Wonder Woman

Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” doesn’t reinvent the superhero genre, but it demonstrates what a bit of diversity in front of the camera can do for it.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman PosterIt’s amazing the fun you can have with a superhero movie when the heroine isn’t grossly oversexualized, when the director isn’t obsessed with exposition and fan service, or when the humor isn’t all snarky, Joss Whedon-esque dialogue.

Such is the woman’s touch that Patty Jenkins brings to “Wonder Woman.” Just to be clear, there have been other superhero and action movies that have featured women and been directed by women. Not many, obviously. But “Wonder Woman” in particular has been saddled with the burden of saving the world from the patriarchy this week.

That’s asking a lot of this popcorn movie. Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it demonstrates what a bit of diversity in front of and behind the camera can do for it.

In fact, the film opens with a reminder of the positive influence of having female role models around. Diana (Gal Gadot) grows up on a secluded, idyllic island home to the Amazons, an Ancient Grecian tribe of women warriors with the duty of defending the world from the next great war. It’s a full half hour sans any men at all, and it’s a perfectly worthy origin story. Diana’s sense of discovery and inspiration from her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and mentor Antiope (Robin Wright) are adorable and wholesome and remove the stench of the cloying cuteness of Baby Groot.

Jenkins then stages a clever reveal. We’re made to believe Diana was raised in Ancient Greece, but then an American pilot serving as a British spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands on the island’s shore revealing we’re actually in the early 20th Century. Jenkins has fun staging a blend of sword and sandals combat with wartime action. Once Diana finally lands in the trenches of World War I, “Wonder Woman” revels in fight sequences that ditch the CGI, slow down the action and specifically take the time to admire Diana’s badass form.

Midair the camera will swoop in for a slow motion money shot, and Jenkins dashes in some actual color into the proceedings so that even the bleaker moments are still beautiful. There’s a gorgeous sequence of Diana standing amid the dusk colored hues of a deadly poison gas cloud, and the passion we have for her goal just burns ever brighter.

It’s a shame then the end of the film suffers from the Zack Snyder effect, with Diana engaging in an invincible battle of the Gods complete with immense fire and brimstone. “Wonder Woman” sags in the middle as well when Diana has to endure the fish out of water comedy of visiting the real world for the first time.

Thankfully this is a star making turn for Gal Gadot, and she salvages any of the more dragging moments. She has deep, piercing eyes that gaze intensely on a battlefield or draw in Steve Trevor to her bed. It’s hilarious to see Pine go absolutely sheepish around her, describing himself as “above average” for his gender when she spies him in the nude. But Jenkins allows them a touching scene of genuine chemistry too, when snow begins to fall after they’ve liberated a German village. This isn’t groundbreaking drama, but it’s hard to pick on “Wonder Woman” for going for humor and romance when the previous DC Comics entries, including “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” have been so utterly devoid of them.

“Wonder Woman” also contains a line so simple yet so effective that it dwarfs all the a-political values of the Marvel films and the philosophical mumbo-jumbo of “Batman v. Superman.” Trevor says, “If you see something wrong in the world, you can either do nothing or you can do something. And I’ve already tried nothing.”

Hollywood at this point can continue to do nothing, making the same superhero movies full of dudes named Chris over and over again. Or they can do something, and they can look at “Wonder Woman” and see a film that doesn’t necessarily strike a blow for feminism, but proves that women too can deliver an enjoyable, safe, bankable movie.

3 stars

3 thoughts on “Wonder Woman”

  1. “but it demonstrates what a bit of diversity in front of the camera can do for it.” Everyone is saying this…you’re not alone. But great female representation to me is Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor. THAT’s the kind of female superhero I’d like to see on screen; they’re 100x more powerful and inspiring to me as a woman than the scantily clad Wonder Woman. I seem to be in the minority on that opinion though :\

  2. i can pick up on courtney’s objection even though (somewhat unwillingly) i do catch your point, brian * problem is, the whole thing’s so minutely calibrated, down to who’ll take offense if we make the heroine’s decolletage, say, just a quarter of an inch more plunging … as it is it’s more like a production code bustier from the 40s, something out of wagnerian opera from a “veddy, veddy PROPAH” NY met performance * also notice there’s never an OGLING full thigh shot of gadot–so all the bases are covered: instant deniability of prurient intent at every turn * not to say it isn’t prurient: kind of a push me/pull you, “we aren’t actually doing what we’re obviously doing” approach to female superherodom * though the fact is they DO–mostly–pull this logistic exercise off: watching these implied decisions as they’re hypothetically being made (from the audience’s point of view) may be the most complexifying aspect of the film: like which buttons do we push (or, alternatively, unbutton) now? * another example: yes, we have a woman director … yet arguably the whole thing’s cynical and pandering: so is patty jenkins COMPLICIT with this built-in cynicism, or does she actually “move beyond it”? * yet again, arguably, it’s simply something else to throw into the “topical” controversy machine, a bit like shooting fish in a barrel * you’d think we were watching an “art happening” by robert rauschenberg back in the 50s, where it’s not so much what that fraudster (ok, i’m biased) produces as an “artist” as how much talk he can generate * and mostly i HATE that kind of stuff–and yet, by gum if WONDER WOMAN’s isn’t co-opting me into playing that dubious game myself? * ergo: hopelessly caught in the commercial web even as i “manfully” struggle to avoid it * these people are like WEASELS, i tell you, albeit “intelligent” weasels … so do we “really” prefer intelligent weasels or not?

    on gal gadot: not to propose an academy nomination for this performer, but what she does–the constant not this/not that aspect of it–seems EXTREEEEEMELY accomplished, a master of the performance tightrope * that it’s little more than stylized cartoon–compare her continuously air-brushed self-presentation to chris pine’s down and (semi-) dirty method emoting: amazing these two can occupy the same frame without having the whole movie automatically self-destruct * then too there’s thewlis, he of the gnarlish lip and ironically teasing eyes, and robin wright, who’s waaaaaay to serious for the general camping up (except it’s not!: another aspect of the general “sincere while not sincere” conundrum)–thought she got a break when she was off’d in the first half, the only performance with any WEIGHT to it at that particular point … though later on things did actually get better * or maybe it was only me …

  3. sorry, me again …

    despite my numerous (?) cavils, i do basically agree with your three-star evaluation, brian * still, probably my favorite film at playing both pandering ends against a conventionally “permissible” sexual middle is catherine breillat’s SEX IS COMEDY (my own candidate for “funniest”–or at least most wickedly clever–comedy of the post-2000 era, despite there not being any actual, nonqualified “haha” laughs in it!); one “hilarious” (since that’s always the question) example: gregoire colin walking around with a gigantic latex penis camouflaging his (presumably) “real” one: he swishes it, wiggles it, treats it like a pet–yet how can anyone “censor” this taboo-type twitting when it’s so blatantly, deliberately, obviously FAUX?: “look you puritans, it’s no different from waving a humongous (albeit highly “naturalistic”) sex toy in the audience’s face, and there’s never any pretense of its being otherwise * so won’t y’all look SILLY coming down on a film for THAT!” * got us all over a barrel, that canny director has–i mean, the simulation’s positively uncanny … * and breillat keeps playing these kinds of games all through the movie * WONDER WOMAN’s own games aren’t quite as daring, though as i see it they’re just as conscious * so do we praise these films for thumbing their nose at conventional fantasy standards or condemn them for doing … well, exactly THAT! * what you DO have to wonder, though, is whether for breillat in “real” life (ditto anne parrilaud, her filmmaker alter-ego) any conventionally “romantic” sexual involvement is even possible (what i guess we’d call “lookism” in modern PC parlance) * undoubtedly breillat’s indulging some pretty brilliant gender ideas here; whether any of it can happen–without the species ultimately extinguishing itself, i mean–remains to be seen

    so: a bit far afield, though perhaps actually not–still i do wonder how commercial films will be able to take these gender notions forward * arguably more changes in store, more than we’d ever imagine … or perhaps even want to * but that’s just my old, regressively “naive” self talkin’!

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