Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Danny Huston, Lucy Davis
MPAA Rating: (for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content)
Running Time: 2:21
Release Date: 6/2/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | June 1, 2017
The most famous of all female superheroes finally arrives on the big screen in Wonder Woman, which wisely distances itself from the other movies of this particular superhero universe to tell a standalone tale. The character first appeared in the comics over 75 years ago, and while her male counterparts have had series and franchises that have been recast and rebooted multiple times over, the mythical Amazonian heroine with the sword, the shield, and the mystical lasso has been pushed aside or into the background. This film makes the character one of the more engaging, empowered, and empowering of the recent crop of super-powered heroes. It's a pretty good movie, too.
It's an origin story, of course, although that story offers just enough of a twist on our expectations of how superheroes come to be. There's no radioactive agent. There's no experiment gone awry. There's no traveling from another world or finding some ancient, extraterrestrial relic.
No, Diana (Gal Gadot, who displays the tougher-than-bricks and compassionate sides of the character with equal force) was born this way—more made, as in out of clay, this way She has spent her life wanting to do and capable of great feats of strength and agility on a mysterious island, shrouded by a mystical barrier, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Hers is a world in which the Greek gods were real, humankind served as their pawns in a game between virtue and wickedness, and the supernatural warrior women of Themyscira wait for the time to come to save humanity from its worst inclinations, personified by a god that causes and feeds off of war.
On that island of Themyscira, within a great city built on a mountainside next to a seaside cliff, Diana was taught that all of these stories were real. She has taken that notion to heart and created a worldview from it. The screenplay by Allan Heinberg doesn't just give us an origin story about how Diana came to learn about and develop her powers, went on her first adventure, and became the superhero known as Wonder Woman (That name never comes up in the film). It's primarily a story about that worldview being challenged.
The film isn't afraid to make Diana more than slightly naïve about the natures of humanity and war. She is of the sincere belief that all of humankind's woes are the result of the meddling of Ares, the god of war, who got into scraps with Zeus about what human beings should be like (The stories of the gods and their influence on humanity are told through vivid animation, like an oil painting in motion).
Ares will return one day, the stories of Diana's mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) say, and when the time comes, it will be up to the Amazonians to defeat him. Diana's training at home is left to her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), the military leader of the warriors. While training, she discovers that she has power that exceeds any of her fellow Amazonians.
The story puts Diana into the grinder of the Great War, after the plane of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American pilot working as a spy for the British, crashes in the water just off the coast of Themyscira, followed by some German sailors. After a battle between the Amazonians and the accidentally invading force, Diana becomes convinced that this "war to end all wars" is the working of Ares. She will travel to the frontlines, find the god, and defeat him once and for all.
There are a few conflicts here. The primary one for the plot is a plan by "Doctor Poison" (Elena Anaya) to create a deadly chemical weapon that renders gas masks useless. In terms of the film's feminist themes, there are Diana's attempts to navigate modern culture (There's an amusing bit in which she tries on the fashions of the day, only to question their efficacy in combat) and the constant questioning of her ability to do anything about the war (Members of British Parliament are left jaws-agape by the mere presence of a woman in the room). Steve assembles a team of mercenaries (played by Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, and Eugene Brave Rock) to join them on the battlefield. The men here aren't necessarily useless, but let's face it, Diana puts the skepticism of an entire society and gender to rest.
The film's action sequences are more than spectacle, although director Patty Jenkins stages and shoots for clarity, while incorporating a few choice hero shots (The best might be when Diana smiles at the realization of the extent of her powers). The sequences complement that theme. While the action is effective on its own, there's no denying the sight of Diana braving the no man's land of the Western Front, leaping over and through buildings, and single-handedly taking down the enemy occupants of a French village is doubly rousing, simply because the character is defying those doubts (triply so because she's selflessly doing it for the good of humanity and quadruply so because she does it all without breaking a sweat).
The conflicts that most strongly resonate, though, are the internal ones. This is a character who has grown up believing that wars are glorious, mythical struggles of pure good against supernatural evil, that the choices within combat are simple, and that humanity is, at its foundation, worth saving. The growth of Diana in Wonder Woman is in her confronting the reality of her assumptions firsthand and gradually recognizing that she may have been wrong about all of it. At its core, the film is about the rise of a hero whose goodness humankind—and definitely mankind—may not deserve.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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