Wonder Woman Review: We Don’t Deserve Her

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Patty Jenkins’s confident Wonder Woman adaptation sticks close to the classic superhero origin tropes. The difference, however, is that it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to. Take for instance the first reveal of the classic costume as the hero steps into battle. Typically an easy moment to get fan cheers in most of the genre’s fare, Wonder Woman roots it in character. In this film, it’s a moment where battle lines have been drawn and Diana (Gal Gadot, better than you could have imagined) is told a problem can’t be fixed. But she doesn’t take no for an answer. She sees the destruction around her, and how the war is affecting innocents on both sides. So she stands up, readies her shield, and charges in.

It’s the best version of this trope in all of the genre, but it’s notable that we don’t see Diana welding her armor, or putting it in on in slow motion. She’s been wearing it the whole time because Diana is Wonder Woman, no ifs, ands, or buts. What Jenkins succeeds in showing us more than anything else is that to be Wonder Woman is a beautiful thing.

Born on Themiscyra, an island paradise where the Amazons, a race of powerful women created by Zeus, reside, we see Diana’s endearing eagerness to train at a young age. Queen Hippolyta, her mother (Connie Nielsen), holds her back, but Antiope, her aunt (Robin Wright), starts sneaking in some training. It’s not long before Diana is showing a power greater than that the other Amazons wield. But it’s her altruistic nature, her seemingly bottomless well of compassion, that draws the audience in to feel for Diana. Like the best of us, she doesn’t understand the existence of war, or what it can really accomplish. But war comes to Themiscyra when British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands, leading German soldiers to invade and give Diana a peak at the world outside her paradise.

Wonder Woman‘s strongest section is it’s middle, where a delicate balance of fish-out-of-water humor plays against a simple but no less vital critique of human nature. The film takes place a century ago, during World War I, but we as the audience know that Diana’s plight to bring peace will only be successful in the short term. And so in lies her tragedy, a hero fighting for an unrectifiable cause. But knowing that she’ll be fighting for peace for the next century is where Jenkins aims to inspire, and she succeeds in spades.

In a way, the film is holding up a mirror to Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger, a superhero origin story with the same general plot but with a flag-waving mentality about it that almost bordered on propaganda (for the record, I quite like that film). Contrarily, Wonder Woman is an anti-war fantasy, with a message similar in tone to the more political works of Hayao Miyazaki.

Beyond that, you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think Wonder Woman is a political film (just look at the statement the mayor of Austin had to make this week). Jenkins’ film would be great no matter how many female led superhero films existed before it (and it isn’t technically the first, but no one blames you for forgetting Catwoman or Elektra). But in 2017, with the current mood of our country, Diana is perhaps more important now than she’s ever been. In Hillary Clinton’s concession speech last November, she was hopeful that the first female president of the United States was watching her right then. Popcorn blockbusters obviously don’t hold that much stake in the world, even ones as groundbreaking as this, but as Wonder Woman projects a beam of positive energy and light into cinemas in summer 2017, when the clouds over Washington appear to be ever-darkening, it’s hard not to imagine that same woman Clinton spoke about, young or old, watching arguably the most iconic woman in fiction brought to life tastefully and with significant meaning.

The third act significantly raises the CGI quota and the film puts itself in danger of hitting the cliches a little too hard, but there’s not a moment of the film where Diana’s ideals and her arc to realize the darker nature of the world aren’t ingrained in the action. The film’s villains may not be all that interesting, but that’s fine. Wonder Woman is primarily fighting war itself. So even while the third act isn’t quite hitting the same highs as the unbelievably sensational middle, the emotions are still far higher than your average superhero extravaganza. A lot of that is thanks to Gadot’s earnest, strong-willed performance, one that absolutely ranks up there with Christopher Reeve and Chris Evans as far as this superhero archetype is concerned.

But it’s also the writing and the direction, both of which confidently display the film’s light, heroic tone as it delves into the flaws of our species. You’ll laugh at Diana when she tries to enter a revolving door sword in hand, or when she’s enamored with ice cream. You’ll cry with her when humanity’s ugliness seems invincible. Most of all, your eyes will go wide in awe when she raises her shield to a seemingly unstoppable enemy. Wonder Woman is a reminder of what true heroism looks like. It wears it proudly on its sleeve. The tagline for 1978’s Superman: The Movie was “You’ll believe a man can fly.” Now, in 2017, you’ll know women could always do it too, no matter how long it took Hollywood executives to realize. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

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