I wonder what wonders the world has beheld:
More than seven, no doubt,
More than those learned about,
But must they be spectacles unparalleled,
Gloried feats unsurpassed,
Or more simply contrast?
A light among shadows, a gem among stones,
An unshakable stand
Against failure’s demand,
A rare certainty in a world of unknowns,
An encouraging word
That despair hasn’t heard,
A dream among cynics, a float in rough water,
Shooting stars overhead
When all hope was thought dead,
A lamb among wolves with no worry of slaughter—
The world’s wonders don’t last,
But the weak and steadfast
Can find hope in contrast.
MPAA rating: PG-13
I honestly never thought I’d see a DC movie on its opening weekend, but a half-planned trip to the theater left Wonder Woman as the most convenient show time available, and the positive reviews I’d heard convinced my VC and me to give it a try. I had come to the conclusion that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) is a lost cause, with Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad being either unwieldy, joyless, or overblown. Yet here at last is Wonder Woman, helmed by Patty Jenkins, the first female director of a major superhero film, and DC finally gets a movie that can hold its own against Marvel.
I’ll admit I don’t know much about Wonder Woman from the comics and only ever saw her as a member of the animated Justice League on TV, as well as her animated origin film from 2009. The latest live-action movie begins much like its cartoon counterpart, with the Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) of the Amazons residing on the hidden island of Themyscira, training to be a great warrior, until the crash-landing of American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) awakens her sense of duty and interest in the outside world. Unlike the animated version set in the modern day, 2017’s Wonder Woman has the key difference of taking place during World War I, making its retro setting more than a little reminiscent of Captain America: The First Avenger. (Her origin apparently took place during World War II in the comics, so I guess the change was intended to avoid being too similar to Cap’s first outing.) There are plenty of parallels, from an evil German antagonist (Danny Huston) with a diabolical scientist (Elena Anaya) under him to a climactic sacrifice involving a death-carrying plane, but there’s enough originality here that the similarities never detract from the story.
The best thing Wonder Woman has in its favor is Gal Gadot. Neither an overly familiar face nor a struggling newbie, she’s an effortlessly perfect fit for the role, her slight Israeli accent giving her an exotic touch while she nails the assertive and noble appeal of the character. She’s also attractive no matter what she does, whether in secretarial incognito or in the heat of battle. And speaking of battle, her first moment of truth fighting against the German army is spectacular, taking ownership of “No Man’s Land” with feats that Lynda Carter could only dream of. Alongside her, Chris Pine is his usual likable self, and while he can’t compare with Diana’s abilities, I liked that he was still an active and valiant match for her rather than a weakling to make her look better. Plus, in contrast to Batman and Superman of late, there’s actually some humor, perhaps not at Marvel’s levels, but it’s refreshing that DC seems to have learned something from the competition. (Suicide Squad may have had more jokes, but it’s a barely connected oddity as far as I’m concerned.)
As much as I enjoyed what is clearly DC’s best film to date, it’s not above a few nitpicks, such as stereotypical villains and one scene with some cynically feminist jabs as Steve and Diana awkwardly discuss sex and marriage. Most of the climactic battle has the same excessive bombast as the end of Batman v. Superman, which I guess is only a negative if you disliked it then. The strongest criticism for me is the muddy mythology that comes to a head toward the end. Wonder Woman has always drawn freely from Greek mythology, which works for the loose backstory at the beginning, and Diana understands Zeus to be man’s creator and Ares to be the corrupting god of war, roles that here distinctly echo the Christian God and devil. She’s convinced with apparent naiveté that Ares is controlling mankind to wage this Great War, and while her understanding is challenged and widened, it’s left in doubt by the end just how right she was and what that implies for history and religion in general.
If you don’t think about that too hard, though, Wonder Woman absolutely fulfills its potential as the first superheroine blockbuster, and my VC quite enjoyed it as well, even without having seen the previous DC entries. (Coincidentally, the very day I saw it, I came home to find the old 1970s TV show with Lynda Carter on, and compared with that cheese, the film is a masterpiece.) Aside from Gadot herself, I most appreciated the fact that this is a genuinely heroic tale of a warrior discerning why she defends mankind. Not many superhero movies tackle that topic so directly, and especially considering how DC has loused up even the most iconic of heroes, Superman, Wonder Woman’s experiences of both the evil and the noble that man is capable of provide her with a persuasive reason for her defense of the world, beyond the idealistic zeal that she and Captain America had from the start. Her gallantry and girl-power status as a role model are a far cry from the broody skepticism of Batman v. Superman or the psychopathic half-villainy of Suicide Squad, and this “light among shadows” seems to indicate that there might actually be hope for the DCEU yet, though I undoubtedly still prefer Marvel. Wonder Woman may not quite be an unqualified success, but it’s a welcome success nonetheless.
Best line: (Hippolyta, as Diana leaves the island, echoing many parents, I’m sure) “You are my greatest love. Today, you are my greatest sorrow.”
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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