Wonder Woman (2017) is everything the early reviews said it was and nothing like I expected. In my last article on this film I highlighted what I thought the plan Warner Bros., and in particular, the creative team behind the DCEU, had in mind for her.
She would be the shining beacon, embodying uncomplicated heroism. And boy does she own that role in a way that I’ve not seen the character do in thirty years of comic collecting. I adored this movie and cannot wait to own it and cherish the blu-ray.
This is the role normally reserved for Superman. But, as established in the previous two films, Man of Steel and BvS: Dawn of Justice, the DCEU’s Clark Kent is not that person. That role is reserved, wholeheartedly, for Diana Prince.
And the benefits it pays not only the film but the entire DCEU franchise are immeasurable.
Taking the Right Place
DC has received a ridiculous amount of grief over their films. Much of it, in my opinion, is unwarranted. Going off script for Superman and making him choose to become mankind’s savior makes a one-dimensional character better. Making Diana the pure spirit gives her disillusionment and eventual acceptance more weight.
And that contrast has to be visible as tension between the three lead heroes when they come together to form the Justice League. If they gave Superman his traditional role, it would mean having to relegate Wonder Woman to a role that would undermine her in future stories.
She’s always marginalized in the Justice League stories. It’s always about Batman and Superman. And when you think back to all the promotional shots for Dawn of Justice, Diana is front and center. Still don’t think Snyder had a plan?
She has to be, because Superman is dead when Justice League begins. She’s the one with the experience, the incredible powers… all of it to lead the League while he rebuilds himself…. or whatever is happening to him.
By the time Dawn of Justice was poorly received this film was finished filming and the tone of it set. This was the plan, folks.
Waiting For Gadot…
But, enough preamble. I refuse to do plot breakdowns. They are stupid.
This is a pretty by-the-numbers origin story from a story-beat perspective. So, if you’re looking for boundary-stretching narrative choices, go watch Suicide Squad’s extended cut or a David Lynch film. Patty Jenkins, the director, wastes very little time in the first act setting things up and knocking them down so she can move the action where it needs to be, Europe and World War I.
If I have a quibble it is that Act I feels a bit rushed. I wanted a little more time with the Amazons, to make their battle with the Germans stick that much more.
This is because Jenkins, rightly, wants to get Gal Gadot on screen as quickly as possible. It is a wise choice. Gadot is simply luminous as Diana. I haven’t used that word to describe a performance in a film since Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. Gal Gadot owns every frame she is in, which is most of them.
And it is fantastic to note the respect Jenkins has for the material with her shot framing which never sexualizes Diana overtly. She doesn’t need to do anything special to make us fall in love with Diana, it just happens naturally. That’s how good Gadot is here. It is easy to see what Steve Trevor sees.
Chris Pine is excellent as Steve Trevor. He contrasts Diana’s naivete with his pragmatism and regret perfectly. He has to be her equal in spirit or the whole movie falls apart. As Yoda said in the Empire Strikes Back, ‘… on this, all depends.” The script, the editing, Jenkins direction and Pine’s performance all have to be perfect to bring his role in the story to her near-equal or the ending falls apart.
He can’t be her equal. She’s a daughter of Zeus. But, in spirit he can be, equal but different. These are two people who are wholly committed to ending this terrible war in their own way. And they are more committed to their mission than each other. Pine’s Trevor is an old school hero, who is a mixture of bravado and regret, determination and sorrow.
And it is through him that Diana, unfortunately, has to learn what makes humanity great and terrible at the same time.
If he doesn’t pull that off. The film fails. If the film doesn’t give him equal opportunity to fulfill his mission but instead has her do it for him, the film fails. From this perspective the screenplay succeeds admirably, because without it, all of Diana’s incredible fight scenes and action set-pieces would have simply rung hollow.
And those set-pieces are glorious and breath-taking. They are a visual and emotionally-satisfying feast for the senses.
The Path to Equality
Wonder Woman could have been as obnoxious as the 2009 animated film which wore its Feminist criticisms on its sleeve, ham-fistedly making fun of men from beginning to end. I watched it again yesterday and the difference between the level of storytelling was startling. And that is not normally the case in the DC animated films.
In this film, Diana isn’t the living embodiment of the Irina Dunn quote…
She’s so much more than that. She’s a steward of humanity, who learns that to fight for the world you must love all of it, good and bad, with all of your heart, not hate it and bend it to your will. She’s given that choice and, true to her character, finds her true power when she loses the last shreds of her innocence.
Diana doesn’t start one fight in this film. She ends them. This is a staunchly anti-war film. She ends wars so that we can become who we want/need to be.
That’s the lesson I wanted this film to impart to my 11 year old daughter. Each sex has its role to play and together there is no problem, no matter how big, we can’t solve.