Chicago Tribune (TNS)

In the excellent big-budget action film, “Wonder Woman,” a small band of good guys must save the day. They have gumption but wouldn’t make it out of the second reel alive without Diana, the warrior princess known as Wonder Woman, and her sword, shield and heart. She’s got superhuman fighting skills and the ability to deflect bullets with her bracelets.

You don’t need to possess a comic book collection or master’s degree in cinema studies to recognize the cultural significance of a female superhero starring in her own summer blockbuster. Nearly all the major action-adventure characters based on comics are male, among them: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America. All the big Hollywood movies tell their stories. The few times a female character such as Catwoman or Supergirl got her own film, it was a flop.

“Wonder Woman,” based on the DC Comics character, looks destined to change the script. The critics are raving, and box office projections look big. We caught a preview and loved it. It’s the rare popcorn flick with a message: Women rock. The Wonder Woman character, played by Gal Godot, made a cameo in last year’s “Batman v Superman.” If you saw it, you remember the scene in which she was knocked silly by Doomsday the monster and then got up with a wry smile on her face. C’mon, is that the best you got?

The subconscious mind of the typical male moviegoer is crammed with heroic images of tough guys fighting for truth, justice and the American way. Females, still fighting for equal treatment in society, don’t see nearly as many tales of their own sex’s valor. That’s got to have at least a subtle impact, especially on the psyche of girls. It also must impact boys who notice that nearly all take-charge action figures at the multiplex look like them.

This imbalance goes beyond comic book flicks. At the recent Cannes Film Festival, actress Jessica Chastain said she watched 20 movies and was disturbed by the weak portrayal of women, which she suggested was due to a dearth of female directors and writers. “I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life,” she said. “Ones that are proactive, have their own agencies, don’t just react to men around them. They have their own point of view.”

This puts pressure to succeed on films such as “Wonder Woman.” Otherwise, more women won’t get the chance to make more female-driven action epics.

Back at the movie house, the early scenes of “Wonder Woman” implanted the idea of female empowerment. Director Patty Jenkins had exactly the right touch. Diana and her tribe of super-cool, super-fit women looked beautiful as they trained for battle. Mostly they looked ferocious. If you’re ever in trouble, forget Superman — get in touch with Wonder Woman.

The action intensified when Diana arrived in Europe to try to end World War I. How did she fare? Well, at one point amid the chaos of war, Diana and comrades were pinned down. Someone needed to step up, to be strong and brave.

“Stay here!” Wonder Woman commanded. “I’ll go ahead.”

And she did.