Up to this point, I have seen Wonder Woman twice. The first time I was so overcome by emotions because of what it meant to my friends, family, and even strangers to have this kind of representation on screen. I felt the empowering effect it had on those the film meant to enfranchise. I may not be part of that demographic, but if I only felt the secondhand effects of it then that meant the force was powerful. As a writer, film critic and basic human being, I am ruled by a confluence of logic and emotions. Sometimes one overwhelms the other, skewing any form of objective reasoning. I'll be the first to admit that I wanted Wonder Woman to succeed, and that may have given me rose colored lenses while watching it. As a man of science, I had to make sure my feelings remained the same so I saw it again and was able to take a closer look at what I liked, what I loved, and what I found problematic.
There are so many wonderfully empowering scenes in the film, and each of them screams out, “I am not bound by the limitations of men!” I'm not only talking about physical limitations but the moral ones. One of the scenes that I could watch on repeat involves Diana reaching the battlefield and noticing there is a stalemate keeping her from getting to her destination. Steve tells her that she can't cross the field because it is No Man’s Land, which means no man can cross it. She decides to in an act of heroism (and time efficiency). This scene perfectly describes the film's entire approach. Yes, there is a little bit of campiness to the film, but the scenes that matter the most, like the one I just described, make it a point to remain serious and inspirational. That means not going for the low hanging fruit or giving into the cheesiness of having her respond to the scene by saying, “I am no man.” She says that with her actions and that is the true, unspoken power of Wonder Woman.
Writer/director Patty Jenkins shows great respect and reverence to the character of Wonder Woman, but at the same time, she reminds us that our hero is not infallible. Although Wonder Woman’s origins are more than extraordinary, Jenkins reminds us how much close to human she really is. Jenkins tells the story, not of the superheroine we know and love, but of her origins, and turns this film into more of a coming-of-age story. Yes, she is an adult for most of the film (probably even older than most civilizations considering she doesn't age), but that doesn't mean she has shed her childhood notions. Living on the island and sheltered by her mother, she has reached a point of arrested development that gets tested when she find the true complexity of the world. The film’s journey focuses on Diana’s true transition into womanhood, and I'm not just talking about her sexual awakening. She has held on to the notion that people are all inherently good, and the bad ones are influenced by the manipulation of Ares. Her black and white views evolve when she is forced to confront the true depth of humanity and forces her to discover the depth inside of her.
Jenkins presents to us a hero as flawed as we are, but whose unbridled optimism makes her a better person. Unlike the other, dark heroes in the current DC film universe, Diana never lets the shortcomings of humanity jade or skew her view of people. She is the ray of sunshine all of the DC films need to battle the bleak dread that has currently infected it. Patty Jenkins knows this, and she knows the best way to battle it is with a little help from the Marvel cinematic universe. The greatest addition to the DC cinematic universe, aside from Wonder Woman, is the addition of humor (and color). The fact that she channeled elements from a successful comic book film franchise is not only a great move but also a smart one. It doesn't lessen the final product in any way, but it is impossible not to notice the similarities in the execution (and even the story) of Wonder Woman and Captain America: The First Avenger. The effortless humor is created through the inevitable culture shock between our Amazonian and “polite society”. As an outsider, she easily points out some of the ridiculous traditions and social constructs we have in our society still, like the notion and relativity of time, and the role of women. It's these quick and clever commentaries that help our hero stand out from the crowd. That and carrying a sword and shield around everywhere.
One of the most powerful contrasts in the film (which could be applied to the cinematic universe as a whole) is the color palette. Wonder Woman doesn't become deathly desaturated until we are forced to go into the weary world of men. The island of Themyscira is paradise personified, with breath-taking landscapes and water so clear that it's basically a siren song that lures you in. The vibrant colors pop, but maintain their natural appeal, never making you question whether it's real or green screen (even though much of or is). Once we leave the island, we leave the purity and innocence that our main character starts the film with and is met with the grave reality that the rest of the film universe has established in its previous films. It shows us how different each place is, while at the same time using it as a justification for the visual aesthetic we have come to expect from Zack Snyder and his previous DC films.
Snyder’s influence can be seen in other ways still, especially in the use of slow-motion action shots. In Wonder Woman’s case, these gorgeous acrobatics highlighted both the beauty and brutality of the warrior race. The slow-motion was a double-edged sword because while it let you enjoy this moving work of art, it also called attention to the CGI scenes as the camera lingers on them longer than usual. The costumes and set designs were fantastic, but like the rest of the DCEU films, the heavy use of CGI people and locations is an eye sore. There is one side effect that the slow-mo never counted on, but it is a great revelation when getting to know our hero.
Jenkins develops our heroine into a complex character. Coming from a warrior race, Diana’s morality is deeply ingrained into her being. Unlike her male counterparts (Batman and Superman), her honor code allows her to kill, but that doesn’t mean she kills every chance she gets. Throughout most of the film, she believes that men are inherently good and only under Ares’ influence so she doesn’t kill them in hopes of redeeming them. The slow-motion in the film helps capture this strength and restraint by showing Wonder Woman fighting enemies with non-lethal weapons like her shield or lasso, and mostly using the hilt when she fights with her sword. Jenkins’ interpretation of Wonder Woman is made all the better for it and is closest to the actual character when compared to the sad, brooding Superman or the gun-using, branding-people-like-cattle Batman.
My biggest concern when it came to telling the story of Diana was how heavily involved/focused it would be Steve Trevor. I was pleasantly surprised for the most part to see that he was used as an introduction to the world of man, flaws and all. This is in large part due to how ever-charming Chris Pine is, especially when he’s frantically trying to defend the size of his penis. His buddy chemistry with Gal Gadot is powerful, helping Gadot’s character navigate through “civilized society” only to have her deconstruct everything and still do it her own way. They should have remained close friends and nothing more, and the film would have been all the better for it. Instead, Steve is used as a forced romantic mechanism that is all meant to culminate in a sex scene that is supposed to complete Diana’s coming-of-age transformation and mark her entrance into “true womanhood”. This felt completely unnecessary since her mental and emotional development up to that point would have done the job instead of going the predictable male route of having Steve Trevor be her first, and you always remember your first, right?
After a deeper look into the film, I found out that it holds up well the second time, and many of the more nuanced elements can be appreciated. This was obviously a labor of love, and as Wonder Woman says, love will save the world. There is so much more to love in this film than hate, which is ultimately the message of the film so even that compliments it. The casting and acting in this film, not just from Gadot and Trevor but also Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen, is perfect even while some of the characters (especially the villains) are weak. The thing that shines brightest about this film is the diversity, not just in the predominantly female casting, but also in the Howling Commandos-esque group she saves the world with. As a character, Wonder Woman is a symbol of unity and hope, bringing together her Amazonian ideals into a world that could them. Unity and hope are two things we need now most of all as we fight our own, albeit much more incompetent, version of Ares that is disguising himself as a president.