Friday, October 20, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

rating: ****

the story: Diana enters Man's World during WWI and battles Ares in the hopes of determining its outcome.

what it's all about: I tend to be unsettled, these days, at a consensus of quality.  It's a peculiar predicament, for an amateur film fan, whose formative development was absorbing material with a consensus of quality.  The more experience, maybe, the greater the skepticism.  Or maybe it's just the times.  These days, films seem to be loved, even by critics, for reasons other than their actual worth.  Critics, for instance, love their superheroes if they're brainless.  Critics, in general, seem to love genre material if it doesn't take itself too seriously.  Of course the stuff they love always takes itself too seriously, otherwise.

Well, anyway, in case you've been living under a rock, Wonder Woman has been a massive success, both in making money and making fans, even among critics.  The movie makes some dramatic departures from its DC predecessors, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I happened to like both of those quite a lot, so it was difficult to reconcile changing direction with the fear the end result was a sellout.  My first viewing of Wonder Woman was geared in that direction.  I saw things that I wanted to see, and thought the movie wasn't really worth the hype.  And I also wondered where Wonder Woman fit in with where the character was during Batman v Superman.

But I've turned the corner.  Diana, by the end of Wonder Woman, makes a defiant stand against the cynicism of Ares.  In Batman v Superman she's been operating in the shadows, keeping to herself.  Seemingly, not really be a hero anymore.  But Wonder Woman does explain this.  The death of Steve Trevor rattles her ability to work with others, which Batman assuages.  He gives her a cause again.  In Wonder Woman she opts against trying to actively shape the world in her image, which is the way of tyrants and villains like Ares.  But she is still a hero, and perhaps more a hero than just about any hero out there. 

It's true that Wonder Woman is a lot more lighthearted than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman.  It's also a different story, as Wonder Woman herself represents a different narrative.  Unlike Batman or Superman, Diana isn't a tragic orphan with a path toward the lives that make them heroes.  She's someone who actively yearns to be a hero, in a society full of heroes, whose mother seeks to shelter her from her destiny.  She's as traditional a hero as there's ever been.  Except, she then is thrust into a different world.  That's not a traditional DC narrative (unless you're Green Lantern).  It's a lot more like Marvel's, but Marvel is also more interested in monsters or self-made men, rather than someone merely making a transition. 

So she needs a guide, and Steve Trevor has always been that guide, the stranger totally unknown in her original society, where there are only women, and of course he's a man.  So there's a different element to play with right there, a natural romance, a classic romance archetype (boy meets girl), and humor complements that kind of material nicely. 

Gal Gadot, as Diana, is equally natural.  She's the classic Hollywood outsider, a foreigner with an accent.  Normally this will kind of be used against the actor, but Gadot's been lucky to find two big franchises where she can slide in easily, the Fast and the Furious series, which has always combined cultures, and Diana, who's a superhero.  Traditionally, Wonder Woman hasn't really been depicted as ethnic, even if she comes from a Greek context.  She's looked as American as Superman, and been treated as such.  So Gadot's casting was itself intriguing, and the fact that she hasn't been asked to hide her accent.  In fact, all the Amazons around her, including ones portrayed by Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen, adopt accents to match her (I've seen it before, with the Macedonians around Colin Farrell in Alexander syncing up with his Irish tendencies).  It adds authenticity to the role, really, and is one of the reasons why Wonder Woman proves so distinctive. 

As counterpoint, Chris Pine is All-American as Steve Trevor, and it's an ideal match-up.  His charm and her appeal don't compete, and they're able to draw out of each other all the nuances the movie needs to work.  If Pine can seem smug at times (Steve is "above average" for a man), it's all in selling the concept of the wider world being more complicated than superheroes tend to view it, how Diana needs to view it if she's to stand out among them.  And clearly she does.

It doesn't hurt to have an even more smug Danny Huston playing misdirection for David Thewlis, who ends up being the villain of the piece while playing most of it as a stereotypical British fop.  Director Patty Jenkins deserves a tremendous amount of credit for juggling everything in the movie.  She makes the cool action scenes and the goofy romantic scenes and the melodramatic villain scenes part of the same message, which is of course that Diana herself combines all of them.  The funny throwaway bit about how she discovers ice cream is from a 2011 Justice League comic, by the way, which is what these League movies are based on.

The end result is as unique a cinematic debut lead feature for a superhero as there's ever been.  The character debuted in another movie.  But everything's explained here quite nicely.  No wonder she's now being depended on to change the face of the franchise around her.  Diana has once again proven herself uniquely qualified for the job. 


  1. I haven't seen this yet (I'm not usually a super-hero fan), but now I kind of want to.

    1. It’s a superhero movie that can probably be enjoyed by people who don’t normally watch superhero movies.