The new ‘Wonder Woman’ from director Patty Jenkins has an effective story, borrowing fictional archetypes while offering something original.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES
While watching director Patty Jenkins’ new representation of the iconic Wonder Woman on the big screen, I couldn’t help but pause to consider a fundamental question: Is this version of the classic DC Comics character “The One” that moviegoers have long been awaiting? Yes, it appears so. But how did the film do that? By having an effective story, borrowing fictional archetypes and offering something original.
This film’s story of Wonder Woman and its idea of the Amazons, a tribe to which she belongs as a warrior princess, borrow from Greek mythology. Screenwriter Allan Heinberg (with story credits for Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs) gives us Ares, the God of War, as a villain — a power-mad immortal driven by rage and dominance. He has no interest in humanity, his father Zeus’ petty little creation. He just wants to subjugate us or annihilate us, whichever is easier for him to accomplish. Good — in the form of Zeus, his other godly allies and the Amazon warriors — stands in Ares’ way.
Thus the stage has been set for when Wonder Woman/Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) enters the horrific modern world and confronts an impossible-to-ignore evil: the Germans of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” She, as a noble Amazon, must confront this war by defeating the Germans and, therefore, Ares. Once we see her in action against the Germans, we appreciate that Diana senses the true extent of her power as both a warrior and an icon.
Actually, the film establishes her traits earlier, during the initial scenes of her childhood on Paradise Island. There, she slipped away to watch the Amazon army training under the guidance of her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), dubbed the greatest of the warrior women. Young Diana (Lilly Aspell) shadowboxes, pantomiming the punches and blocks that she one day dreams she will exercise on her foes. This is a clever and meaningful bit of empowerment, allowing young female (and male) comic book fans the chance to see the hero as someone like them, eager and hungry and striving for the opportunity to prove themselves.
The notion of Wonder Woman as The One has roots in the glorious sci-fi fantasies of The Matrix. Diana is a predestined hero, fated for greatness, with no awareness of her own mythology. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), refuses to tell her about her prophetic heritage and must be coerced by Antiope to let Diana.
Once Diana crosses over into the “real” world, she starts to be a bit more like The Matrix’s Neo (Keanu Reeves) — slowly the laws of physics bend to her will. In a back-alley fight in London, while protecting Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Diana comes to realize that she hasn’t come close to tapping into the limits of her speed or strength. The only thing missing is a moment where Diana utters that classic Keanu expression, “Whoa.”
As Pine plays him, Trevor is a jaded figure, with the cynical quick wit we might expect from Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. He doesn’t want to admit to any meaningful degree of sincerity in the face of the great evil that threatens humanity.
That is, until he sees Wonder Woman in all her glory. Unlike Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) in The Matrix, he hasn’t had a tip from an oracle to cue him in to Diana’s true nature. So when he witnesses the superhuman Wonder Woman, he not only believes that she is The One, but he surrenders to the strong emotional bond that develops between them. That changes everything for him.
Gadot proves especially good at playing a heroic figure because she captures the incremental wonder that Diana experiences each step along the way of her character’s evolution. In her acting, we see how this god-like character enjoys the challenges, but also embraces the weighty responsibility that comes with her powers.
The romantic journey of Diana and her committed, converted acolyte Trevor might be the most interesting angle of all in Wonder Woman. For what seems like the first time ever, a female protagonist wins the respect and love of her paramour, but goes even further by inspiring him to be a better person. Her example sets the stage for a love that takes each partner to a higher state of being. Wonder Woman makes that an integral part of being The One, and that is a movie milestone. (Now in area theaters) (PG-13) Grade: A-