A lot of the recent DC and Marvel movies have tried to make really good super-hero movies, bigger, wilder and more spectacular than all the rest. Wonder Woman does not fall into that trap. With Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins set out to make a damn good movie. A movie about a person finding her identity, and along the way becoming a super hero. A movie about a super hero, rather than a super hero movie. And that has made all the difference.
Gal Gadot does a superb job in the title role, but all the acting in this piece is top drawer. Still, without Gadot’s intriguing combination of determination and innocence, the film would not have held together.
Most of the movie consists of an extended flashback, set in the final days of World War 1, or the Great War, as it was called before the sequel came out. Diana grows up on Themiscyra, the daughter of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. Right from the start the audience gets cued that there is something special about Diana, but Hippolyta does not want to acknowledge this. She tries to make Diana into something else, something she wants, rather than helping her fulfill her destiny.
And that pretty much sets the pattern that the movie will explore. Hippolyta, Antiope, Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, and the villains all want Princess Diana to be something they conceive of her to be. Fit her into a pre-conceived role, rather than allow her to become the person she wants to be.
Part of the reason they succeed, at least for a while, is that Diana is so out of her range of experience when she leaves Themiscyra with the downed pilot Trevor, bringing him back to London.
Diana’s innocence of the world is not due simply to her lack of experience with life outside of her home island, it also has to do with her perception of human interaction. Diana believes that good and evil are easily definable. In a lesser movie, they would be.
One of the most effective moments in the movie comes when she accompanies Steve Trevor and his rag tag crew of spies on a mission into Belgium. She meets a Native American, and questions why he has not joined the US army. From his answer, she comes to learn that good and bad are not such clear cut concepts. The US army, the heroes she has chosen to work with, were the ones who defeated his people and drove them off their land.
So as the film progresses we watch Diana adjust her perception of who she is. She accepts the roles thrust onto her when she feels too out of place, but gets increasingly aggressive about her views, and her identity, as she gets her grounding.
The more I think about the movie, how it was told, the more impressed I become with it. In two of the scenes set in London Diana tries to remove the massive coat that Steve Trevor has placed her in. The coat covers her Amazon clothing, covers her identity. Twice she tries to remove it, and twice she allows herself to be persuaded to keep it on; once by Steve, and later by Etta Candy.
Later in the movie, as they move through the trenches in Belgium, Diana keeps wanting to stop and aid the increasingly desperate people she sees along the way. Trevor keeps insisting that they can only truly help by moving on to their goal, that she simply cannot help everyone she sees. For a while she accepts this, but eventually reaches the point at which she cannot simply ignore everything around her. At this point, she removes her coat, for good. She stands proud in her Amazon armour, and ventures into No Man’s Land to confront the enemy. She decides to act as herself, rather than take the actions others want her to.
This is a damn good movie. A movie that one does not need to be a fan of comic books in order to enjoy. This is a film of merit.