Let’s forget about the “superhero” universe for a minute. Let’s not worry about continuity and connectivity and just look at this film as a film, as if it exists all by itself. Okay?
Now, that’s easy for me, since I haven’t really been following the “DC Universe” films. I saw (in fact I own) the second Nolen Batman film, The Dark Knight. But that’s about it. I really wasn’t interested in When Batman Met Superman or whatever it was called.
I wasn’t all that familiar with the source material, either–I know the basics of the character concept and I vaguely remember the old TV show. Okay, I remember Lynda Carter in the amazon outfit. But I can’t recall ever reading the comic book.
So when I went in to see Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman I was able to look at it from a fresh perspective. And what I saw was historical magical realism expounding upon a mythic theme.
Here I’ll put in my usual spoiler caution. I do try to avoid spoilers in my reviews and media discussions, however I will be talking about overarching themes and hence what I say may give away parts of the story. For this I apologize. Since I strongly recommend this film, I would urge my readers to go see it first, then read my analysis.
Comparisons have been made to the first Captain America film, and I think some of those are just the nature of the two films–all war movies are going to have certain scenes in common. There are moments that feel like a deliberate echo, though, but I think those echoes serve to show the contrast between the characters.
Captain Steve Rogers is Jack the Giant Killer. He’s everyman–“just a kid from Brooklyn” is how he puts it. He’s inspiring because he’s an ordinary man elevated to extraordinary heights without losing his essential humanity. He is “who we are”.
Diana is exactly the opposite. She is a goddess who has left Paradise to inspire mankind. She is “what we’re fighting for.”
Which is not to say that Diana is not herself a warrior–she is, and the combat sequences featuring Gal Gadot are some of the best that I have seen in any action film. A bit heavy on the “bullet-time” upon occasion, but I see that more as a symptom of the current state of the art than a reflection on Jenkins’ filmmaking. It’s like split screen in the 1970s–everybody does it.
But despite the title, Diana is not a woman. Not a human female. She is a goddess, in the classical Greek sense of a personification of virtue, like a muse or the classical image of Lady Justice. She represents an ideal, the best that the human race can be, just, courageous, merciful, and strong. Gadot pulls off that character marvelously, combining innocence and wisdom. When she charges into battle you want to follow her, because she represents what we are meant to be, and what we are meant to do. The violence in Wonder Woman is purposeful violence, the strong rising up to defend the weak.
We see this inspiration in the character of Steve Trevor, played to perfection by Chris Pine. He’s the everyman in this film, and his growing comprehension that he is in the presence of divinity makes us believe in Diana. The small but delightful supporting cast of misfits that aids Diana and Trevor in their mission echoes Captain America’s “Howling Commandos”, but with a significant difference. Diana’s followers are men who have lost their inspiration, men in whom the spark of virtue is all but extinguished until she fans it into life again.
All in all, a magnificent film–an inspiring film. I left the theater feeling good about humanity.