It’s unfortunately no coincidence that I lacked an infatuation with Wonder Woman as a child. I’m sure my fellow peers, especially the male ones, share a similar history — you kind of have to notice the anomaly when you’ve been born into the superhero generation.
I don’t believe cultural friction is ever shallow in its roots, but who knows? Maybe I looked no further in comic books than their face value. The best would each have their pithy and imaginative attractant; Iron-Man, for example, could manufacture his own strength, and Spider-Man could imitate the little creatures that so thoroughly captured our playground fascinations.
Wonder Woman? I was told that she scooted around in a quaint invisible aircraft.
Whoever once pitched her to me as “boring” surely deserved to be admonished for such an offense. True, the figure is frequently and unfairly bound to the narrative sidelines (though not enough to steal last year’s Batman vs. Superman). However, watching director Patty Jenkins’ new addition to the D.C. universe, which is titled after its protagonist, I discovered that the Amazonian warrior — played here by a convincing Gal Gadot — possesses an array of traits that are nothing short of enthralling in their own right. For the first time in a while, I was excited by a fresh reiteration of the hero’s journey. How blind (or stubborn) must I have been in my youth to dismiss Wonder Woman’s individuality, a quality of hers that seems more original now than ever? She is fluent in nearly all languages. She wields a rope that, once looped around an adversary, forces her opponent to tell the truth. Her wrists can deflect bullets (which she herself has no need for), and she carries a sword that, in the words of her wise mentors (who are fittingly women as well), has the power to kill gods. If she isn’t already a god herself, then she’s certainly overqualified to be one in a literary sense.
On the other hand, I suppose my friend group in kindergarten (composed of an otherwise shameless pack of mud-eating boys) didn’t really have an exceptional political compass in the first place. Perhaps, in our hopeless quest to grasp whatever “masculinity” could possibly have meant, we conditioned ourselves against Wonder Woman on the basis of her “daintiness,” falsely attributed to her gender. Perhaps we weren’t alone in the world in regards to our missteps, whether they be ignorant or conscious. Perhaps I could’ve left out “perhaps” in those last few sentences.
It would be nice if we didn’t have to make such a big deal out of it, but the social implications (and, quite frankly, illuminations) that Wonder Woman strides into theaters with are much needed by a wider audience at the moment, even if the film has to knock us over the head with them. Yes, here is a strong female lead role that we don’t get often enough in modern cinema, but Jenkins’ uncondescending confidence is enough to persuade her audience that the crusader has earned the spotlight rather than stumbled upon it. The statement that Wonder Woman is in fact a woman is almost a second thought, yet it’s at the forefront of the director’s mind.
There’s still a couple trace elements of an industrial formula present; the origin story structure has become a little familiar for post-Avengers movieland, and all too predictably, there are some routine tendencies here that clip off the first ten minutes (and the last twenty). What we have in the middle, however, is a robustly fun yet thoughtful snippet of Hollywood, beaming with character in what continues to be a massive inspirational drought amongst today’s summer blockbusters. Wonder Woman is the best superhero (not simply D.C.) movie since 2011’s Captain America. Has the bar been set high since then? Not really. Still, that shouldn’t underwrite what the film sets out to do — in comparison, Marvel Studios apparently hasn’t mustered the guts to take its shot with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.
The villain of Wonder Woman, admirably, is not simply a foe to womankind but to all humanity. After having been raised on the remote island Themyscira — a safe haven for a race of divine, morally pure women placed onto the Earth to protect it from the self-destructive nature of men [insert clichéd voiceover and training montage here] — Diana (Gadot), soon to assume the titular identity, leaves the protection of her elders (with Robin Wright starring as her mentor) to aid the ailing human world, the planet having recently plunged into the First World War.
With mortal society come its nuances; Diana has been sheltered from them for her entire life, which I gathered to be nearly two hundred years long (the aging process, nevertheless, conveniently stops around the point when she appears to be in her thirties). It’s kind of like the detachment characteristic of Chris Evans’ Captain America, yet Wonder Woman is disjointed not by time but by environment — we see her discover snow for the first time. Personally, I would be quite terrified to see white, unidentified residue falling from the sky, but this is a movie, and in her downtime (i.e. when she isn’t fighting), Diana instinctively considers snow to be pretty, whatever it is.
This part doesn’t bother me. Wonder Woman is at least optimistic, as I feel superheroes must be; in order to instill hope, she must foster it herself. She plans to seek out and destroy Ares, the god of war, who she believes to be the single, literal source of world decimation. To disclose whether or not Ares does exist would spoil the plot — let’s just say that we’d love for her to be right.
In need of a human ambassador, Diana befriends the stranded Allied pilot and inevitable love interest Steve (Chris Pine), who soon leads her to the western European front. There, he believes his comrades will be the first to witness a new poisonous gas engineered by the Central Powers. I recalled The Dirty Dozen as the two compose a ragtag bunch of militant yet hearty misfits to bring behind enemy lines (including Ewen Bremner from Trainspotting and Saïd Taghmaoui). Although the internal chemistry adds comic flare, there’s humor in the very proposition of a “support team”; Wonder Woman seems to have no trouble taking care of herself.
Though the 20s’ time period opens up the potential for some fine production value during the scenes spent in London, Jenkins’ instincts as a director can be kinetic as well as static — she knows how to point a camera. The action sequences (because we’re bound to run into them) are paced but not choppy, controlled but not dull. The only time where it gets tiresome is in the climactic but ultimately conventional boss battle, overstuffed with groggy soliloquies and special effects. It’s a bit of an eye roll, as well as a bit of a letdown. What exactly happens in these sorts of things? There are lots of lightning bolts and fireballs that I see, none of which can account for how exactly the antagonist is defeated.
I suppose I shouldn’t judge. Batman and Superman spent an entire film clobbering at each other over what turned out to be a jolly misunderstanding. If Wonder Woman has more worldly prospects (and an actual personality to accompany them), so be it. We should learn from them. And her.