Saturday, June 3, 2017

WONDER WOMAN - "They do not deserve you."

Wonder Woman is important.

I don't just mean that the character is an important icon to young girls who have few enough superhero role models that are regularly given visibility the way Diana Prince has (though she's still strangely under-served by modern media after 75 years), and I don't just mean that Patty Jenkins' film is important to the increasingly-struggling DC Extended Universe (though it absolutely is). Wonder Woman as an idea is important, because she embodies the concept that compassion is the greatest strength, that loyalty is greater than greed, and that love is mightier than hate.

And we need to be reminded of that every now and then. Especially now.

Created by William Moulton-Marston, the character of Wonder Woman has always been the counter to the toxic masculinity that her creator saw as a primary root of human failings, molded from clay and brought to life by the gods to redeem a world at war. As she's been brought to the screen, she stands as a figure molded by the genre into which she steps as an ambassador (there's simply no getting around that a major female-led and female-directed superhero film is a damn unicorn in Hollywood), but forging an identity all her own.

Gal Gadot, who was easily the bright spot in last year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, commands the screen with a tight balance between passionate idealism and innocence coupled with awe-inspiring strength and purpose. From Diana's early training to her rescue of downed pilot Steve Trevor to her unshakable determination in first getting him home and then helping him stop the Great War, Gadot proves her casting as pitch-perfect as that of Christopher Reeve and Chris Evans in their marquee superhero roles, but her straightforwardness and curiosity also add to some genuinely great comedic moments that play as moments of character rather than moments making fun of character (which would be an easy trap to fall into).

She's also accompanied by a litany of strong supporting character actors, both among the Amazons on the island paradise of Themyscira (with Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright being the standouts here) and in the trenches of World War I. Chris Pine does some of his best work as Steve, being both an emissary for Man's World's mixture of imperfection and nobility as well as being an audience stand-in for every "Holy crap, did she really just do that?" moment that Diana has in the film. Elena Anaya and Danny Huston cackle it up pulpily as the destructive Dr. "Poison" Maru and General Ludendorff who are bent on winning the war at any cost. David Thewlis, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock round out the supporting cast - all in very memorable roles, however little screen time they each get.

But the real accomplishment is just how right the film gets the character of Diana herself, and then giving her a cause worthy of her. The WWI setting (swapped in for her character's original introduction during WWII) isn't just used to great effect for surface-level period-piece details (though that's easily part of it), but also for the personification of war as an evil to be undone, not won through greater violence. Diana's horror at the things modern weapons can do to her Amazon sisters is our own, is the helpless fear of all who saw the butchery that began the twentieth century, and still plays poignantly today as we continue to find new ways to destroy each other and the planet that should have been our paradise.

I could spend paragraphs breaking down the film's structure (which is sound) and glorifying its action scenes (which are largely great) and pointing out the few flaws that pop up (this movie owes a huge debt to Captain America: The First Avenger - like, a very big one), but that's not what's important. What's important is how this film, how Diana, how the Wonder Woman chooses to take a stand. She is strong, not merely because she can lift a tank above her head, but because of who she raises to their feet. She is powerful, not because she can kill, but because she can plant herself as a shield to stop the death of someone else. She begins the film as an Amazon and ends the film as a hero because she has a love that outweighs our fear, and chooses to fight for that. Because she believes that love can save the world.

If there's one reason why I'm happy that the "glut" of superhero movies has yet to show any signs of stopping, it's that every once in a while, one comes along that reminds of why we created these heroes in the first place. And I couldn't be happier that Wonder Woman stands tall and proud as one of the best examples of these.

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