Director Patty Jenkins can make a strong case that she had one of the most pressure-packed Hollywood tasks in recent memory — making Wonder Woman a blockbuster for Warner Bros. She needed to please fans of a character with over 70 years of history while overcoming doubts about the direction of the DC Extended Universe and Gal Gadot’s acting.
Wonder Woman, much like Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011, was the kind of job where studio executives pull one off to the side and say, “Good luck, but don’t you dare screw this up.” Ms. Jenkins, like her creative peer, responded by churning out an upbeat film of solid craftsmanship across the board. Gadot’s Princess Diana just so happened to make her debut during World War I instead of World War II (both ideal backdrops for films pitting good against evil).
As is the case with most quality superhero origins, Wonder Woman takes its time establishing the character’s backstory before fists start flying and guns go blazing. This fish-out-of-water tale required the women of Themyscira to meet military men like Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and Ms. Jenkins wisely dictated slower pacing. The DC Universe is one where Greek mythology meets Judeo-Christian beliefs, but writer Allan Heinberg (story byJason Fuchs and Zack Snyder) made it work.
The plot is simple: The first World War literally breaks through a protective bubble put in place by Zeus to hide the Amazons from the god of war, Ares. Diana saves Captain Trevor when his plane crashes into the ocean, which serves as the impetus for her to leave utopia and save mankind. She believes that locating and defeating Ares on the field of battle will end all war. Steve humorously goes along for the ride as a means of getting home, although a romance between the two heroes eventually grows.
Perhaps what is most impressive about Wonder Woman — besides a memorable “No Man’s Land” scene and the iconic “lasso of truth” — is the way Diana’s improved understanding of love and free will allow her to fully realize her potential. The god of war eventually comes across as a Satan stand-in, and Wonder Woman adopts, for all intents and purposes, a Catholic definition of love (i.e., willing the good of the other as other).
Ares says at one point: “I am the god of truth. Mankind stole this world from us. He ruined it day by day, and I am the only one wise enough to see it. … All these years I have struggled below, whispering into their ears. Ideas. Inspirations. […] Weapons. But I don’t make them use them. They start these wars on their own. All I do is orchestrate an armistice that I know they cannot keep in the hope that they will destroy themselves.”
The villain essentially makes a case straight out of writer and World War I veteran C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Then, once Diana realizes that humans cannot truly love one another without free will, doubts about her duty towards mankind fade away and she rises to the occasion.
Wonder Woman is by no means perfect, but its $100 million opening weekend in North America was deserved. The movie is a welcome addition to the superhero genre that will be loved by girls, boys, and their parents for years to come.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
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