Wonder Woman’s identity has morphed many times throughout her 75 years of existence. And why not? Females are dynamic personalities. She’s been a sword-wielding warrior, champion of truth, and a symbol of peace, self-sufficiency and strength. There are so many different iterations of the iconic superhero, it’s hard to say what’s canon and what’s not. What’s remained constant is her compassion, fortitude and soft spot for justice. The perfect amalgam of them all is director Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN. It’s the heroic, empowering antidote the drab DCEU – and the world at large – has achingly needed.
Diana (Gal Gadot), daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has lived her entire life on the tiny, female-inhabited paradise island of Themyscira. But she feels called to be part of something greater than herself, echoing MOANA in her yearning to figure out her identity. She trains to be the greatest warrior mankind (or womankind) will ever see– and one day, her call to adventure arrives. American military pilot Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, who’s supremely charming and has magnificent chemistry with Gadot) crash lands, with the horrors of war not far behind. Soon Diana is sailing off to vanquish the god of war, Ares, whom she believes is responsible for the conflict raging in the outside world. Her quest takes her across the battlefields of World War I, where she faces the villainous General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his formidable henchwoman Dr. Maru/ Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya).
WONDER WOMAN is empowering on a multitude of levels. I don’t exclusively mean “empowering” in the feminist sense, though the narrative does speak to achievable equality through its rousing, fiercely female battle cry. Empowerment is not a gender-specific term. In a time marked with a malevolent man-child in the White House, the rise of the alt-right, and misogyny flourishing online, it’s a genuine, inspirational rush to see a true leader (regardless of creed, color or gender) compassionately championing all that is right and good – and smashing destructive negativity to a pulp. Her drive to bring justice to the world bleeds through the screen, gifting us with heart-swelling, lump-in-throat-forming, tear duct-watering sequences – like when Diana defiantly climbs a tower wall, literally punching holes in the barrier before her, or when she finally reveals her full regalia and ferociously charges across no man’s land. Even within moments of imperfection and vulnerability do her pure and altruistic motivations shine.
Best of all, palpable, earned emotional moments power this picture. This marks a victory for layered, inspired filmmaking – specifically in terms of its genre. From the directorial side, it welcomes a capable, fresh voice to the DCEU. Jenkins’ aesthetic is bright, beautiful and uncompromising even whilst playing in the sandbox built by Zack Snyder. She handles the material skillfully. Battles, ranging from the gods’ backstory (ingeniously packaged as a bedtime fable), to the Amazonian versus German army clash on Themyscira’s beach (which is as thrilling as any D-Day scene from WWII movies), showcase an awe-inducing elegance these films have been missing. Despite parts of the third act showdown evoking the typical DCEU gritty palette, and a color-bereft slaying sequence that feels too much like a Comic-Con reel, Jenkins takes situations a step beyond in an assertive, compelling manner. The montage of Diana trying on period-appropriate clothing not only fulfills narrative purpose, but doubles as a subversively sly commentary on the trope sadly still so prevalent in female-driven cinema.
Courtesy of screenwriter Allan Heinberg (who wrote the comic in 2006 and 2007, and who shares story credit with Snyder and Jason Fuchs), the film balances canon with creative new elements. It shows there’s always room for innovation – something tangibly lacking from MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD. He and Jenkins deal with the brand/ studio-mandated requirements in imaginative ways. They build strong supports around expected “pat” moments that would have stalled in lesser hands. Changing the time period from the comics’ WWII to the tail end of the first World War also provides fertile ground from a storytelling perspective. There are added elements of the suffragette movement and the bleak hopelessness of a war-ravaged world to traverse. Psychological and physical stakes are resonant. Unlike in the MCU, death means something! Though the run time is a tad too long, and the latter half is slightly disjointed, the creators manage to build a world worth escaping into. Humor is injected where it makes sense, whether that be through Diana’s “born yesterday”-style misunderstandings of the human world, or Pine’s astute comedic timing when talking about his watch or being disguised deep undercover. Plus, the filmmakers manage to make the brief wrap-around story not annoying – a true feat!
Sonically speaking, it’s a blessing to hear the character’s allure transcending Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s theme filled with aggressive metal guitar riffs and heavy drum beats – most resembling Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song.” It’s used, but not as a crutch. In the standalone feature, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is softer, finding a stronger, soaring profundity and tangible immersive quality in its elegant, feminine nature.
Simply put, this superhero epic makes you want to get out there and change the landscape of what’s in your purview. This will stand as powerful example not just to young girls in the audience looking to see themselves reflected back, but also to young boys who should see that women kicking ass can be just as powerful. Representation matters – and the film’s creators are here to lead the charge.
WONDER WOMAN opens on June 2.