19 Jul Wonder Woman
“The King is dead. Long live the Queen.”
Finally. After five years and 3 lousy blockbusters, DC and Warner Bros has made a good superhero film. The DC Movieverse to this point has been dour, self-important, grandiose, and soulless. Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, and Suicide Squad all seemed, at best, to not understand the comic book characters they are based on. At worst, they seemed to generally dislike everything about comic book heroes and villains and why people love them. Superman becomes a gloomy and troubled character with anger issues that exercised virtually zero personal agency and barely cracked a smile. Batman was filled with cold rage and continued to brood, but was seemingly fine with killing people. Even Superman, the character that is supposed to inspire and embody all that is good and just and do the impossible, is seemingly nonplussed by the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders in Metropolis. The “heroes” of these movies did not care because the filmmakers did not care. The characters, the stories, even the innocent civilians in the stories, were all sacrificed in service to mindless, ridiculous destruction and the DC Movieverse. As much as I love Batman and Superman and DC comics generally, I could not get on board or support this vision. Thankfully, Wonder Woman has arrived to save us as filmgoers, literally, from the failures of the DC boy’s club. Everything that Man of Steel, BvS, Suicide Squad do wrong, Wonder Woman gets right.
Wonder Woman succeeds, fundamentally, because the filmmakers understand the character. Diana (Gal Gadot) is an Amazon, part of the mythic race of warrior women given the task to defend the world. She has spent the majority of her life on Themyscira, hidden from the world. Her knowledge of the outside world, the world of Man, is through stories. She believes that Man is generally good, but has been corrupted by the God of War, Ares. Ares is the cause for strife and war between men. She presumably knows every language spoken or written by men, but that is the extent of her knowledge of the outside world. Because of this, we get to see the early 20th century, and our world generally, through her eyes as she is experiencing it for the first time. She has purity, joy, and goodness within her and reacts to “modern” society and mankind this way. In London, Diana literally walks out of her way to coo at a baby because she has never seen a baby before. She later struggles to exit out of a revolving door and, like a child, is determined to time it perfectly and do it without help. In short, the filmmakers treat Diana as a living, breathing, human being.
Wonder Woman is an actual hero in her superhero movie. Unlike Batman and Superman, who could hardly be bothered to be heroic in their previous outings, Wonder Woman takes her mission and her ability to do extraordinary things seriously. In arguably one of the best and iconic scenes of the movie, Diana and her companions arrive at the trenches of the Western Front of France. As Steve and the others discuss when will be the best time to cross No Man’s Land, Diana hears a young civilian mother begging and pleading for someone to help her village which has been occupied and enslaved by the German Army. Steve tells Diana that it is not their mission to help them and there is nothing they can do. Diana puts on her tiara, throws off her cloak, and climbs the trench ladder to cross No Man’s Land. Why? Because she can. Because she wants to save those people. Because she cannot sit by while innocents suffer. Because that is what heroes do. The visual symbolism and storytelling are superb. Diana literally reveals herself as the Wonder Woman that can cross the decimated landscape created by Man, which no other man around her will willingly cross, and lead the way in saving innocents from the horrors of war. Superman could not be bothered to move the fight away from innocents in Man of Steel. Wonder Woman does everything in her power to save innocent people.
Wonder Woman is also an anti-war film hidden inside a superhero blockbuster. One of the strengths of Diana as a character is that she believes war is a corrupting outside influence on Man. She sees how terrible war is and how it destroys everything it touches. Men, women, children, animals, and even the environment itself are all affected and damaged by war in some fashion. Diana learns that Man is not corrupted by Ares, but perhaps possesses both goodness and darkness in turn within. War does reveal a person’s quality. To Ares, war shows that Man is only worthy of destruction. After all, all they do is come up with more ways to kill and destroy each other. The answer to Ares’ charge is Steve Trevor’s sacrifice. Steve heroically sacrifices himself by blowing up a bomber carrying hundreds of toxic gas canisters the Germans were going to drop on London. Steve could have sat by and allowed thousands more to be killed by the gas. But, Steve is a good man, and a good man cannot sit by when he has the opportunity to do something to save others, even at the cost of himself. Why is war terrible? Because it destroys everything it touches, and good men do not all get to come home.
I could go on and on about Wonder Woman and why it is such a joy and pleasure to watch. It is arguably the best DC comic book film since The Dark Knight and ranks with the best of the Marvel franchise films. Out of respect to the character and her standing in the comic pantheon, I have tried to refrain from turning Wonder Woman’s cinema moment into a re-hashing of why Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman are bad and how terrible their treatment of Superman has been. She carries this movie. It is her own. Gal Gadot is absolutely fantastic and a joy to watch as Diana. Chris Pine, who I am unashamedly a major fan of, is perfect in his supporting role as Steve Trevor. There is not a sour note or wasted moment of screen-time in the entire film. Wonder Woman got the treatment that she deserved and then some. She got to learn and grow as a character. She got to have fun and experience joy. She got to be a person. She got to be a woman. She got to be a hero.