Wonder Woman: “More than we deserve”

I finally saw Wonder Woman. Gathering my thoughts on this one might take a little while, so join me on a journey of discovery as we sort things out together. (Please don’t leave, that last sentence was a rhetorical device – I mean, I’m not a DC movie, after all.)

Cheap jokes aside, DC has finally crafted a solid film that keeps pace, maintains a consistent logic, gives characters fair amounts of screen time, and tends to favor the underdog in a way the previous DC films have been less than eager to. Wonder Woman contains good writing, great acting, and a diversity of cast that makes for a depth of world that has been missing in previous films.

So let’s start with the obvious – this is a female led production directed by Patty Jenkins, and acted by Gal Gidot. Both shine in their respective roles, taking risks by showing vulnerability and strength in just the right ratios to create realistic characters, while managing to lean into the inherent campiness of the superhero genre for the first time in a DC movie. (Suicide Squad doesn’t count, it lacked the joy that I think campiness should bring.) The first twenty minutes, at least, are entirely centered on women – of all ages and colors. The women are shown in multiple roles: from teachers, to warriors, to queens, to senators, to homemakers, and beyond. In such a short amount of time, Jenkins manages to truly show off the gamut of women’s roles – in a society run and inhabited by only women. (Can I just note, cynically, that it seems a little sad to need an island populated entirely by women in order to show off that diversity? I’m looking at you nearly every other major film.) Gal Gidot proves herself an immensely skilled actor being able to portray power and naivety in a way that holds both in tension but never drops either in favor of the other.

Which brings me to the writing. Diana’s (aka Wonder Woman) character faces the moral dilemma of choosing to see the good in humanity or to focus on the darkness in humanity’s heart. Diana’s eternal optimism and desire to save as many as possible is a rare treat in a DC film where destruction has been prioritized over the whole “superheroes are supposed to save people” idea. Diana is entirely focused on protecting the innocent lives caught up in the brutal realities of the WWI Western Front’s “meat grinder.” (You can thank Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast for that description.) Diana has several wonderful moments where she has the opportunity to speak out and call those in authority out on their selfishness, their privilege, and misuse of power. She is also the least sexualized superheroine currently in film. Her attractiveness may be part of the package, but it certainly has little to do with her character – she is first and foremost a woman on a mission.

As far as plot goes, my wife and I were both a little on the disappointed side that many of the major plot points seemed lifted directly from Captain America: The First Avenger. There were some truly unique moments though including Diana’s charge through no man’s land, Diana exploring her powers for the first time, and Diana’s relationship with her mother and aunt. There was an interesting twist involving several characters and actors as to who the real villain was – and I was pleasantly thrown off.

I had few real issues with this film. One, the shaky camera trend probably needs to go away for a few years and then come back as a piece of film vocabulary for when things really are chaotic in a character’s perspective. There was a couple of character details that seemed like they should have gone somewhere, but were left dangling. One, in particular, involved the Scottish character, Charlie, and his ability to perform on the battlefield which was mentioned once and then never showed up again.

One moment still has me scratching my head. In one scene near the end, a large explosion goes off near two main characters and the sound goes dead as if the characters’ have been temporarily deafened. We can’t hear what either character is saying very well, but a few minutes later the character recalls what was said in perfect clarity. So my question is, were we, as the audience, “deafened” by the explosion or were the characters? If the audience was, why bring up the conversation again? If the character was, how did they then recall it perfectly later? I do realize, that if this is my biggest complaint with the film, it did most everything else very well.

Ok, for the troublesome stuff. Cursing was kept to a minimum. I think I only heard a few at most – and seeing as the setting was World War I, it seemed rather mild. There are some nasty wounds shown and scenes of war where Diana finds herself faced with the horror of war and its effects on the soldiers and civilians, for example a shot that includes a soldier lying on the battlefield crying in pain and missing half of a leg. There are some scenes of drinking, in a pub, and after a victory, but again it feels more like setting the scene than glorifying the drinking. As far as sexual content, there are some awkward exchanges between Diana and Steve (the main love interest) but nothing is shown past a kiss. The bisexual nature of the Amazons is also more of subtext and allusion rather than stated out right. I can only think of two very short moments where it even arose. If you are not keen on violence, then maybe reconsider going to see a film set in WWI – otherwise the violence is pretty acrobatic and relatively bloodless.

The soundtrack is appropriate, but didn’t really stand out to me. The only track that sticks out is the current Wonder Woman theme that, as my wife pointed out, uses an electric cello to achieve its unique sound.

So I guess the real question is, would I take my daughter to see this movie? Well, technically, I did – she’s still in my wife’s tummy. Yes. When my daughter hits the preteen age, I think I would like her to see a movie that includes a strong, non-sexualized, vulnerable, opinionated, capable, intelligent woman as its lead character. DC finally pulled out a good film that has a character that I wouldn’t mind my daughter looking up to.

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