On the evening of 2 June, I went to see Wonder Woman. I have honestly not seen a superhero (superheroine) movie I have enjoyed this much since Richard Donner’s Superman (I & II). In fact, many of the reviews out there have compared Gal Godot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman. And with good reason. Godot and Pine were both superb in their roles, as were all the supporting cast.
Throughout the movie, Godot plays Diana with the same type of innocence and high ideals with which Reeve played Clark. A lot of her fish-out-of-water behavior, however, is due to her seeing morality in terms of black and white—unlike Clark, whose morality was shaped by old-fashioned American heartland decency. While Clark recognized human nature for what it is, he still had his ideals because of how he was raised, and he understood that all men could share his ideals and live by them. Diana, on the other hand, has her ideals shaken; She had never been off her island paradise, and simply assumed the goodness of all men—if men were behaving in evil and warlike fashion, she assumed that it was the influence of Ares, and not something that already dwells within the human heart.
But this movie, under Jenkins’ direction, actually features a superheroine who is, as in comics of old, a knight in shining armor. A heroine whose moral compass points to True North at all times. There is no angst, about being different or superior. There is no exasperation with or contempt for mankind for being inferior. Diana is not working out issues. She simply is who she is: A truly good person who expects good in others, and who is willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Also, to my delight, the writers actually dipped repeatedly into Diana’s comic book history. And they did so in some creative and humorous ways:
Diana’s origin story has been, of old, that her mother Hippolyta formed her out of clay, and begged the Gods to grant Diana life, which they did. Now, in 2011, the writers at DC tried to rewrite Diana’s personal history, so that she was now the biological offspring of Zeus and Hippolyta. The movie actually uses both stories, combining them in a fairly creative way, that doesn’t make a definitive statement on which is right. Wonder Woman is both Golem and Goddess.
The visuals of Themiscyra are lifted almost straight from the comics. And there is some subtle implication that Greg Rucka’s pronouncement of the Amazons in general, and Diana in particular, as bisexual, is true. Further, Diana’s powers are shown to be hers, and not gained from enchanted objects. She has, in Silver Age fashion, been granted her powers by the Gods.
The first meeting of Steve Trevor and Diana is straight from the Golden Age tradition. Etta Candy, also from the Golden Age, plays a role, though she starts out as an ally, and not as the reformed villain who fought at Diana’s side in the old strips. And it was refreshing to see that Etta was not slimmed down or made glamorous, as WB did to Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad. Etta remained pretty much as she appeared in the comics.
There was even an amusing scene, lifted (though adapted) from the comics, in which Wonder Woman tries ice cream for the first time, and rapturously declares it to be “WONDERFUL!”
One item—and this might upset some purists—there is no “invisible jet” for Diana to tool around in. And I agreed with the moviemakers’ decision there. It would not have “fit” with what we had by then learned of Themiscyra
Another thing I appreciate about the film is the relationship between Steve and Diana. Steve is neither the sexist pig, as some of the comic’s run tried to portray him, nor was he a buffoon, nor yet was he a helpless bystander. Although Diana rescues him on several occasions, and although she takes the lead in battle, Steve is also a competent soldier and airman. He is never reduced to a mere simpering admirer as he has sometimes been portrayed, but is able to work together with Diana. You can see how Diana would come to admire and love him. Their romance was gently done, not a part of the main plot, but was important to both characters. And their romance was not forced; it grew out of their association and the shared dangers they faced and overcame together.
There are also subtle nods to classic Greek Mythology. There is a battle early on in the film that recalls the Athenian invasion of Themiscyra, when Heracles and Theseus attempt to steal Hippolyta’s girdle. And Antiope, Diana’s aunt and combat trainer, is killed, just as in the tales of the Amazonomachy, Antiope is killed by Themiscyra’s foes.
The movie also highlights Diana’s conviction that Evil cannot be defeated through combat, or even necessarily by actively facing it down, but by Love. And that, to me, is the core of Wonder Woman’s character. She doesn’t punish criminals like Batman. She doesn’t defeat foes quite like Superman. But Diana always tries to prevail upon peoples’ senses of honour, mercy, and justice. In the Golden Age, Wonder Woman often reformed her enemies, so that they actually became allies. And even in the Silver and Bronze Ages, there were times when Wonder Woman triumphed by not fighting. You get that sense of her character in this movie. Yes, Diana is a “badass” who can take on all comers; but you know that she would much rather bring peace and make everyone friends.
Another aspect I enjoyed was Diana’s gradual discovery of her abilities. She doesn’t fly, fully fledged, from Themiscyra’s eyrie. She gradually learns what she can ultimately do as she goes along. Even though she has had decades of training amongst her people, and although her abilities already are formidable when she first ventures out into Man’s World, there is still much for her to discover about herself. Her abilities and power levels seem to increase gradually over the course of the film, and you get the idea that Diana is a being who could indeed stand up to a being like Superman—Though Clark is obviously more “casually” and “continuously” powerful than Diana.
Finally, the movie does involve sacrifice. A real sacrifice, that is horrifyingly costly, yet one that is worth the cost. And it is a real sacrifice; no ridiculous plot twists that make everything alright for our heroes and heroine after all. And that—the willingness to show what real sacrifice for the good of others means, is a rare thing in superhero movies.
There isn’t much more that I can say, without diving into spoilers. So I won’t. I will simply urge you to go see Wonder Woman. For the DCEU, this wasn’t just a hit; they knocked it out of the bloody park.