Considered objectively, it is a very silly story. A tribe of martially-gifted women, the Amazons, is created by the great god Zeus to calm the warlike hearts of man—and yet they are mighty warriors themselves, because do as I say, not as I do, I guess. Shielded from time and sight by an entirely permeable barrier it is difficult to believe has not be breached before – admittedly, the ocean is vast, but Europe’s waters are well-traversed – they have spent thousands of years at home on their halcyon Themycira, preparing for the return of Ares, the petulant god of war whose daddy issues rival those of any angel in popular culture, and who has somehow previously killed all the other gods.
The Amazons are tasked with protecting mankind from Ares. With killing Ares. But instead of seeking him out, they just spend most of their days training in a permanent summer, and swanning about the place in overly-stylized outfits, with perfect hair.
Into their midst is born Diana, the only child of the Amazons, whose mother Queen Hypolyta (Connie Neilsen) claims she was moulded out of clay, into which Zeus breathed life. (In fairness, that’s about par for the course for Zeus – he once conceived a child as a shower of rain.) An especially bloodthirsty child, Diana refuses to remain a pampered princess, and secretly receives training from her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). Montagedly growing to adulthood, Diana (Gal Gadot) proves herself adept and a little terrifying, incalculably beautiful, and pretty soon she reveals abilities even the Amazons find extraordinary, for there is something even more special about Diana, of course.
See, silly. But probably no sillier than the tale of any other superhero’s origin, so sure, cool, let’s just accept it and move on.
Crashing into Diana’s life comes Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American attached to British Intelligence in the last days of World War I. (“The war to end all wars,” quoth Steve. Bless.) He has uncovered a nefarious German plan to use a devastating chemical weapon, even as an Armistice is being negotiated, and must get word back to his superiors. When Diana hears of the millions dead in the conflict, she just knows that this must be Ares, her family’s old nemesis, at the heart of it, and with an awe-inspiring supreme confidence in her deduction and abilities, she ventures out into the world to fix everything, asking Trevor to take her “to the war.”
So to the war she goes. And it is breathtaking. Funny, and sweet, and uncompromising and thrilling, Wonder Woman – no one has yet bestowed her with that name on screen; I love that there’s no “she’s a wonder, that woman”-style nonsense thrown into the dialogue – is not only the female-centered superhero film we’ve been waiting for, but it is the best superhero film of the decade. Sorry, Deadpool. Apologies, Logan. Love you, The Avengers. You’re great. But this is amazing.
And, this has Gal Gadot.
It’s not just her beauty, which is undeniable – and, when all is said and done, pretty essential to the Wonder Woman ideal. It is also the volumes she can speak with a single glance, a cock of the head, a raise of an eyebrow. By turns impassive and impassioned, amused and enraged, confused and confounded, she strikes every note exactly right—and makes all the silliness seem somehow less so, not an easy feat. When Diana sees the modern world (of 1919, anyway) for the first time, the ease with which she takes it all in should make any even mildly nitpicky viewer begin to squirm. This is a woman so far out of time that we don’t even know how old she is, or how long it took her to grow up while on her island paradise. We should be outraged that she doesn’t have a harder time adjusting to the world of man – and to men, in general. But we don’t quibble because we believe in her, believe that she understands everyone because Amazons have a gift for languages, because she is a very quick study, because she truly is a wonder.
We want to believe.
Gadot even makes Diana’s traditional body-hugging outfit make sense; she owns it, she reclaims it, from the mire of objectification in which it, and the fashion choices of so many female comic book superheroes (and villains), has so long languished.
Much has been made of the fact that a female directed this film, and while there is a lot here that is all about the girl power – highlighting the unequal treatment of women in WWI England, for example, or having Diana tell her would-be male protectors to “stay here” while she rushes headlong into the fray – there is a lot that is just simply wonderful direction, femininity be damned. From the gorgeous scene when Steve and Diana sail down the Thames into a smoke-swirled London (“It’s hideous!” laments Diana) to the exhilarating battle scene in No Man’s Land on the Belgian front (evoking thoughts of Eowyn taking out the Witch King of Angmar in The Return of the King: “I am no man!”), the excellence of this film has nothing to do with its director’s gender and everything to do with her just being good at her job.
Of course, there is the requisite romantic entanglement between Diana and Steve Trevor – he is, after all, “above average,” and she has read all twelve volumes of Cleo’s treatise on physical pleasure. But happily, the film keeps its PG-13 intact — well, I mean, it’s still pretty violent – despite this, although some of the frank conversations (and the Chris Pine near-full-frontal) might raise a few uncomfortable questions from the more attentive of younger viewers. But this is still a movie you could take your comic book movie-aged kids to. And you should.
Wonder Woman does almost everything right – I must admit, I didn’t love the opening and closing narration set in the present day, and I was a little saddened by the absence of an end credits scene – but it is the first superhero movie I have seen in a long time that I immediately want to watch again, and again, to let the humor and the horror and the simple humanity of it all wash over me without the absurd anxiety I felt going in, that the DCEU was going to get it wrong again, and this time it was going to actually matter.
But no, this movie treats its subject, and by extension her whole gender, right.
Even if she does go shopping for clothes.