For whatever reason, when many movies hire an attractive woman to play a “mousy” character, the actress wears glasses as though a pair of glasses will hide one’s beauty. It is a silly trope that has been seen time and time again (we have all seen that moment where the woman’s glasses come off, she shakes her hair out, and people are mesmerized; shocked by the beauty that was hidden behind the glasses). It is a trope specifically referenced and dismissed in Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” and as such represents just one of the smart moments in DC’s latest superhero epic.
Yes, the first entry in DC’s movie universe for 2017 is, wonderfully, a vast improvement over “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman,” and “Suicide Squad.” In fact, it is more than just an improvement, “Wonder Woman” is great. It is what a superhero movie should be, managing to talk about good and evil, right and wrong, the nature of humanity, and yet still be… well, heroic instead of brooding and despondent.
This is possible in no small measure due to Gal Gadot herself. The actress is perfect as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, offering to audiences a character who manages to be so smart about so much, but understandably naïve about other things. Diana is strong, charismatic, and undeniably human (even if she is the daughter of Zeus). Somehow, despite her not being wise about the present day (World War I) world, the jokes about this do not feel as though they exist at Diana’s expense. That is, she never seems lessened by them.
Allan Heinberg’s screenplay gives us an origin for this character which makes both her strengths (including knowledge of war, languages, and mythology) and weaknesses (current events, subtlety) apparent, using both to great effect in the film. She is powerful from the outset, but when World War I encroaches on the Amazonian island of Themyscira and she ventures out into the larger world, her learning curve is steep.
Avoiding an overly detailed discussion of her particular mission here, she heads off with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, an American spy working for British intelligence in the form of Sir Patrick (David Thewlis). Trevor has knowledge of a deadly gas a German General, Ludendorff (Danny Huston), and scientist, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), have developed, and must get the info back to London. But, really, that’s just where it begins.
Where it ends? As if I would say here.
“Wonder Woman” is an origin story, it is the tale of what got Diana out into the world and yet no longer wanting to fight (which is where we meet her in “Batman v Superman”) and it delivers on every level. It isn’t just that Gadot is great. Pine’s Trevor is wonderfully written as Gadot’s equal, but one with a set of complementary skills. It feels like the perfect display of how two people can both be strong and yet need help. Lucy Davis’ secretary, Etta, is hysterically funny; and Trevor’s team in the field is almost her equal. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen kick things off as Diana’s aunt, Antiope, and mother, Hippolyta, respectively, providing early inklings to the Amazon we will see later in the film. Ludendorff and Maru are somewhat underwritten, but strong enough to set the plot in motion.
As noted, gone from Jenkins’ film is the broody superhero which has sucked too much life out of DC’s other films recently . Diana is unquestionably appropriately scared—and scarred—at times, but she is engaging. She believes in her cause, perhaps naively, and her sense of right is infectious. At one moment in the film she decides to fight the odds and attempt to save a small town whose inhabitants are being enslaved by the Germans. This is one of the greatest moments in superhero film history, and sure to bring tears to the eyes of many. And it isn’t just Gadot who makes it happen, Jenkins gives the audience not one, not two, but several pure superhero moments during this sequence. They are beautiful and terrifying all at once.
The fight sequences do utilize CGI, and not always wonderful CGI, but Diana’s fight in the movie never devolves into the outright foolishness of previous DCEU climactic battles. The world may hang in the balance, but it never turns into a videogame.
“Wonder Woman” is an heroic effort and an heroic film. If the world were a fair place it would silence any of the ridiculous naysayers who suggest that perhaps a woman shouldn’t be the center of a superhero movie or shouldn’t direct a superhero movie or any other bit of equally sexist talk.
To be clear, it isn’t just that this is the best DCEU movie to date, it is great all on its own.
I can’t wait for the next one.
photo credit: Warner Bros.