Film Views: “Wonder Woman”

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

For those like me who were kids in the 1970s –and didn’t read comic books — Wonder Woman was a TV series starring Lynda Carter.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman (TV series ran from 1975-1979)

But even if you didn’t read the comic books, most knew her character was straight out of that genre.  Like many TV shows from the ’70s, “Wonder Woman” was kind of cheesy, but so was “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Bionic Woman” and “The Incredible Hulk.”  Still, people have fond memories of those shows, and I’m sure nostalgia and the popularity of comic book movies were part of the rationale in bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen.  And even if you’re not a fan of this genre of films, know that “Wonder Woman” is probably the best one to come out in a long time — probably since Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Night” or “Captain America: The First Avenger.” And the reason is simple to say, but difficult to execute: Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs’ story mix standard superhero and compelling human elements in such a way that the film is more than just a thin narrative wrapped in a series of fight sequences. Don’t get me wrong, “Wonder Woman” has plenty of action sequences, but the story goes deep into the mythology of how the character came to be. Sure, you can bitch and moan that it’s not exactly like the origins detailed in the comic book — where Wonder Woman wears American patriotic colors on her dress.  But her character is also a liberated woman who was created with the intention of reflecting a 1940s type of feminism for girls and boys to look up to.  Which brings me back to “Wonder Woman” the film that just opened. First off, let me say upfront that I thoroughly enjoyed the film — though like many films in the comic book genre, it suffers from bloat. And that bloat almost always occurs toward the end. But what saved a rather routine battle sequence between Wonder Woman (or Diana as she is known in the film) and her brother Ares, was the focus wasn’t solely on their fight.  Rather, there’s another story/fight that compliments the main battle.

The tale centers on Diana (Gal Gadot), the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Hippolyta and other Amazon warriors live on the shrouded island of Themyscira that was created by Zeus after his son, Ares, set out to destroy all the gods and corrupt the hearts of humanity with war-like behavior. The Amazons have powers like gods but are mortal (as we find out early in the film). They seem to train a lot and are preparing themselves for a time when Ares and humans will do battle with them. Diana (as a young child) is forbidden to train to be an Amazon by her mother, but her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) of the Amazon army, sees Diana having the potential to be a warrior and trains her secretly from a young child to an adult.

That’s the first act. By Act 2, Diana sees a plane crashing into the waters off the island and jumps into the ocean to save the pilot — who turns out to be a spy for the British and Americans. Of course, that pilot (Steve Trevor as played by Chris Pine ) turns out to be an eventual love interest for Diana. But his presence propels the action in another direction. As Diana learns the world outside of the island is at war (World War I), she sees the so-called “Great War” as the machinations of Ares. So, she agrees to help Steve leave the island to do battle with Ares and bring peace back to humankind. Act 3 is more about the confrontation between Diana and Ares in the standard fight sequences that have become so common for this genre that any visceral thrill gets squashed by predictability. The sequences in “Wonder Woman” are a bit better because they split the action from Diana and Ares with Steve and his crew trying to save the day from a poisonous gas bomb. However, what really makes the film excel in the genre is making sure that even the secondary characters are well-formed so the audience cares about them. And that exactly what happens in “Wonder Woman.” Not only is Diana’s story interesting, but Steve Trevor and his crew aren’t hanging around as generic sidekicks either. If there’s a flaw in the storytelling it’s that they tend to gloss over historical references. For example, for a film that extols a type of feminism in an unapologetic way, the suffragette movement is treated almost as an aside. We are also meant to believe that paths to peace are ultimately futile — since any progress toward ending hostilities means the “good guys” are really putting themselves in a vulnerable position.

Still, these films aren’t meant to educate us about history. They are meant to entertain. And given how rapid comic book movies are released, “Wonder Woman” succeeds on many entertainment levels. One can hope the sequels will be treated with the same care that brought this film to the big screen — though, given Hollywood’s track record with successful sequels, I’m not holding out hope.

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