Bad Ass. That summarizes the incredible first feature-length film to star DC Comic’s Wonder Woman. The story sweeps audiences through time and place from the captivating island of Themyscira, through 1918 London, across No Man’s Land on the Western Front, and catapults viewers to modern day Paris.
For those who didn’t know, Wonder Woman did not begin with the venerable Lynda Carter in 1975. Following, Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman comics have been in continuous print since 1942. Amidst numerous renditions of television series and films starring Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman was the only popular superhero who went without a major film release—until now. The writers manage to meld her origin stories and Zach Snyder--best known for constructing the Spartan story of the 300 with unflinching detail--fleshes out her battle-hardened upbringing. At the helm, director Patty Jenkins balances the historic aspects of Wonder Woman’s comic-based idealism with the contemporary flare for truth and justice that Lynda Carter embodied in the television series.
The film opens with young Diana gleefully running through the streets of the paradise island, Themyscira. The land where her mother, Queen Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielson, best remembered for her award-winning role as Lucilla in “Gladiator”), has safely led the Amazon women for time immemorial. Straying from the comic origin story that a group of goddesses created the Amazons from clay using the souls of unjustly killed women, Hippolyta tells Diana that she was crafted from clay and brought to life by the god, Zeus. Diana’s aunt, General Antiope (played by Robin Wright, best known for her titular role as “The Princess Bride” and Jenny in “Forrest Gump”) believes that Diana must be trained relentlessly to unleash her full capacity. Unlike many superhero films where the training back-story is filled with gloomy, overcast push-ups, Diana revels in her training with smug grins and elated dedication much like a cross between Red Sonya and Rocky Balboa.
When Diana sees a bi-plane crash through Themyscira’s protective cloaking shield, she is introduced to her first man, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy who is being chased by the German Navy. In the World of Man, it is 1918 and World War I is underway. A remarkable battle ensues as the Amazons defend their island from the invading men. Fascinated but unimpressed by Trevor, Diana instinctively knows that this Great War must be the doing of Ares—the god of war. If she can kill Ares, the war will end and men will return to a state of peace. Dare we dream.
To the Ladies Who Wanted to be Wonder Woman as a Kid: Lynda Carter exposed young girls to a never-before-seen representation. The boys had G.I. Joe, Superman, and Batman (and every other superhero) but, through Carter, girls finally had an embodiment of their own! Though, Diana was a nurse in the comics, Lynda Carter’s character was a Navy Yeoman Petty Officer First Class. She was smart, dedicated, ambitious, and courageous. Twirling in a blast of light, she went from Diana Prince to Wonder Woman—a maneuver many girls imitated wearing their Wonder Woman Underoos! Lynda Carter performed her own stunts as she dropped from walls, tackled foes, and snatched scoundrels in her lasso of truth. Warm and genial, Lynda Carter became Wonder Woman incarnate.
Ladies, Gal Gadot is no slouch as Wonder Woman. Like Lynda Carter, she also held her country’s title for beauty as Miss Isreal. However, in real life she served her compulsory duty in the Israeli army and was a combat trainer. While she performed many of her stunts in “The Fast and the Furious” she admitted that training for Wonder Woman was more difficult than her boot camp training in the military and earned her a hefty 17-pounds of muscle.
Gadot portrays Wonder Woman as an intentional superhero. She was born and bred for battle. Propelled by compassion, justice, and the swift delivery of freedom, Gadot’s Wonder Woman is not addicted to power, glory, or revenge. She is level-headed, even-tempered, assertive and resolute in her mission to rid the world of Ares’ mind-altering influence. Wonder Woman is not confused about her role or wavering in her purpose. She has genuine compassion and concern for the wellbeing of the World’s citizenry. Her mission extends beyond doing what is moral; her existence is the personification of morality. These attributes propel the film forward at an organic pace.
Setting Wonder Woman’s introduction to the World of Men during World War I was intentional and political. It was the first time in mainstream history that nations held a political identity to a war effort. Battles were now long range with casualties spread across thousands of miles instead of centralized. While women were not directly engaged in battle, the responsibility of women shifted from caring for the children to supporting the nation in battle by working in “men’s” jobs at home. Women worked in munitions factories where they lost their lives due to overexposure to TNT and they worked as police officers, firefighters, guards, and train conductors. All while receiving less than equitable pay and while rationing their family’s use of resources such as steel, wheat, and meats to ensure there were bread and supplies for men on the battlefields.
In what is arguably the best scene of the film, Trevor and Wonder Woman are trudging through trenches that border No Man’s Land, shifting, barren locations that were ravaged with bodies, decay, and strategic flooding. Wonder Woman refuses to yield to a directive. She turns and casts off her velvety cloak revealing her scanty but unhampered combat ensemble. She dashes across the decimated, muddy front deflecting bullets and shells with her gauntlets and shield. The viewer’s heart soars as you realize that this is the moment where she is converted from the wide-eyed newcomer to the World of Man’s savior. It is also the moment that resonates with the irony of the war effort as women were unceremoniously losing their lives at home to starvation yet they were forbidden from engaging in war on the Front.
Action/Adventure Fans: This movie is incredible. Not merely the best DCEU movie, it is best in the Top 5 of Superhero movies to date. “Wonder Woman” serves up all of the elements of any superhero flick worth its weight in CGI. You know there is CGI but it isn’t obnoxiously employed, rather it is strident and artistic. Shying from offering a landscape of brooding, grey backdrops, “Wonder Woman” has bright colors, crisp blue skies, and well-lit battle sequences. You can clearly see every punch, kick, and slow-mo slice. Sure, you have seen these moves before and you know the story. Yet, as was said of Ginger Rogers--“[she] did everything [Astaire] did…backwards and in high heels”; You haven’t seen it done in high-heeled wedge boots and a red, gold, and blue metal bustier.
One downside is that--given the revolutionary nature of the comics and the innovative brilliance of Synder and Jenkins--the plot plays it safe and doesn’t challenge contemporary parallels to social justice or gender definitions. However, it offers apt fodder for future Wonder Woman works that will brave more substantial material.
Comic Fans: Yes, you will see the Easter Eggs and yes, you will pick apart the origin stories and comic streams versus the DC Extended Universe retellings. However, the writing is not so staunch that Wonder Woman is boxed into a restrained future. Many of the original points can still be installed in future renderings but they aren’t essential and have not ruined her history or plot capabilities. Wonder Woman also has some new powers which are actually sensible considering her film paternity and original comic-based maternity.
One disappointment is that Dr. Maru (AKA Doctor Poison played by the mesmerizing Elena Anaya) is reduced to a side villain. Anaya clearly has the makings of a fiendish psychopath as her eyes gloss with anticipation and her chest slowly heaves over a discussion with Trevor seductualizing the destructive enticements of fire.
Family Audiences: As many Womanists were hoping that Wonder Woman would don a less sexually-fetishized outfit, parents and guardians will have to decide if the outfit usurps the overall philosophy, values, and ideals that Wonder Woman emphasizes. There are also glaring contradictions such as Wonder Woman desiring peace and questions who is “good” and “bad” but has no problem killing German soldiers who are presumably “bad”. During one conversation, Eugene Brave Rock’s character, “Chief”, explains to Wonder Woman that he is fighting in Germany because there he is free unlike at home, in the United States, where his people are enslaved by Trevor’s people.
The film is also bursting with diversity as there are several underrepresented ethnic groups who star in the film. Namely, African-American boxer, Ann Wolfe--regarded as the greatest female boxer in the world--who plays Artemis, a combat trainer and warrior; Moroccan-American actor, Saïd Taghmaoui, and stuntman turned actor, Eugene Brave Rock of the Kainai First Nation.
Wonder Woman’s creator, esteemed pyschologist, Dr. William Moulton Marston, was ahead of his time in 1942 when he designed Wonder Woman from the physical and psychological attributes of his wife, Elizabeth, and their polyamorous lover, Olive. A friend to Margaret Sanger, Martson was also a deeply impacted by the suffrage, feminism and birth control movements. “Tolerant people are the happiest,” Marston wrote in a magazine essay in 1939, so “why not get rid of costly prejudices that hold you back? Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.”
5 out of 5 Miners