Wonder Woman is the tentpole super-hero movie I hadn’t really realised I’d be waiting for, but it turns out I had been.
Not only do we have finally have a film with a female lead, and a good one at that, but we have a film that has a sensible, self-contained storyline rather than relying on you understanding a chunk of different roles and character interactions and, fundamentally, this is a film about the triumph of hope over despair, of love and compassion over hate and anger, of peace over war. Those are powerful messages at any time but they certainly hit home here in the wake of the reaction to the Manchester bombing, although the film chooses to have Wonder Woman live in Paris where it works just as well after Charlie Hebdo and the 13th November attacks.
I don’t normally talk about the appearance of actors, but I want to briefly talk about Gal Gadot. Like a lot of female movie stars, she’s attractive - whether you call her pretty, beautiful, sexy or whatever will depend on your personal taste. But, unlike a lot of them, when you watch her with her sword and shield, or the lasso, or with a gun she looks comfortable and believable. The fact she spent two years in the Israeli Defence Force as a Combat Instructor probably helps with that and helps her look at home in a lot of the action scenes. I understand the situation between Palestine and Israel is very fraught and I do sympathise with their decision to ban the film because it stars a former Israeli soldier, although given the story themes, as I’ve touched on above, I can’t help feeling it’s a shame.
Storywise, and without spoilers beyond the trailer, we spend a chunk of time on Themyscira, seeing Diana growing up. I’m not sure where it was filmed, I would guess Greece or Italy, but it looked wonderfully idyllic and utopian and provided a lot of Amazons with consistent accents. More importantly I think it also gave us a good origin story. There are chunks of what we see Wonder Woman do later on that make sense because of the time we spend on Themyscira and we see the culture in which she was raised and can understand, to some extent, her world view. That’s not to say it’s all dry world-building, we get the several action scenes here as Diana is older too.
The story changes gear as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the island, prompting Diana to leave and try to end “The War to End All Wars” which is nicely worked into their storyline. There’s a good balance between introducing Diana to the outside world, and some funny scenes as well as some darker ones, then taking her to the delights of the trenches of World War One, where the action picks up, but there are still burst of joy and hope mixed in to distinguish it from just about any other superhero film I can remember. Ant-Man came close with the humour, but nothing did the unadulterated hope.
Wonder Woman is front and centre, and, much like Mad Max: Fury Road Steve Trevor is her sidekick (this time he’s meant to be though). It’s not quite complete gender role reversal: Trevor is made much more his own hero than far too many female sidekicks are, even today. Think of Pepper Potts in any Iron Man movie, or Sif or Jane Foster in the Thor movies. They tend to lack agency and any form or heroic arc, even if they’re shown as competent. Trevor is shown as competent but heroic in his own right, more like a Black Widow or Scarlet Witch rather than a sidekick. However, he really does play second fiddle throughout, so that is a minor gripe.
A quick note for purists of Greek mythology - please try not to cringe too much. There is a big chunk of Greek mythology mixed in, as you might expect with any story that involves the Amazons. But there’s more than that here, although the details are firmly in spoilers territory. However, it bears no resemblance to any form of Greek myth I remember, it’s much more like Christian myth to be honest. But, within the confines of the film I noted it and shrugged and accepted it as their universe, their rules, because although it’s not a myth that’s recorded it’s not one that felt like a big stretch to me in most parts. But your take may be different, particularly in the most overtly Christianised elements.
I didn’t know, going in, Zack Snyder was involved in this film - he and his wife are the producers - but, watching it, I was in no doubt. I was reminded, favourably, of both 300 and Sucker Punch in various shots. However, Patty Jenkins, who has an incredibly short cv, has done a great job here. I’m sure the MRA will stay away in droves but I think this really is a good movie in its own right as well as finally being a superhero movie I thoroughly enjoyed.
Bechdel Test: Let me think, for about 40 minutes there are dozens of named female characters with no men who all talk to each other… guess. Actually they do talk about male characters a bit but yes, it easily passes the Bechdel test.
Russo Test: This is trickier. However, it implies rather strongly that all the Amazons are either asexual, bisexual or lesbian. They have a 12 volume treatise on sex that concludes men are necessary for reproduction, but not for pleasure. On that basis, I’m going to go ahead and say yes, because those characters pass the other parts of the test, even though it’s not necessarily clear at the time you see them that they’re LGBT.
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