MOVIE REVIEW: “Wonder Woman”
Paraphrasing the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the three-part noun definition of “wonder” can be summarized as “a cause of astonishment, the quality of excited admiration, or rapt attention at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience.” Used as an adjective in a proper name, the word couldn’t be more fitting of Princess Diana of Themyscira, better known as Wonder Woman. Whether it represents a cog in a larger universe, a historical watershed for women’s leadership, or the answered prayers of long-suffering fans and idolizing dreamers, the film bearing her name is a valiant, momentous, and satisfying first step fitting of the iconic heroine.
Molded from godly clay and raised on a mythical island shielded from the world, Diana (Gal Gadot) has bred since a young age under the guidance of her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) to be the fiercest and best warrior among the Amazons. The race of warrior women constantly prepare for the time when the god of war, Ares, resurfaces to bring havoc to the world of man. Unexpectedly, the human world collides with Themyscira when a damaged plane piloted by American spy Steve Trevor (the “above average” Chris Pine) crashes near its shores.
Diana rescues Steve and learns of “the war to end all wars” happening beyond her island. Inspired by the cause to save lives and defeat the unseen source of the evil warmongering, she departs with Steve and enters the world in the final days of World War I as an armistice is being negotiated. One diabolical German general named Ludendorff (Danny Huston) refuses to have his side go quietly. He is secretly concocting, with the help of a twisted chemist dubbed Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), a deadly hydrogen-based strain of toxic gas that cannot be stopped by protective masks.
Steve’s escape with Ludendorff’s plans derailed him to Themyscira before he was able to alert the London’s Allied high command, embodied by Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis). Returning with the demigoddess incognito at his side, Steve jumps back into the clandestine war effort with a band of mercenary friends (Ewen Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, and Eugene Brave Rock) to stop the production and deployment of the new toxin. Not content with sitting idly by in the name of espionage on the edge of the atrocities of No Man’s Land, the warrior princess, armed with her sword, shield, and lasso, emerges to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Let me tell you. When that moment comes and the Harry Gregson-Williams score really starts to pound its presence, crowds and popcorn buckets will erupt in thunderous excitement and approval. It is the culminating peak of earning true character investment that gains strength with each of the hefty 141 minutes of director Patty Jenkins’ film, her first since 2003’s Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning Monster. Wonder Woman utilizes Diana’s origin and her discovery of the world through Steve Trevor to effectively build a foundation of principles rooted in virtue and righteousness.
Simply put, the screenwriting and story team of comic book and TV writer Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift), and DCEU steward Zack Snyder ace the legendary character as well as they could for her big screen debut. They completely, however, fail in Marvel fashion with a wasted and ranting one-dimensional main villain that bloats the final act. Despite an excellent twist of identity, the misuse of Ares is an egregious missed opportunity that combines with lesser ones in the areas of storyline trimming and muddled special effects.
The victory remains Gal Gadot. It’s not her exotic allure or physical prowess that win you over, though she’s perfect in those areas too. It’s her sentiment and conviction as a heroine. Every steely stare of fortitude gives way to a smile of such warmth and purity. Her depiction of Wonder Woman embodies the best qualities of spirit and optimism that earned this icon’s 76 years of adulation and hero worship. Any of the petty and trolling criticism and deplorable body shaming nonsense that clouded Gadot’s casting deserves to melt away and die after this film. Wonder Woman deserves every opportunity at each piece of that dictionary definition of “wonder.”
LESSON #1: FIGHT FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT FIGHT FOR THEMSELVES — Comic books and their adapted films target simple themes for younger audiences and readers because they work and they are universal. Diana, with all of her abilities and courage, rises to become a tireless defender of the weak, something her red-caped future teammate could do a little more of on-screen. Keep showing up the boys, Goddess of Truth!
LESSON #2: WHAT HEROES WE BELIEVE — Diana’s chosen cause from Lesson #1 rallies belief among the oppressed. Yet, her valor also stems from her own idealistic belief in the good inside of all people. Those beliefs feed one another to inspiring levels.
LESSON #3: WHAT HEROES WE DESERVE — Wonder Woman is but one warrior. To seize peace from war and accomplish the communal love she wishes for, her presence and example has to inspire and empower others to act and change towards the same goals. Only then do we earn and deserve the heroism she gives so selflessly.