Wonder Woman is not only a hit movie, it’s a sociological phenomenon. All over the Internet there are arguments about whether the film is properly feminist: yes and no. I’ll leave that discussion to the women’s study majors, but as a middle-aged man I can’ recall seeing a film that has a woman battling bad guys for her own reasons, without making her choices based on a man (although she almost kisses one) and passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. If I had a young girl, I’d be proud to take her to the film. For once, DC is ahead of the curve, with Marvel still not planning a Black Widow film (but Captain Marvel is coming).
So I’ll primarily discuss how Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins (who amazingly had not made a film since 2003’s Monster), works as a movie. For the most part, it is a smashing success. It takes the old origin story, makes it interesting, and then poses moral questions that are perhaps more than the average multiplex viewer has to deal with. It also has kick-ass action.
The prologue sees Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) receiving from Bruce Wayne the original plate of a photograph taken during World War I, which gives away that she’s not exactly mortal. The story behind that photo reminds me of the Saturday Night Live sketch that has Superman landing in Germany, not the U.S., and becoming Uber Man. Fortunately, Diana ends up on the side of the Allies in the first World War, because the pilot who enters the idyllic world of the Amazons is an American working for British intelligence (Chris Pine). If the Red Baron had been the first to breach the field on invisibility around the island, everything might have changed.
Anyway, when Diana, who was raised by the Amazons, an all-female class of warrior who live in peace in an island that I would to live on (even without it being all-female–it’s got lots of waterfalls) wants to help end the war, she is told not to go by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). There are numerous references to what Diana “really is,” and I don’t think you’ll be surprised by the answer. She believes that Aries, the god of war, is behind the conflagration, and if she kills him with a sword dubbed the “God Killer” all will be well.
Act II is the fish out of war section, where Diana has to blend in to London in 1918 (she is even given glasses, in perhaps a meta nod to Clark Kent and Superman). Lucy Davis, who was once Dawn Tinsley on The Office, is the comic relief here as Pine’s secretary. Pine knows that though the Germans are close to surrendering, a German general (Danny Huston) is conducting experiments with powerful gas weapons, concocted by a young lady called Dr. Poison (Elana Ayana). The British leaders tell Pine to stand down, as nothing should interfere with the armistice. Pine, with Diana and a rag-tag and diverse group of mercenaries, team up to put a stop to the poison experiments while Diana looks for Aries.
The interesting arguments raised by the film are two: Diana believes that once Aries is dead, there will be no more war, while Pine delicately tries to tell her that it’s not that simple, that mankind is innately flawed and war will continue anyway. When she finally confronts Aries (no spoiling here on who it is) he tries to convince her that the complete destruction of mankind will bring the world back to the peaceful paradise it was before they existed. He’s right, but she takes the Beatles approach : All you need is love.
In some ways Diana is naive about humans–she’s only just met them–and in future films perhaps we’ll see her more jaded. But Gadot is able to make her a very convincing character, one of the better performances by a hero in a comic book film (the villains usually get the good parts). And even though Mr. Gloom and Doom, Zack Snyder, is one of the credited screenwriters, Wonder Woman is unlike his Superman films. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and even a few jokes (mostly from Davis and Saïd Taghmaoui as one of Pine’s small army. “I am both frightened and aroused,” he says, watching Diana dispatch a few German soldiers with ease.
This is what the Slate article picks up on: Diana is hot. Gadot is, after all, one of the world’s most beautiful women. Should the film have ignored that? Perhaps. But Wonder Woman is still a landmark film in the comic book genre (we can forget the lamentable 2004 film of Catwoman). Its success, I hope, will spawn more.