Wonder Woman is not the best superhero movie you’ve seen, ever or in the recent past. It is however the most significant piece of blockbuster entertainment – the most intriguing (and worthy) addition to pop culture staples in this particular moment in time.
Although both Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice most definitely… eats its dust, this latest from – comics powerhouse and Marvel’s archrival – DC film is far from perfect. It is unnecessarily long (the whole modern-day Paris incident, could have easily been omitted), with immaterial (Ludendorff, Dr. Maru) or formulaic (Ares) bad guys and gals; a black & white, good & evil approach to characters, a fairly undeserving co-star (Chris Pine) to Gal Gadot’s impressive lead, as well as a somewhat unoriginal and anticlimactic (the second part of the film, in the reality of the 1st World War is never as visually enthralling as the first, in the fairy tale of Themyscira, while the final battle with Ares is a loud, SGI mess) plot progression. Nevertheless it comes off as a fun, attractive, witty and hence engaging spectacle that succeeds in exactly what it should and was important to: it never wears its feminist temperament on its sleeve, on or off the screen.
On. Out of paradise…
As a pricey, big, studio film Wonder Woman could not risk alienating any demographic (i.e. the male fans) of its intended, massive audience. So, if it was to express any argument for (gender) equality it had better do so in an anything but obvious or aggressive way. In other words, it had to find a way to make its activism feel good and entertaining without negating it, quite like the Oscar nominated Hidden Figures. Thus, it steered clear of the early feminists’ very real battles that inspired Wonder Woman original, comic creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston. Instead, it opted to shrewdly but quietly, (there only for anyone who wants to see), subvert one of the most absurd, yet deeply ingrained, still enduring in Western culture myths.
For Themyscira can easily be perceived as an irresistible alternative to the Garden of Eden. Where there is no Adam, just God’s favourites Amazons – peaceful, loving, striking women, who also happen to be expert warriors, needing no one but themselves to defend their home and their loved ones. Among them is God’s chosen daughter, Diana, who is unaware both of her true lineage and her messianic mission. When war hungry men intrude her world Diana saves and meets one of them: Steve, an American spy, who turns out to be a good man. He becomes her temptation. But not as an object of desire. She is hilariously unfazed when she finds him completely naked in one of Themyscira’s natural hot tubs, and serenely curious as she asks him if he consider himself to be an average specimen of his kind. Moreover, she invites him to lie next to her to sleep, while coolly asking him not to be concerned: due to a rich Amazonian tradition she doesn’t need him to pleasure her flesh.
No. He tempts her in a different, unconventional way, prompting her to do the right, noble thing, fulfilling her destiny (even though she doesn’t even know it yet). So she is not thrown out of paradise, sinful and shameful. She leaves it by choice, still proud and utterly innocent. With her mother’s warning, “they don’t deserve you” as a goodbye. And once there, in the real, “hideous” world she becomes the superhero she was meant to be, but remains endearingly, disarmingly, unquestionably innocent: always wide-eyed, either happily or unhappily, genuinely surprised by a baby, women’s apparent enslavement by men, ice cream, the cruelty but also bravery in war, snow, a dance, sex as wilful love making/sharing, death, self-sacrifice, love… After all, she is not a (one-off) Messiah. She is an extraordinary, forgiving woman, who chooses to stay and keep on fighting in the name of love, on humanity’s site, no matter its darkness or weaknesses.
Off…into the real world.
Akin to her female superhero, Patty Jenkins does not divulge her gender in the way she directs this (improbable) action packed movie. On one hand, she adopts a distinctly different style from her recent predecessor in DC’s cinematic universe, Zack Snyder. Instead of his dark greys, vivid primaries colours and high contrast, she favours a more earthly, soft and supple pallet, equipping her film with a fitting – reminiscent of Marvel’s and Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger – retro feel. On the other she does follow suit Snyder’s manipulation of time during the action scenes, gradually slowing, then pausing for a split second, and then accelerating the motion, making it imposingly operatic, albeit occasionally, fleetingly cartoonish.
Unlike both Snyder and Johnston however Jenkins finds the time to cut and put the emphasis on her heroes’ faces, Diana’s in particular. Even in the mist of the craziest of battles, producing two of her film’s most memorable, intense and emotionally engaging sequences: when Diana stands alone against the Germans in No Man’s Land, unbreakable behind her shield, and afterwards, when she finds her strength during her duel with Ares by pausing to remember Steve’s “I love you”. Furthermore, Jenkins infuses her creation with an effortless, breezy humour that safely delivers it from the unbearable, affected seriousness and “self-importance” of Snyder’s oeuvre. These though don’t affirm her as a female, but rather as a versatile director. Capable of making maybe flawed, but ultimately successful, complex and true to their genre/goals films, either they are character driven, rough and painfully real dramas (like her Oscar-winning debut Monster), or polished, high-tech, boldly surreal, fantasy adventures like this full of discrete wonders Woman. At long last the superhero movie, like any other genre is proven to be gender blind.
Thus Jenkins not only offers the seemingly regressed pop culture of our times, dominated by Trump’s toxic masculinity, a progressive, healthy, cathartic, female alternative. She also refreshingly defends DC’s (and Warner’s) lost – ever since the Christopher Nolan era – cinematic honour. What a timely, and wonder(ful) irony.