‘I’ On Culture
Wonder Woman is a great summer movie. This is the time of year we get the big-budget character stories with great special effects, and this movie has them in full measure. But it also has a lot of heart, as well as an actual philosophy about good and evil, something often missing. The first superhero movie, The Mark of Zorro, was made in 1920, and almost a century later there has not been a real female superhero film. Yes, we had a Catwoman and a Supergirl, but, in the long run, those two needed Batman and Superman as helpers.
That is not the case in this film. Diana Prince, as Princess Diana of the Amazons is known, is the great warrior, able to defeat the men. And, wonder of wonders, the director is female, Patty Jenkins.
Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) grows up on Themyscira, a hidden island for Amazons ruled by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Although her mother does not want her to be a warrior, Diana pushes to be trained by her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) and becomes the best on the island. Suddenly, a shot-down plane of World War I vintage crashes into the sea off the island, and its pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), is rescued by Diana. But German soldiers invade the island, and, before being killed by the Amazons, kill some of them. Diana, learning of the horrible war raging in the outside world, is convinced that Ares, God of War, is behind all of it and leaves the island to help.
Diana and Steve travel, actually magically quickly, to London, where she finds the British military as dysfunctional and idiotic as is possible for it to be. The only exception is Sir Patrick (David Thewlis). German General Von Ludendorff (Danny Huston) plans to use poison gas to torpedo an armistice, yet all the British generals want to make nice. With Sir Patrick’s assistance, Steve and Diana recruit a tiny group of misfit warriors to go to Belgium and destroy the poison gas plans. On the way, Diana is horrified at the damage of war and takes matters into her own hands.
There is a magnificent moment as she lets down her hair, strips off her cloak to reveal her famous costume and puts the now-dead General Antiope’s headpiece on. Suddenly, she is Wonder Woman. She races across “No Man’s Land” (a wonderfully ironic description in this case), leading the dispirited British soldiers with her, as they conquer the Germans.
Most of the movie after that is the chase to stop the gas and kill the German general. There are more than a few twists along the way and a fair share of surprises.
It is fun to watch the gender role reversal. Steve does fight and is effective, but even as he tries to protect Diana, she moves in front and starts smacking around all the villains. One of the best things in the film is his acceptance of her skills even as he is not fully certain of her insistence that the German general is really Ares. The complexity of their feelings is one of the best things about the film.
Gadot is a fabulous Wonder Woman. She is charming and charismatic, even handling some comedy, as she adjusts to modern life quickly, learning to deal with men. But somehow, once she is Wonder Woman, she seems far taller and more powerful. She is far more dominant, ready to handle any and all problems. Her caring about the weak, her interest in relationships with others, helps differentiate her from her male counterparts.
Director Jenkins does not glorify war and fighting, but simply accepts it as what happened. Pine is great. He could have played the part weakly, simply going along and being protected. Instead, he comes across as a strong man, eventually accepting that Diana can take care of him better than he can take care of her.
The rest of the cast is also exceptional. I particularly liked Saïd Taghmaoui as a con man who joins the group and tells Diana that he wanted to be an actor but “was the wrong color.” Eugene Brave Rock, a Native American, shocks Diana when he tells her that Steve’s people had destroyed his. In this universe, no one is perfect.
The movie itself is not perfect, but it is a wonderful summer film. Some critics are applauding its feminist background, probably too much. Yes, there is a strong female lead, but this is a wonderfully strong film for everyone of any gender.