Film & Television

‘Wonder Woman’: Saving the World, One Woman at a Time

Patty Jenkins started her career as a painter, having earned her BFA at The Cooper Union in New York. She then worked as a camera assistant and eventually attended the American Film Institute director’s program. In 2003, the then 32-year old wrote and directed her first feature film. It was called Monster, and it earned an Oscar for its barely recognizable leading lady, Charlize Theron. Not too shabby for Jenkins’ first time out.

It took 14 years before she helmed another motion picture. But, if the solid reviews and opening weekend box office gross ($100.5 million domestic; $220 million worldwide) are any indication, it was worth the wait.

Wonder Woman has been in and out of development for years. The character herself is the property of DC Comics, which is in turn the property of Warner Brothers. Their most recent forays into superhero films — Suicide Squad; Man of Steel; and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — have been disappointing. In that last title, however, a cameo by a certain Amazon was hailed by many as one of the film’s shining moments. Time magazine claimed that she “stole the spotlight,” and you can definitely argue that without her level head and demigoddess super powers, archvillain Lex Luthor would have made mincemeat of the two title characters. More importantly, her smaller but pivotal role in last summer’s blockbuster launched a year’s worth of audience anticipation and priceless marketing buzz.

Diana, Amazon Princess of Themysceria, was introduced by William Moulton Marston, an academic psychologist, in 1941. Marston described his creation as, “Psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” (He also happened to be living in a non-traditional household with two wives and seems to have had a penchant for bondage; Wonder Woman spends an awful lot of time tied up in those early adventures.) She fought Nazis, joined the Justice League, and in 1972, graced the cover of Gloria Steinem’s first issue of Ms. Magazine. For those of us who came of age in the 1970s, Wonder Woman will forever be synonymous with statuesque beauty Lynda Carter, “in her satin tights, fighting for her rights, and the old red, white and blue.”

The new Wonder Woman, 32-year old Israeli actress Gal Gadot, has ditched the satin in exchange for some kickass (if still curve-enhancing) body armor. A former Miss Israel, not to mention Israeli army officer, Gadot is certainly beautiful. In fact, much is made of her superhuman looks in the new film. At one point, Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy (the adorable scene-stealing Lucy Davis) upbraids him for trying to make her less noticeable with contemporary clothes and glasses. “Oh sure,” she says, “like putting glasses on her will change the fact that she’s the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen.” We have to agree with Etta; she is.

But one of the exciting things about Gadot as Wonder Woman is that while she is undeniably attractive, she is never merely pretty. In theory, at least, we could all look like that if we’d been training as a warrior our entire lives. In the early scenes of the new movie, we meet Diana as a mischevious child, longing to follow in the bootsteps of her champion aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright, rock solid in body as well as performance). Her mother, the Amazon queen Hippolyte (Connie Nielson, another wondrous woman) at first forbids it, but can’t keep Diana from fulfilling her destiny. The princess is no ordinary child. In fact, there are no ordinary children on the breathtaking ancient Greek (by way of Photoshop) island of Themysceria; there are no other children at all. The great Zeus has big plans for Diana. She must eventually leave their island paradise to fight Ares, the god of war.

The outside world interferes when Trevor, American spy working with British intelligence as an undercover German fighter pilot (it’s complicated), crashes into the surrounding seas. Diana, who witnesses the plane going down, saves his life and unknowingly brings the wrath of the Kaiser’s troops onto Themyscerian shores. Once the Amazons win an action-packed battle sequence on the beach, Diana decides to go with Trevor and battle Ares who she believes must be behind the “War to End All Wars.” Her mission takes her to London, and then the Belgian front. Along the way, she and Trevor inevitably fall in love (this is Hollywood after all, and Chris Pine with his gentle humor and piercing eyes is fairly irresistible). They find and conquer evil (in the shape of Elena Anaya and Danny Huston, son of John and brother of Anjelica). And, with a little help from their friends (Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock, an appropriately motley crew) succeed in turning the tide of WWI. A brief but touching preface and epilogue hint at many (potentially many, many) installments to come.

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