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Wonder Woman (2017)

Director: Patty Jenkins

Screenplay: Allan Heinberg

Story: Zach Snyder, Allan Heingerg, Jason Fuchs

Wonder Woman created by: William Moulton Marston

Starring (Good guys and girl):

Gal Godot: Wonder Woman/Diana Prince

Chris Pine: Steve Trevor

Connie Nielsen: Hippolyta

Robin Wright: Antiope

Ewen Bremner: Charlie

Eugene Brave Rock: The Chief

Said Taghmaoui: Sameer

Bad Guys (and girl):

Danny Huston: General Ludendorff

David Thewlis: Sir Patrick/Ares

Elena Anaya: Dr. Maru

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   John: 3:16

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

It’s about what you believe, and I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.     Diana Prince

Finally. DC has finally caught up with Marvel. Please be aware, gentle readers, that I enjoyed Green Lantern (2011), Man Of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016). To be sure, those movies had their flaws, mostly too much brooding, backstory, and too little of the self-deprecating, wry humor that makes the Marvel superhero movies such fun. There remain substantial differences in concept, execution and characterization, but Wonder Woman is closer to the Marvel formula than anything DC has done to date, and is unquestionably better for it. Wonder Woman reminds us why we love superhero comics, and why, exploding as they did during the Age of Obama, we love the movie versions even more. Even for those that never read the original comic versions, there is much to appreciate.

The story should be familiar. Diana is the daughter of the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. She doesn’t realize it until she must face the ultimate evil–Ares, the god of war–but she too is a god, touched by Zeus to defeat Ares, and thus, to defeat war. This idea leaves a rather ambiguous plot thread, but more about that later.

When the world intrudes on the idyllic life of Paradise Island, Diana follows her heart into WWI, the war to end all wars, and appears to end it, but there is sufficient doubt left to power multiple sequels, and after all, we know WWI didn’t end all wars, even in the DC universe.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role of Diana Prince. Gal Godot is a talented actress, and is utterly convincing. A substantial part of this is her physical presence. She is a veteran of the Israeli Army, and her carriage and demeanor in battle scenes reflects that combat training and the attitudes that come from it. All too many actresses trying to pull off various martial skills look like what they are: actresses with a little movie fight training looking very much out of place. Godot, with the help of computer graphics, is a warrior. In the showing I attended, whenever Wonder Woman really gave it to the bad guys, the audience cheered, and even when silent, made ”yeah!” gestures and grinned fiercely.

That’s the point. In a world where our leaders are weaklings, selling out our nation to evil, or are just self-absorbed fools, we need to see people that are truly good, that will sacrifice all to save others, that truly love mankind enough to fight for it. All too often, too many living in America won’t so much as lift a finger to defend America. That’s disheartening.

Wonder Woman is a coming of age story as well. Having lived on Paradise Island her entire life, immersed in martial training, having no contact with men or the outside world, Diana has much to learn. Is the world truly worth saving? Can she save it? And ultimately, what is the nature of man? Any movie pursuing that momentous question can easily dissolve into morose naval gazing, but Wonder Woman handles it well. We find the answer through Diana’s beautifully expressive eyes, and we leave the theater feeling better about ourselves, and most importantly, about our chances.

The sets, costumes, props, all the production values, are first rate, and the CGI sequences up to contemporary standards. The camera work is well done, though some of the fight sequences use the slightly shaky closeup techniques that can hide less than convincing sword and bow work. That said, the Amazon’s training sequences are well done and convincing. They look Amazonian: lithe, strong, fierce, and very feminine.

In any movie, music plays a significant role. If well done, it is not intrusive. It doesn’t cover the dialogue or distract from the action. It leads, gently, the audience to feel the emotions the director seeks in every scene. If there is a clear Wonder Woman theme, I was unable to pick it out, but the soundtrack did work very well. It never intrudes, and accents the many moments of honest emotion. Patty’s Jenkin’s direction combines the best qualities of men and women onscreen.

Character development focuses on Diana; every other character is static, though not baldly stereotypical. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is engaging, and his one love scene with Godot is tasteful and touching. He portrays the kind of man we’d like to think we could be–we should be–if the chips were down. What other kind of man could Wonder Woman possibly love?

Danny Huston’s General Ludendorf is appropriately evil, as is his henchwoman, Elena Anaya’s Dr. Maru. But it is David Thewlis’ Ares that brings Diana to the ultimate understanding of who she is. Unlike many, she learns, young–for an Amazon–why she was put on Earth: to love, and to fight for it. Diana appears to destroy Ares, but there is sufficient doubt to keep alive the idea that it is Ares–think Satan–toying with mankind as the author of doubt, hate and war. The alternative, as always, is that man needs war. He loves it. Without it, man doesn’t strive, doesn’t expand, doesn’t fully evolve. It’s man’s nature. Or is it?

That’s Diana’s quandary, though the movie ends with her clarity of purpose, which provides more than enough momentum for sequels of all kinds. Godot proved she has the screen presence to carry a movie. In her case, her beauty is icing on the cake, though very pleasing icing indeed.

Some have suggested that Diana, in one fight scene where she rises into the air in a brief pseudo-crucified pose, is a Christ-like figure. I doubt the director intended more than a glancing reference, if that. However, there is only one greatest story, in essence, the story, and literature works when it touches on those archetypal images. Whether we choose to be Christian believers, we can’t help but be captivated and moved by the message of love of the Gospels.

Diana Prince accepts her godhood, but never allows herself to experience hubris. The movie makes no claim to holiness for Diana Prince. She is a powerful and very good woman, yes, but whatever godly endowments she has are used in the name of love. Wonder Woman is a movie Christian parents can feel comfortable sending their children to see, and more comfortable discussing the many positive, and faith-related concepts the movie portrays.

But what about women? Is Wonder Woman a movie that speaks specifically to women? Can the feminist movement–which these days consists mostly of angry, hateful progressives–claim Diana Prince as one of their own?

Not a chance. Diana Prince is female, but the epitome of a good human being. She is not at all a pacifist. She is clear-eyed about the nature of evil, and understands if love is to prevail, evil must be destroyed wherever it appears. She accepts the help of good men, even though they’re flawed and not up to her abilities, and doesn’t worry about contemporary narratives that separate and denigrate. I suspect few men will have any difficulty accepting a female superhero like her. Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow has, in many ways, paved the way. Diana Prince is a good woman, and one any rational person would want on their side in a fight.

Diana is indeed, an appropriate role model for young girls, and of course, women. Strength, courage, martial skill, self-sacrifice and love are qualities everyone, male or female needs. So too do the need the understanding that evil exists, and it is our responsibility–not someone else–to deal with it if we, and mankind, are to survive.

Perhaps what makes Wonder Woman so attractive and compelling is her willingness to sacrifice. In her battle with Ares, she knows she could die, yet fights for something greater than herself: all mankind. She’s not the only one, and we leave the theater looking forward to seeing her again, and perhaps, more resolved to be a little less selfish, and a little more willing to think better of our fellow man. Perhaps we also want to be better men and women.

Not a bad accomplishment for a superhero movie. Wonder Woman is worth the price of admission, and absolutely worth the price of a DVD for the home collection.

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