I used to want to save the world: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (2017)

With Wonder Woman, the DC Extended Universe finally shows us that it can be a match to Marvel after a series of forgettable movies

Wonder Woman

Directed by Patty Jenkins. Screenplay by Allan Heinberg. Story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, based on the character created by William Moulton Marston. Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock and Lisa Loven Kongsli.

Wonder Woman is the first installment in the DC Extended Universe to prove that the franchise can actually surprise us with something good. After the passable Man of Steel (2013), the tiresome Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and the abysmal Suicide Squad (2016), we are finally offered a movie that is comparable to the works of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of quality – and the fact that it is centered on a powerful, independent woman and made by a female director (the first of a studio superhero movie, in fact) makes it even more special, a historic step that reflects the very themes that the film approaches.

Written by Allan Heinberg from a story devised by himself, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, Wonder Woman tells us the origins of the Amazon princess known as Diana Prince. Seen for the last time in Dawn of Justice, when she fought side by side with Batman and Superman against evil, Diana (Gal Gadot) receives a gift from Bruce Wayne and begins to recall her early life growing up on the island of Themyscira, land of Amazon warriors created by the Olympian gods to protect humankind. When American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes there in 1918 and tells her about the ongoing world war, she decides to join him and leave her island to save Earth, believing that what is happening is the work of Ares, the god of war – who, according to the legend, slayed all the other gods and is now spreading hate among men.

Right off the bat, it is hard not to be dazzled by the breathtaking sight of Themyscira. Shot in Southern Italy on the Amalfi Coast, the scenes that take place on the island look impressive and mythic with its blue-green sea and imposing rocks. The production design and costumes contribute to that, stunning us not only with a majestic hall where the Amazons decide Trevor’s fate but also with the design of the Amazons themselves, who wear leather and gold and look like a combination of She-Ra and Xena with their toned legs and shoulders (forget the classic jingoistic outfit based on the American flag, it’s history now) – and the movie even shows a great eye for details, like the war scar on Antiope’s (Robin Wright) arm.

When Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her daughter Diana about the history of mankind, we see a visual description in slow motion that looks almost biblical, like a moving Renaissance painting. And if the visual effects seem a bit too stylized sometimes, bringing to mind the likes of Sucker Punch (2011) and Bitch Slap (2009), they mostly reflect the story’s comics origins in good style, especially when Hippolyta spins in the air or when Antiope leaps over the soldiers in a battle. Likewise, I love the amazing sight of bullets flying in slow motion and Diana diving from a huge cliff into the sea, not to mention the film’s impeccable design of a gray London and of the dark trenches on the war’s front line later on.

The most interesting thing to observe, however, is how the story is shifted from World War II (in the comics) to World War I, which seems like a perfect choice to discuss sexism and women’s rights, since the 1910s were a time that saw women fighting hard for their right to vote. With powerful female characters like Diana, Hippolyta and Antiope not needing a man to save them, director Patty Jenkins (Monster) shows Diana as an outsider who is shocked to find out what a secretary is supposed to do and the kind of clothes women need to wear in our world (basically to cover their entire decency). It is actually funny to see Steve trying to protect her, but being a woman doesn’t mean she is weaker, and so it is she who gets to save him many times.

The fact that the words “men” and “humans” are used so indiscriminately is an indication of the power that men have held over women for such a long time. Ares being a male god who brings this power to men is only natural, and so nothing more natural than a woman to end this cycle of war. Exposing the blunt sexism that was considered common sense a century ago, Wonder Woman also discusses the frail masculinity of men who cannot tolerate being seen as weak by women (like when Charlie (Ewen Bremner) feels embarrassed after Diana tries to comfort him in the war) and finds space to discuss racism when Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) tells her how he never became an actor for having “the wrong color.”

With an excellent sense of humor especially in the many hilarious interactions between Diana and Steve (Gadot and Pine are very charismatic and have a great chemistry together), Wonder Woman also comes up with a fascinating explanation for the origin of each of Diana’s weapons (the bracelets, the sword, the shield, the Lasso of Truth and her tiara), disappointing only with a weak villain (a German general played by an American actor) and the fact that the big conflicts don’t look big enough (suddenly the soldiers are gone and all is over).

But these are minor flaws compared to what the movie accomplishes, that is, what it wants to say and how it does it. Congratulations, DC Films, we are ready now to forget the colossal atrocity that Suicide Squad was and wait for what you have in store for us next.

June 24, 2017

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