Wonder Woman is the film that we need. In fact, in the midst of a depressed box office (good films are harder and harder to find), Wonder Woman stands out as my favorite film of the year with only three months left to go.
Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is raised by her mother, Queen of the Amazons Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), in the cloaked, royal confines of Themyscira (or Paradise Island). Taught to fight by her aunt and the general of the Amazonian forces, General Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana longs to do battle in the ways her legendary mother did. Lured by the legends of the Greek gods, Diana wants to be a warrior, even while her mother tries to protect her from the “world of men” that exists outside. With these childhood stories, Diana learns about the long-ago defeat of the God of War, Ares, and the ancient battle between the gods that founded the Amazons as defenders of the world of men.
When Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane in the waters of Paradise Island, Diana and the Amazons are drawn into the events of World War I as it is drawing toward a peaceful armistice. But in Europe, General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his henchwoman, Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), are developing a poison that would swing the force of the war back into Germany’s favor. Dreading that Diana’s involvement in the affairs of men would attract the attention of Ares who she assumes is involved, Hippolyta forbids Diana from leaving; certain that her training has prepared her for a moment such as this, Diana leaves Themyscira, headed for London and beyond.
Directed by Patty Jenkins with cinematography by Matthew Jensen, the film is lavishly shot – in Italy for the first third of the film taking place on Themyscira and in London’s King’s Cross Station and Trafalgar Square for various scenes in the second and third segments. Painted beautifully in bright colors on Themyscira, the drab grays and greens of London and the battlefield stand in even harsher contrast to the peace the Amazons maintain. These visuals only serve to reinforce the Diana-in-the-world-of-men experience: she’s as much a fish out of water as Captain America post-deep freeze in the present.
By comparison, this is DC’s best superhero film in nearly a decade, with Batman Begins as its most recent DC counterpart, because Wonder Woman is the best superhero film, the best origin story, that DC has told since then. But Captain America: The First Avenger is its closest counterpart because of the tones in which WW and CA paint their heroes as stalwarts of virtue and principle in a world threatening to implode due to violence and hubris.
Into this world rides the naive Diana, bent on fulfilling her people’s obligation to defend the world of men, and Trevor, deeply affected by the evil and violence he has seen as a spy. Together, apparently at first as an aside, Jenkins moves them in closer and closer concentric circles as their love and admiration for each other grows, even as they develop a romance that crosses cultural categories. In the main frame, Trevor recruits the diverse ‘crew’ of Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), to assist Diana in her quest to track down the heart of World War I. [She’s sure that Ares is masquerading as a man, namely Ludendorff.]
Together, this “crack” team of misfits and warriors will stand against the German war machine. It’s incredibly telling in its perspective of mission, justice, peace, and virtue – in a way that too many superhero films have gone away from. Rather than ‘muddying up’ Diana’s virtue, her principles become inspirational – and powerful – because she is true to who she is. In that way, Wonder Woman is the first superhero movie film that truly inspires, because Diana/Wonder Woman is the hero of old, and probably the one that we need. She’s the embodiment of “good” and the bridge between gods and the world of men. It’s what makes Wonder Woman a must-see film, with power and responsibility to inspire.
Wonder Woman is an epic film, building mythos and theology, full of spirit and heart, with lessons for today about heroism, sacrifice, belief, and responsibility. Finally, DC has delivered its first win in a decade, while pushing a woman to the front of the pantheon and crowning her queen.
****For more …. read below the break… but be aware SPOILERS ENSUE!****
Wonder Woman presents a Greek mythology, tinted by the Judeo-Christian worldview. While she grows up believing she is an “Adam,” shaped by Hippolyta out of clay, she is in fact incarnational – god among people. In that twist, from ‘old school’ comics to New 52 stuff, Diana’s purpose, responsibility, and connection to the divine/greater universe, broadens with that knowledge, instantaneously. In the process, she’s wrestling with Trevor, a man who wants to know he can be redeemed but who wonders if he’s lied, killed, and stolen his way into judgment. Diana becomes the physical embodiment of grace – because of who she is and because of what she does.
The innate goodness Diana possesses – leaving the island because it’s her duty to concern herself with the lives of men, tackling a trench worth of German snipers to save a village, refusing to bow to the presence and lures of Ares – permeates and inspires Trevor in his final mission. But his love, sacrifice, and desire for redemption proves the love that ultimately serves as the thesis for the film. The two of them ultimately end up believing in each other. In the final articulated argument between Ares and Diana, Diana “chooses love,” believing in the innate goodness of people to choose justice and sacrifice, when she is tempted to use her powers to obliterate men for their inclination to war.
The gods’ argument over the souls of man proves to be a conversation about TULIP and creation in the image of God discussion worthy of contemporary-ish theologians Johns Calvin and Wesley. Is man truly evil, destined by the fall to be fully corrupted? Or is man created good and perfect in the image of God the father, corrupted by original sin, and waiting to be redeemed? Ares wants one to be true, while Diana believes the other; her belief stems from her experience of one such man, Steve Trevor, who proves both saved and savior in his own way.
While Ares is “Satan” to Zeus’ Father God, proposing that people are twisted and evil, Diana comes as the Christ figure who is willing to set aside her place at the god table in Themyscira and serve the very humans who should worship her. By her example, she proves worthy to be worshipped – in the praise of those below the church steeple after she disarms the sniper in the village and again at the end, as the soldiers from both sides praise her – and one even takes a knee.
On the Blu-ray Combo Pack, Warner Bros.’ special features include the extra scene, “Epilogue – Etta’s Mission,” commentary by director Patty Jenkins, extended scenes, and a blooper reel. The mission to take Wonder Woman back to the screen, the big screen for the first time, gets a look in “Crafting the Wonder” while Jenkins also shows her view of the material in the series of featurettes on Themyscira, the battle between the Amazons and the Nazis on the beach, and more. There’s also a look at the Amazon army in “Warriors of Wonder Woman” and the stature of Diana next to Superman and Batman in “The Trinity.” There’s also a celebration of the decades of Wonder Woman’s character through the eyes of notable public figures in “Finding the Wonder Woman Within.”