All Star Comics #8 in 1941 was the first appearance of the Amazon Princess, and in Sensation Comics #1 she made her first cover debut. Its somehow fitting a book called “Sensation Comics” would feature such a powerful character because Wonder Woman stands tall among a plethora of caped and masked men.
To another generation, Lynda Carter is the embodiment of Wonder Woman, but from her first appearance in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot breathed a whole new life into this often overlooked superhero. In the original comics, Wonder Woman regularly freed herself from capture, smashing the “damsel in distress” persona under her Amazon boots. I applaud Zack Snyder for unveiling her in similar fashion, essentially stepping into the fray and turning the tide when the caped adversaries were suddenly overmatched against Doomsday.
But enough about background. At first, I had my doubts how well a stand-alone Wonder Woman film would hold up. The concept had been tried without success for both television series and movies, so where would this one win where others lost? Only the TV developers know those details, but this new film delivers an excellent origin story, told in a wonderfully inventive way.
Generally, a film with multiple writers tends to suffer, but not so with Wonder Woman. I get the feeling Zack Snyder and his chosen team collaborated on story elements and a talented screenwriter crafted those ideas into a singular work. The end result is a savvy blending of mythical power into a real world setting in a way I haven’t seen before.
When Richard Donner made “Superman” with Christopher Reeve, his watchword was verisimilitude, which reminded everyone on the project to think, “What if this were real?” By contrast, Wonder Woman doesn’t grab the attention of the entire globe, and thank the movie gods, the final climactic conflict doesn’t involve laying waste to a large city. Any destruction we witness would not be considered uncommon for an ongoing war. I might also add the motion-comic effect used with renaissance-style art to tell the back story of the Amazons was particularly beautiful.
Kudos to director Patty Jenkins for getting maximum effect from her stellar cast. Robin Wright delivers the strong role model who trains Diana in the ways of combat, and Connie Nielsen is positively regal as Diana’s loving mother and queen of the Amazons. Chris Pine shows more of his broad talent, bringing both drama and the sharp delivery of comedy when needed.
The setting of the original comic is pushed back from World War II to World War I, and the historic imagery of Allied forces fighting Axis troops provides the grim and gritty landscape for Diana to seek out the God of War. She blends well with the suffering troops until the first time she dons her war armor, and when she strides onto the battlefield in the face of machine gun fire, the scene is as bold and spectacular as any hero to date. The close quarters combat that follows in a nearby village brings all her abilities to bear, and the triumph makes you want to stand and cheer.
Its not an unusual story line to see a hero beaten down from idealistic to harsh reality, but Gadot’s performance weaves the words of her Amazon mother into each step as she discovers each level of the human world, making her both sympathetic and potent with each scene. There is no denying the wistful beauty Gadot brings to Wonder Woman, but her emotional and heroic performance outshine her runway model appearance, and that is wonderful and refreshing.
In the end, she discovers her purpose, role, and full capability, sharing a precious flashback memory with us all. Amidst the barrage of recent superhero films, Wonder Woman keeps itself neatly in scale, tells a story of hope and confidence, and proves the power of the heart can vanquish the most formidable of enemies.
See this film with your wife, see it with your daughter, but more importantly, watch it with the innocent eyes Diana has on her mythical home of Themyscira, and grow with her along the way. The world may never look the same. Never has a princess cast such a long shadow, and shown us how strong, beautiful, and capable the female hero can be. That is the inspiration of heroes, that we aspire to be like them, and to that end, Wonder Woman shines brighter than she ever has before.
– T. August Green