'Wonder Woman' Has Humor, Humanity And An Old School Sense Of Honor
An entertaining hit for DC
The brief history of female superheroes in movies
“Wonder Woman” (1974 TV movie with Cathy Lee Croby as title character)
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1992 and directed by a woman, Fran Rubel Kuzui)
“Tank Girl” (1995)
“Barb Wire” (1996)
“Wonder Woman” (2011 TV movie with Adrianne Palicki in lead)
“Wonder Woman” (2014 starring Veronica Orosco Pierce)
“Captain Marvel” (2019)
Female superhero films are few and far between, and they usually bomb. But this week things may change as DC’s leading female superhero, Wonder Woman, gets a film of her own with a woman director.
Saying “Wonder Woman” is the best of the current crop of DC movies is not quite fair to Patty Jenkins’ film. In recent years, DC has delivered a series of leaden, pompous, humorless and somber films featuring its iconic Superman and Batman.
The Diana Prince/Wonder Woman character was created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter. She had a successful TV series in the 70s with Lynda Carter and has been part of more than one DC animated series. But last year her entrance into the Zack Snyder/DC film universe marked the first step to getting her into her own stand-alone superhero film and to sweeten the pot DC put a woman at the helm, Patty Jenkins (she directed Charlize Theron to an Oscar in “Monster”).
Jenkins delivers Wonder Woman’s origin story and although it’s uneven and overlong it finds humor, humanity, and an appealingly old school sense of honor in its title character. The film also arrives like a breath of fresh air in Snyder’s stuffy and suffocatingly dull superhero universe.
“Wonder Woman” is a bit slow out of the gate. It opens with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot reprising her role), present day, receiving a copy of the photograph we saw in “Batman V. Superman” showing her in World War I with an American solider that we will discover is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine of “Star Trek” doubling up on film franchises). The photo prompts a flashback to Diana’s youth among the Amazons on the hidden island of Themyscira, and her first encounter with Trevor who crash lands in her world. She believes that it’s her “sacred duty to defend the world” so she follows Trevor into battle to try and bring an end to the The Great War that was meant to end all wars.
Diana’s back-story among the Amazons, and flashbacks within flashbacks about the end of the Greek Gods and Trevor’s history as a spy, prevent the film from getting off to a fast start. None of the flashbacks are particularly enlightening in terms of her story or Trevor’s and could have easily been cut to bring the 141-minute running time to sometime a bit more efficient.
But once Diana leaves Themyscira and enters Trevor’s world, the film hits its stride and begins to develop its tone and style. These initial scenes of Diana navigating the male-dominated world of the early 1900s are where actress Gadot and director Jenkins shine. Gadot’s Diana conveys both the wonder of entering a brave new world that has such novelties as men and snow with a sense of bemused frustration at a patriarchal society that so foolishly limits the role of women. These scenes not only find humor in how matter-of-factly Diana shatters all male expectations of what roles women should confine themselves to but they also reveal Diana to have great compassion and integrity.
In these scenes, Gadot’s Diana reminds us of Christopher Reeves’ Clark Kent/Superman from 1978. Both display a very genuine charm and old school sense of decency and goodness. They both seem a bit ill prepared for how evil and cruel people can be. They are both innocents in a way but their brush with darkness doesn’t seem to taint them.
Although Jenkins makes a point of showing Diana’s independence and her willingness to move forward on her plans without seeking approval from any men, it does seem that in the end that she needs the love of a good man to show her the way. But don’t get me wrong; this is a definite step forward for female superheroes and women directors. I’m curious to see if “Captain Marvel” with Brie Larson in the lead and Anna Boden co-directing can advance both even further in 2019.
Jenkins directs the action with competence but it all seems colored by the style of action Snyder laid out in “300.” There’s a lot of green screen, CGI and slow motion effects, which are all fine but which feel tired. Yeah it’s cool to see Wonder Woman walk out onto the battlefield and deflect gunfire but I never felt like Wonder Woman or Jenkins ever invested the action with their own personal flair.
This also brings me to the issue of Gadot as Wonder Woman. I like her better as Diana but feel she comes up short as the Amazon warrior. She looks a bit too much like a Vogue model to win me over entirely in that regard. Plus, I am old enough to remember how a “Wonder Woman” was repeatedly attempted with Lucy Lawless (“Xena, the Warrior Princess”) suggested for the role. Lawless would have been the absolute perfect Wonder Woman and that, I will confess, tinges my perception of Gadot’s Amazon princess. And if Hollywood thought Lawless too old to play the character they could have at least made her the older Amazon warrior played by Robin Wright.
“Wonder Woman” (rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content) is DC’s most entertaining and charming superhero film possibly since its 1978 “Superman.” It’s far from perfect but it brings DC out of the Snyder dark ages and into the light. Snyder (who has sadly suffered a family tragedy) has pulled out of “Justice League” and is leaving it in the hands of Joss Whedon, who departed the Marvel Universe to direct a “Batgirl” film for DC. Whedon, who created the “Buffy” TV series is known for showcasing strong female characters, so maybe comic book movies are heading toward a new gender equality. Well, I can hope.
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