In her fantastic 2003 film, “Monster,” Patty Jenkins undertook the herculean—or should I say Amazonian—task of humanizing a serial killer, and somehow pulled it off. Her task with “Wonder Woman” is just as complicated, maybe even more so: to produce something original and exciting within the constraints of the big-budget, “let’s play it safe” realm of superheroes.
Where the film truly sets itself apart is in its hero, Diana Prince, played by Gal Gadot. She hails from the invisible island of Themyscira, which serves as a haven for the Amazons, a race of warrior women who speak softly but carry a big stick–the big stick being their bodies. Despite their name, their mission is not the two-day delivery of your packages; they have been designated by Zeus to whip the world of Man into shape, should it become necessary. Diana grows up under the tutelage of two figures, her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and her trainer, Antiope (Robin Wright). The former fills her head with morality tales, and the latter with the pleasures of combat. Trouble in paradise comes with the curious arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a man, who brings with him the horrors of war. Diana takes it upon herself to accompany Trevor back to his world and end his conflict–not by winning battles or signing treaties, but by slaying Ares, the God of War, who is surely responsible.
What follows is more of a coming-of-age story for Diana than your traditional origin story. We don’t figure out how she got her powers—she was born with them–we figure out how she became a beacon of hope, truth and all that is warm and fuzzy. Her naive notions of mankind are quickly dismantled and replaced with harsh realities—that you cannot simply pluck out evil, for it is too deeply rooted in good intentions and self-preservation. Perhaps, this is why the film is set during World War I and not its cooler, more popular younger brother, World War II. WWI is more ambiguous, more gray, and without a central figure of pure, mustachioed evil. And the use of chemical gas must make it a hotspot for supervillains, as that is so often their weapon of choice.
This emotional journey of Diana’s is surprisingly moving, considering that it’s not the most novel concept. We’ve seen Superman struggle with saving people who may or may not deserve it, and the Watchmen, well, they flat out gave up on us. But Diana’s education—much of which comes from the Steve Trevor character, authentically portrayed by Pine—doesn’t originate from a place of cynicism, but a place of deeper understanding. This makes all the difference.
Gadot isn’t the best actress, delivering schmaltzy lines like “Only love can truly save the world” as dispassionately as an action figure with kung-fu grip. But, she is a presence. Beyond her natural beauty, she gives off a sincere, good-natured aura that never brings the audience to doubt her intentions. When we see her shuffle through the trenches, anguishing for every mangled soldier and homeless peasant, there isn’t any doubt in our minds that she will damn the torpedoes and march right through no man’s land to whomever is responsible. And, I have to say, as obvious as it may seem in retrospect, having Wonder Woman charge through no man’s land is something near genius.
Like westerns and film noir, certain tropes are expected—even desired—within the superhero genre. “Wonder Woman” rolls around in them with gleeful abandon. The love interest, the dopey but righteous sidekicks, the “fish out of water” jokes, the jumping right at the camera (Spiderman’s favorite), the superficial villain–all are present and accounted for. Some will find these comforting in their familiarity, and others, like myself, will find them to be creative half-measures.
At one point in the film, I began to wonder whether or not one of Wonder Woman’s powers is to slow down time. This is because the movie goes all in with the slow-motion heavy, hyper-stylized action sequences. It works in some instances, such as in no man’s land, where the slow-motion adds something to Diana’s unwavering grace in chaos, but otherwise, it’s fake-looking and obtrusive.
Nonetheless, “Wonder Woman” has a heart of gold, and it’s contagious. It’s reminiscent of Richard Donner’s “Superman” in regards to its unabashed, childlike enthusiasm for itself and its message. I look forward to Wonder Woman’s continuing adventures, so long as they are at normal speed.
3 out of 5 stars