WONDER WOMAN (2017, directed by Patty Jenkins, 141 minutes, USA)
BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT Wonder Woman has a lot riding on it. It has to singlehandedly save the DC Comics’ Extended Universe from an advanced state of cinematic suckitude while simultaneously adapting DC’s third most popular superhero of all time without pissing off 75 years worth of comic book geeks, proto-feministas and latter day riot girls AND be a better female superhero film than Supergirl (1985), Tank Girl (1995), Catwoman (2004), and Elektra (2005). For years studio execs were able to say “the audience doesn’t want female superheroes, look at how bad Catwoman and Supergirl bombed.” But the fact is Catwoman was a shitty movie. Fans stayed home because the movie was crap, not because Catwoman had a vagina.
So I am happy to report that Wonder Woman pulls off that impossible hat trick. Director Patty Jenkins and writer Allan Heinberg have created an electrifying hybrid of war movies like Saving Private Ryan and Fury with epic fantasy fare like Lord of the Rings. Gal Gadot crushes it as Wonder Woman/Princess Diana, who hails from the land of Greek mythology. She grew up on an island of Amazons where she was indoctrinated with stories about the corruption of men and taught that defeating Ares, the god of war, will bring peace to all of mankind. Diana is charmingly naive about the ways of the outside world which makes for moments of high comedy culture shock and Gadot balances the lack of “real world experience” with a competent, intelligent hero in her portrayal. Her training completed, Diana leaves the paradise island of Themyscira on a mission to kill the god of war.
Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is from the real world. He is an American spy attempting to return home with Germany’s latest chemical weapon formulas when he crash landed on Themysica and picks up Wonder Woman on his way home. The heart of the film is Diana learning about the world and coming to grips with repressive gender roles and racial strife and the mystery of why generals are not on the battlefield beside their soldiers, all the while taking newfound delight in the taste of ice cream and other modern wonders.
The highlight of the film is watching Wonder Woman, Trevor and a ragtag team of good guys fighting on the frontlines of WWI. Time and again, Diana throws around tanks and charges swarms of bullets that bounce off her bracelets and shield while Trevor runs for cover. The battle-scarred veterans teach Diana about the realities of modern warfare and geopolitics and she soon realizes that fighting Ares will not bring world peace. But she still fights for the lives of her comrades in arms — for the PTSD’d sniper who fought alongside her. For mankind.
The film is not perfect. Regrettably, the villains are forgettable. Danny Huston’s General Ludendorff is a stereotypical “I want to kill the enemy at any cost” high ranking general and Elena Anaya’s Doctor Poison gets her jollies experimenting with lethal gases. And the eventual showdown between Ares and Wonder Woman is a letdown. But the film isn’t about beating the big bad evil guys to save the day. It was about Diana’s discovery that the world doesn’t actually work that way. In reality, the good guys don’t always win and the line between good and evil is blurry at best. In the Golden and Silver Ages of comic books superheroes beat the bad guy and everyone lives happily ever after. This film is much more complex than that.
Above all things, the film is beautiful eye candy — Paradise Island, the battlefronts and the interiors and exteriors of the early 20th Century all look amazing. The fight scenes are gripping and, for the most part, strike just the right balance of CGI to real life. Ultimately, what makes Wonder Woman work is the obvious passion behind it. Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins have both expressed how important this film was to them personally. Not just because Wonder Woman is the best-known superhero to never have a live-action film. Not just because the DCEU is hated by critics and both the DCEU and Marvel Cinematic Universe has been led by white dudes. Now that it has been proven that a female superhero can carry a film on her own let us hope it opens up the door for more for more girl power.