I just got back from seeing Wonder Woman, a movie that for me was by far the most anticipated of the year. It isn’t because there aren’t some wonderful, highbrow, meaningful stories being released at Oscar season in October and November. It’s because Wonder Woman is only the 4th live-action film with a budget of $100 million dollars ever directed by a woman. I really wanted it to be exceptional. I wanted it to be one of the best superhero movies I’d seen. Thank Themyscira and all the goddesses, it is. It’s fun, entertaining, and full of the sort of womanly power, strength, grace, and value we rarely see, especially in a superhero movie.
Directed by Patty Jenkins, who helmed the film for which Charlize Theron won the Best Actress Oscar, Monster, Wonder Woman is in safe and skilled hands. It is also in the hands of the first female director of a DC or Marvel feature film, and DC should be absolutely thrilled with the results, and with the exceptional buzz and positive reception it has gotten around the world. Twitter and Facebook are filled with posts of little girls and little boys in costumes, striking the cross-fisted pose. Patty comes by directing a story of military bravery with a strong female character, however based in comic book fantasy, honestly. As you’ll see in the credits, she dedicates the film to her father William T. Jenkins, an Air Force pilot who won a Silver Star in Vietnam, and she grew up with a mother who was an environmental scientist.
Wonder Woman is essentially a mix of origin and fresh-off-the-island stories. The action begins on the hidden island of Themyscira, where a world of Amazonian warrior women live and train to be ever stronger in battle. From a young age, Diana (Gal Gadot) daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), is taken under the wing of consummate fighter Antiope (Robin Wright). It appears time passes far more slowly for this society, which is entirely devoid of the male sex, at least as inhabitants. When pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes in the sea below the cliffs of her island home, Diana saves him, only to learn, along with the rest of the Amazons, that the outside world is in conflict, fighting “the war to end all wars”. Diana determines to go with Steve to try to make a difference, and stop the war. She believes the violence is, in part, the doing of Aries, the God of War, and she knows if she finds him and kills him, all will be right again. Ass-kicking, great one-liners, and dialogue in which a female character does not always defer to men, and their leadership or wants, ensue.
If the two-hour-and-twenty-one minute running time flies by as if transported in an invisible jet, the parties truly responsible are Gadot and Pine, who have great chemistry both individually and as a screen couple. There is, in Gadot, an innocence and genuine optimism that harkens back to the Christopher Reeves era Superman movies of Richard Donner. Indeed director Patty Jenkins says his work was a major influence for the feel of Wonder Woman, and for Diana’s lack of cynicism and fearless bravery. Gadot is a genuine star, much like Reeves was, and the camera not only loves her, but she seems to strip herself of all pretense for it, which is in perfect service of her believability as the character. Pine is essentially playing what every actress who loves old Hollywood would recognize as the wise-cracking dame. He is Jean Arthur in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings. Bless him, how can we not love his Steve Trevor, a WWI pilot who falls for a woman of substance and power? How can we equally not fall for Pine, with his pithy delivery, and a cynicism and world-weariness that crumbles before our eyes? He can be the Lois Lane to my Superman any day.
My screening partner and gal pal said she felt she was watching something very familiar and recognizable, but something she’d never seen before onscreen. A perfect example of that is the consistent positioning of Diana as Wonder Woman at the front of every battle scene. She is the undisputed leader. In real life, there are women who lead in nearly every aspect of life, we just seldom see it unqualified on film. Also refreshing, is Diana’s reaction whenever Steve does something generally thought of as gentlemanly, like holding a door, or giving her his coat. She sees his actions as being from one human to another, not what is expected from man to woman, and in a perfect world, this is as it should be. There is no sexual barter on Themyscira. On the other hand, as a spy, Marvel’s Black Widow has been trained to use her sexuality as part of her bag of tricks. Those tricks are entirely unnecessary for an ageless Amazonian warrior.
Of course some might argue there have been other strong female characters in Marvel movies. What about Scarlet Witch and Black Widow? They are a part of a larger group run by men, and secondary, co-starring roles. When you give us Captain Marvel, directed by a woman, we’ll celebrate. For that matter, give us a male-led superhero movie directed by a woman. We want that, too. Hopefully, box office success will result in an expansion of the Wonder Woman franchise, which can lead us to better circumstances for all women in film.
There are some nitpicks. The last quarter of the movie flags a bit, and veers into the usual big blockbuster battle territory. The film music should have utilized more of the guitar riff we’ve come to adore from the trailers, instead of some protracted periods with the more predictable orchestral passages used in the score. That’s it, though. It’s otherwise a 2 hour-plus delight.
On my way home from the screening, there was an old radio show from 1944 called The Judy Canova Show playing in my car. She closed her show, as she always did, with the song “Goodnight, Soldier”, reminding people as she tirelessly did off the air, to buy U.S. War Bonds. Her last words on this show were “Remember! Get into the war with your hands, as well as your heart”. Wonder Woman was there in 1944, too. Her first comic book cover was in January, 1942.
She’s still fighting, only now she fights for women’s equality in Hollywood. Kudos for all those involved at DC and Warner Bros. in making this woman-helmed and woman-led film so very entertaining, and for getting into the war for gender equality in Hollywood with their hands as well as their hearts.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
In area theaters. For why you should see this film this weekend, read this article.