Friday Film Focus: Wonder Woman

Ever since William Moulton Marston created her in 1941, Wonder Woman has always been at her best when her stories lean into the feminist ethos at her core. Film rarely has made room for the fantasies of women on such a grand scale. In comic adaptations, women can be tough, funny, and self-assured. However, they are infrequently the architects of their own destiny.

After 76 long years as a trailblazer for DC Comics, Wonder Woman stars in her first film. What took so long? Hollywood, scared off by the box-office failures of female-driven comic-book movies such as Catwoman and Elektra, has essentially stuck to dudes in spandex and bat-drag. The good news is that this big-screen outing for Marston’s creation leaves the corny 1970’s TV series with Lynda Carter in the dust. It’s also leagues better than Suicide Squad.

A story of disillusionment, lost innocence, vain ambition and bitter victory, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman is a movie told in flashback. It starts with its heroine, Diana (Gal Gadot). She’s doing curatorial work in the present day beneath the Louvre’s glass pyramid. Soon enough, she gets called to the past by an archival photograph delivered to her under careful wraps by Bruce Wayne’s delivery service. The photo shows her and four men, and comes with a note asking her for the story behind it. The rest of the movie is devoted to her recollection of that story.

Written by Allan Heinberg, with an adaptation also by Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, the story uses a variety of inspiration culled from Wonder Woman’s 76-year history. As a young girl, Diana enjoys the loving protection of the Amazons of Themyscira, a secluded island paradise created by the gods of Olympus. Cinematographer Matthew Jensen, production designer Aline Bonetto, and costume designer Lindy Hemming form Themyscira into a gorgeous utopia.

No Amazon is fiercer or more protective than her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Despite that, Diana longs to be trained in the art of war by her aunt, Antiope ( Robin Wright). She grows from a kind, young girl into an inquisitive, brave, strong woman who never hesitates to helps those in need. Even a man like Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) — who brings news of World War I when he crash-lands on the all-female island sanctuary — gets saved by her. Diana leaves behind the only life she’s ever known, heading to late 1910s London to stop the war she believes is influenced by the god Ares. Then the battle starts, you ask? Nah.

First, Steve and Diana do the requisite flirty thing. To be fair, Pine does it charmingly. He promises to take her behind enemy lines. It’s 1918, during the height of World War I. Diana believes she needs to kill Ares (the Greek God of war) to end all the frontline bloodshed. So then the combat starts, right? Not yet. In London, Steve’s secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) gives Diana a makeover to try to pass off as a common citizen.

The locals aren’t fashion-forward enough to accept Wonder Woman’s thigh-baring outfit, not to mention her lasso of truth, weapon-deflecting bracelets, a sword she names the Godkiller. It’s Diana’s duty to stand out, to preach the idealism that has been obliterated by the horrors of war. Gadot wonderfully inhabits the mix of curiosity, sincerity, intimidation, and compassion that has buoyed Wonder Woman since the beginning. Pine matches her hopefulness with a world weariness and sharp sense of humor. He’s more than capable at bringing an emotional complexity to a character most aptly described as a dude-in-distress. Their chemistry is electrifying, making Wonder Woman a successful romance and superhero origin story set during one of the most brutal wars.

Elsewhere, the supporting cast is a bit uneven. The villains — an obsessive German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and the mad scientist Doctor Maru nicknamed Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) — are painted too broadly. The audience is given too few details to have a lasting impact. Diana’s comrades that Steve rounds up are similarly crafted with little detail. Charlie (Ewen Bremner) is a Scottish sharpshooter, ravaged by what he’s witnessed in the war. Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) is a Native American, capitalizing on the war for profit. Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) is a confidence artist of sorts. The actors are able to give these characters enough sincerity and wit to make their appearances memorable.

In turn, Wonder Woman isn’t just a good superhero film. It is a sincerely good film in which no qualifiers are needed. It’s inspiring, evocative as well as a much-needed salve from what other blockbusters offer. Despite its flaws, Wonder Woman is beautiful, kindhearted, and buoyant in ways that make me eager to see it again.

Image Source: Variety