(This article contains spoilers)
Not all superhero movies are destined to disappoint. At least their latest installment, Wonder Woman, has managed to convince viewers, with certainty and ease, that there is still hope in the genre.
The film tells of the story of Wonder Woman – a demigoddess counterpart of Superman who sets out to not just put an end to wars with her superhuman prowess, but also to heal the world with love. As she ventures out of her homeland, a matriarchal paradise island called Themyscira, to humans’ war-ravaged world, our heroine adopts the alias of Diana Prince. (And that’s a name that aptly acknowledges her embodiment of both male and female quality.) Wonder Woman’s strength does not wipe out her humanity, however. Naivety is her Achilles’ heel, as she operates under the simplistic belief that the Great War is waged simply because Ares, son of Zeus and the god of wars, has inflamed humans’ jealousy and their spirit of aggression. Director Patty Jenkins is wise to take her time in unravelling an intriguing narrative that sees Wonder Woman mature into sophistication and wean herself off the misguided notion that once Ares is killed, wars will be ended once and for all.
Thankfully, there are more elements to the movie than pure brawn and bloodshed. The classy romance between Steve and Diana is filled with chemistry that warm hearts and crack smiles. The script by Allan Heinberg is sprinkled with subtle humour. It’s a joy to see Chris Pine stand out in a role that complements the female lead without outshining the girl. In a decidedly fairytale fashion, Diana asked Steve when she first met him, with an otherworldly innocence, “Are you typical of your sex?” His response, “I am better than average. You’ll see I am better”, can, of course, be interpreted as playful flirtation at first. But upon our finishing seeing the movie, we will know what the charming British spy means by “better”: not only is he more handsome, but more importantly, Steve is noble and brave, unlike his contemporaries. Steve’s representation of the light side is important because it serves as a reminder to Wonder Woman that there is still good in human nature, without which she might have have been crumbled by disillusionment. Gadot is perfect for playing a woman who will readily and daringly love but doesn’t need the protection traditions say she will need.
There are also the comic elements of cultural shock. Needless to say, it would be difficult for this female superhero, who symbolises wisdom, strength, as well as women’s liberation, to blend in the conservatism of the 1910’s, when the women’s rights movement was only just budding. Many would probably chuckle when they see Steve and his contemporaries surprised by Diana’s ability to speak many languages and her knowledge of science, as these all indicate her intelligence, something which was deemed uncommon among women. The theme of feminism is well handled without excessive didacticism. There are also Kate-and-Leopold moments of comedy, such as that when Diana comments that London seems like a “hideous” place.
There is little surprise in the plot development. The narrative has barely run for half an hour when Diana’s mentor and quasi-godmother, Antiope (played by Robin Wright, who I fondly remember as Jenny Gump in Forrest Gump), sacrifices her life protecting her niece. (And we all know that every mentor of heroes or heroines has to die.) Even less surprising is Wonder Woman’s valiance and loyalty to her cause despite Ares’s temptation (“They do not deserve you.”). None of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman superpower inspires much consternation, with the exception of her ability to have impeccable makeup stay put on her face one combat after another. Of course, one can then argue that this serves as a visual metaphor for her idealism and virtual flawlessness. But surprises are not necessary when the role of Wonder Woman is so definitively refreshing. How can anyone not like a smart, strong, sexy, and indeed, perfect, woman like her? One can tell that Patty Jenkins’s rock-solid direction is supported by an authentic passion for the original comics, and authenticity is fuel for quality. Jenkins’s devoting more effort to characterisation than conflict happily proves to be the right direction to go for DC, which has long struggled to prove a worthy rival of Marvel. After some painful to watch trials and error, DC has finally done it the right way. It’s a pity that they have learned it the hard way.
There is a contrived attempt in the last lines to relate the theme of the ambivalence of human nature to that of love. It is too long a shot but the good-natured humour in the script makes me feel inclined to forgive this excessive ambition. I take solace by saying to myself that it’s unrealistic to expect that your life philosophy and outlook be overhauled by a superhero movie. A genre does have its own limitations. Even The Dark Knight could not make me feel like I’ve read Seneca or Wittgenstein.
As to Gadot, perhaps it’s fair to say that there’s no better time for her to shine than in this movie. The Israeli actress and model is, granted, gorgeous, but we all know that picture perfect proportions could be more a curse than a blessing in this industry. On the condition that Wonder Woman’s awesomeness will not be tarnished by its sequels, let’s hope that there is more chance in the future to see her dazzle in the same role.