Melanie Vi Levy.
Composer: Jimmy Lavalle.
Not rated, 62 min.
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