Did you ever read that story about Robert The Bruce (that Scottish dude who betrayed Mel Gibson in Braveheart)? After some crushing defeat during the rebellion he ended up hiding in a cave where he began to think about jacking it all in. But then he started watching this spider who kept trying to crawl up the wall. It kept falling down. For hours it kept trying and failing until finally it got all the way to the top. This never-say-die attitude gave Rob the inspiration to continue fighting. I think this is why DC keeps making films. After the critically dire Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman, and Suicide Squad, most people would have been saying enough was enough. But they didn’t give up. And it turns out it’s fourth time lucky for our old DC friends.
And all it took was the help of a good woman.
I don’t remember watching the TV series as a kid. Despite knowing Batman back-to-front, and holding a passive interest in Superman, I had zero idea about Wonder Woman’s origin story, her powers or anything. I’ve only ever seen her as part of an ensemble, be in the animated Justice League stuff, or as part of a comic-book mashup (usually her and Superman pissing off Batman), or in Batman vs. Superman. And maybe that is one reason why this is such a significant film for women. But we’ll get into later. For the time being, just know I had no idea what I was in for before seeing the movie.
Wonder Woman is actually Princess Diana of Themyscira – a secret island inhabited only by badass Amazonian women. Way-back-when (I mean like ages ago), Zeus and the gods of Olympus created the Amazons to protect the world of man. Some shithead god called Ares had corrupted humanity into the conniving greedy sods that we are today. He then went on a god murder spree before Zeus himself got involved and struck him down. Before retreating to parts unknown, Zeus left the Amazons the Godkiller, a sword that would slay Ares should he ever return.
Diana (Gal Gadot – Fast & Furious), daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen – Soldier), is a spunky little kid who loves nothing better than to run about the idyllic island and train with her kickass aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright – Beowulf). Initially, the queen is dead against this. But the general knows Diana has some great destiny, so she’ll have to learn how to fight sooner or later. Finally, after years of training in secret, the queen relents and commands her sister to train her ten times as hard any anyone else. After a nice little training montage (no-Rocky music), Diana is grown up and busting the heads of all the other Amazonians.
After a duel goes wrong Antiope is injured and Diana runs off upset. As she’s reflecting on her life, a little biplane flies through the illusionary shield protecting the island and crashes into the drink. Curious, Diana dives into the water and finds some guy(!) struggling in the wreckage. He passes out and Diana drags him to shore. As he awakens, we immediately recognize that it’s Chris Pine (Smokin’ Aces) in a German World War 1 uniform.
Being a fan of the old war film Blue Max, I immediately recognized the medal around his neck and thought “Oh wow, this is going to be interesting, it’s going to be from the German’s perspective”. But that’s all bollocks. Pine plays Captain Steve Trevor, an American spy who has stolen a book of secrets from the enigmatically named Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya – Van Helsing). Within it’s pages are instructions on how to build a deadly toxin that even gas masks can’t protect you from. And the Germans want to get it back. Soon a whole boatload of troops are rowing their way through the barrier towards Themyscira.
The Germans open fire at Diana and Steve, whom can do little to protect themselves. Quickly the Amazons arrive and start doing what they do best – shooting arrows and shit at people. But they’re not used to fighting against dudes with guns, and they’re cut to pieces. Diana, shocked at seeing friends and comrades cut down takes up the bow and blade and joins the fray with Steve providing fisticuffs backup. On horseback, both the Queen and the General ride into battle and start tearing shit up. They all work as a giant team and easily polish off the remaining Germans. However, one sneaky bugger takes a pot shot at Diana, which Antiope intercepts. Steve quickly kills the German while the general dies in Diana’s arms.
The American spy is detained, and only spared death thanks to Diana’s intervention. He’s forced to reveal, under the power of the Lasso of Truth (a golden lasso that literally makes you tell the truth – cool story bro – the inventor of Wonder Woman was actually the inventor of the lie detector test too!), all his secrets. Diana is shocked to hear that the world is at war. Surely the Great War, the War To End All Wars, is the work of Ares, and it’s their duty to help Steve get back to the allies and to end things. The Queen disagrees and thinks they should remain hidden until Ares reveals himself. She forbids Diana to go.
Of course she ignores this, steals the Godkiller, some badass armor and a shield, and heads off with Steve on a boat back to the real world. Effectively, it’s a similar premise to the Arnie led Hercules in New York. And like Hercules, Diana is a total fish out of water. In this case, instead of a hulking Schwarzenegger who is so swollen he can’t actually wear any clothes, it’s a woman who doesn’t understand why she can’t walk around in her revealing costume, or why that dress doesn’t allow her to throw high kicks.
There’s a great scene where she enters a cabinet meeting with Steve. It’s all powerful men discussing the war, and they’re visibly shocked that an actual woman has entered the room, let alone the fact she’s talking. Later, she deciphers Doc Poison’s notebook, and calls the big General Dude a coward for refusing to allow Steve to go and put a stop to the plot. He doesn’t care if a few hundred people will die, as long as the peace treaty is signed. She doesn’t recognize the social differences between man and woman of that period (or even now) and it kind of made me (as a man) feel a bit stupid that that kind of shit ever happened.
Of course Steve ignores his orders and goes to do what’s right. He’s an idealist like Diana, and besides, he promised her to get her to the front lines so she can end the war. With a group of old buddies including a native Indian tracker, a Scottish sniper, and a French/Morrocon actor-turned-spy, they intend to smuggle their way into Belgium where Poison is creating her ultimate weapon. With the financial help of Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis – Harry Potter films), they have a plan – get in, steal/destroy the plans, and get out hopefully without disrupting the peace talks.
Diana has other ideas though.
She’s genuinely positive that it’s as simple as killing this bastard general Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston – 30 Days of Night) who she is sure is Ares in disguise. Steve knows it isn’t going to be as cut and dry as that, as do we, and this is a core concept of the film – the slow destruction of Diana’s innocence in the face of war.
Diana is a warrior princess, someone who believes in honor, in looking your foe in the eye. But she is naive. She doesn’t know the reality of trench warfare, of indiscriminate killing, the brutality of millions of people dead and dying. The film builds her up as a genuine badass, but one whose power is ultimately futile when it comes to combating larger issues such as modern warfare. She can’t win this thing with her sword or her fists, no matter how hard she tries. The sad thing is, we (adults) see this coming. We already know, like Steve does, that this isn’t all Ares doing, and that one man isn’t to blame. All men are to blame.
But this never breaks or beats her. Later, when she arrives at the actual front line, where No Mans Land begins, Steve and his boys can’t do anything. It’s not as simple as walking over the shelled out wasteland between their lines. They have to go around. It’s a great scene where Diana has to decide on being broken down a little and doing the sensible thing, or doing what she has come here to do – to fight. And she fights. She can’t not. No Man’s Land holds no court over a Wonder Woman, and it’s a great action sequence.
The great movie critic Vern explains in his review that one of the success of this film is Diana’s lack of cynicism. And he’s right. She isn’t weighed down by a recent slew of movies. She isn’t being deconstructed like Batman and Superman have been. She isn’t plagued by doubt or guilt. This was what the Golden Age of comics was all about and this film shares that sense of wonder that we haven’t seen since Richard Donner’s Superman. Sure it’s set in a terrible war, but Diana’s resilience and sense of self is wholly refreshing. We know she’s going to learn a hard lesson right from the beginning. It’s a lesson we all have to learn, that life isn’t black and white, and we give a shit about her because of this. We want to know if it’s going to defeat her.
In a narrative sense, if we expand our horizons beyond DC, this film is probably closer to Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s a superhero origin story set in an old war. I’ve argued before that Cap’n hasn’t really evolved from being that good guy who grew some muscles. He knew what he was getting himself into and he ultimately does what he is told. Diana, on the other hand, does what she thinks is right from the get-go. No man (or woman) tells her what to do or what to think. We go on a journey with her. It’s a simple mission, compared to the morass of crap in The First Avenger (there is no silly dance montages) which also ends with the threat of a huge evil deathplane.
The First Avenger tries to root everything in science, despite a lot of elements being a bit mystical and hazy. Here, none of that is questioned. Her glowing rope, the fact she can lift tanks, jump really far, that her father, Zeus, sculpted her from clay. Nor is her final solution – that love conquers all. Fucking Batman would scoff at that shit, and while it does sounds a bit hokey, we’re with Diana on this one. We all know how stupid war is. Yet, especially in times such as these where terrorist attacks occur every month, it’s easy to be weak and fight fire with fire, to endlessly bog ourselves down in battlelines and us-and-them mentalities. We fall victim to this because we are silly humans. However, despite seeing the depths of our weakness, Wonder Woman does not falter and she does not blame us.
She is a defender, not an avenger. She’s there to kill Ares to stop war. She doesn’t concern herself with making herself redundant after the fact. Nor is she worried that “to understand war, she has to become war”. She isn’t Rambo, and feels no guilt for what she has to do. She does what she has to do and is totally cool with that.
As a man it’s hard to gauge the significance of this being such an empowering film for women. It’s a female led super hero(ine) film, directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins – Monster). And while it’s heresy to think women can’t direct decent action films (Katheryn Bigelow – Point Break – has directed Oscar winning action for decades), it would be bullshit to say it’s an even playing field. Maybe it’s because action films have always been marketed towards men. Badasses, Bastards, Big Tits and Explosions. Have women not wanted to get involved in action so much because they’re not interested? Are they not interested because there as so few decent female leads in the genre?
Personally, I think one of the best elements of the character is that she transcends common notions of gender roles and sexuality. Wonder Woman, if she was a real person, wouldn’t give a shit about whether this is a pro-woman or anti-male propaganda movie. She sees herself as no less or no more than anyone. She doesn’t get uptight when she’s snuggling up to Steve on the boat trip. She’s not embarrassed seeing him naked in that weird glowing pool (don’t ask). Perhaps because it was directed by Jenkins, there is a real lack of sexualisation of the character. Certainly she looks good, but the camera never lingers on her in that Michael Bay-filming-Megan-Fox sort of way.
I had to think real hard of any film that was lead by a female badass that didn’t capitalise on her appearance. Trust me, that shit is rare. All I could come up with was Linda Hamilton in T2, Sigourney in Aliens, Furiosa in Fury Road, and a few others. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman can now certainly enter that hall of fame too. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was one of these low brows who was concerned with Gadot’s casting originally. Not that I didn’t like her in Fast. Far from it, I just thought she lacked the physicality the role would demand (though, Gadot is an ex-
military badass in real life).
Foolishly, I reasoned that someone with the build or skills of a Gina Carano or a wigged-up Zoe Bell would be better suited. But as I wrote in my review, Gadot stole the show in BvS, and she cements herself as perfect for the role in her titular movie. Her accent is beautifully exotic and her expressions just spot on. Whether she is smiling brightly, being pleasantly surprised by the flavour of ice cream, heart-broken at the site of the carnage or flying-kneeing some dude through a window, she always looks the part. She looks like she can wield a sword, throw those punches and lasso that rope. Plus, she’s like 5’10. With her Wonder Woman heels on (I believe the technical term is “wedges”), she’ll be standing over 6 foot. So she ain’t some dainty little princess. She could fuck you up.
Despite me still thinking his head is too large for his body, Chris Pine is really good in this too. He seems to have gotten bored playing Kirk in the last few Star Treks, and this film, while hardly a million miles away in terms of character, stretches his wings a bit. One element of the casting I didn’t like was Thewlis as (SPOILER) Ares. I could buy him as some rich parliamentry type. But not as the badass God of War. It would have been better if he’d transformed into Stone Cold Steve Austin or someone for the final fight.
Everyone has made a big deal out of this being a pro-feminism film. I think it’s more a pro-human film. Wonder Woman is here to protect us, no matter who you are. There is no better message a superhero film can give. Get it watched.