by Paul Zuckerman
I have not been overly impressed by the DC Universe of movies that Warner has been building to counter the Marvel onslaught of super hero movies that began with Iron Man and has taken over the world in the last decade or so. DC had no idea what to do with Superman -- getting him so very wrong -- and turned Batman into a killer. Shudder!
But, Wonder Woman is very different. What is often missing in super-hero movies is the journey or quest, what is so much a part of classical literature, and a movie about Greek gods and Amazons rightfully is about a journey -- one undertaken both by Princess Diana and also by Steve Trevor, the American pilot that Diana rescues when he is shot down over the Amazon's island. And it is not just a geographic journey (though it is that) nor a quest to obtain some mystical item, though mystical items abound. Rather, the movie is about the discovery and growth that both the principal characters achieve along their path and it is that aspect that makes the movie something more than many action movies.
Dr. William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941. Marston was a psychologist, and an inventor, who had helped develop the lie detector machine (an idea that is embodied in the magic lasso in his stories and the movies). His idea was to have a super-hero that conquered with love not violence but who could give as good as the hero got. His wife suggested that the character be a woman, and so was born Wonder Woman -- a heroine for young girls to embrace and to be seen as a role model. For the most part, the movie gets Diana right.
Briefly, Steve Trevor is rescued by Princess Diana, one of the Amazons, when he crash lands after being chased by Germans. It is near the end of the Great War (World War I), one that had engulfed more nations than any before with a death toll higher than ever before. Armistice talks are on, but the Germans have a deadly weapon that could turn the tide of the war.
Diana has never seen a man before. And she feels that it is her duty as an Amazon to do what she can to end the war, which she believes was started by Aries, the God of War. So, against her motherís wishes, she journeys with Steve to London and then to the front lines, into the trenches, where the war has dragged on for too many years.
Many action movies don't show the consequences of the violence going around the characters. Setting the movie in World War I in the trenches makes the brutality and violence of the war very real. Hence, Diana's mission to end the war that ends all wars -- well, we know how that turned out!
But the movie is not dark and grim, unlike most of the other DC movies. It is leavened with a good dose of humor and heart.
Chris Pine assumes a role that many actors would not -- playing the second lead to the main hero. But, he brings sincerity, humor (again!) and strength to the role, making Steve Trevor worthy of Diana's feelings for him.
As for Wonder Woman herself - Gal Gadot is truly amazing. She has that undefinable quality that grabs the viewer and doesn't let go. She has humor (again!), sincerity, strength, passion -- you never doubt she is capable of doing extraordinary things. She is self-possessed and confident as Wonder Woman and as Diana Prince. And she is utterly beautiful. I kept being struck by a resemblance to Lynda Carter in many scenes but Gadot is a stronger actress.
Yes, I do have some bones to pick with the movie. Wonder Woman is a bit more violent than her comic book counterpart. And yet, eventually Diana begins to treat her enemies with compassion as well. And some aspects of the story have been changed but that is often necessary when transposing a comic book character into the movies.
Some have been troubled by the shift in time from World War II to World War I and downplaying the American element that was so inherent in the original stories. Her costume, which was almost an American flag, as first drawn by artist H.G. Peter, has been darkened; the colors, the stars muted. I donít see that as an issue -- it makes the character more universal.
As for the shift to 1918 from 1941, that was a good move. First, the movie might have been seen as too similar to Captain America, the First Avenger. But, more importantly, the extreme horrors of mass genocide in World War II were not an aspect of the first World War. While the Germans were painted as Huns and brutal barbarians by the press during the first war, both sides did awful things in World War I; and neither can as easily wear the mantle of righteousness, as the movie alludes to.
So -- while I haven't been impressed by the DC/JLA universe until now, Wonder Woman is a far cry different! Definitely recommended!