If You (and Your Daughter) See One Superhero Movie This Decade, See <i>Wonder Woman</i>

Shawn McEvoy

It's a movie both the DC franchise and fans of superhero action desperately needed: an un-boring origin story where nearly everything works and a woman saves the world. The 'WW' on the posters stands less for Wonder Woman, however, and more for 'World War,' as this war genre pic has loads to say about humanity's violent, disagreeable ways, including how we haven't gone beyond the reach of redemption. 4.5 out of 5.
 

Synopsis

During World War I, American Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), on loan to the Brits as a spy, steals the journal of a malevolent scientist and escapes in a German plane. While pursued, Steve crashes into the waters surrounding the hidden island of Themyscira, home to warrior women, the fabled Amazons. Steve is rescued by their princess, Diana (Gal Gadot), who has a backstory of her own that her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) has kept from her. Unfortunately, Steve's arrival has brought the German navy to Themyscira, and thus the naïve Diana begins her sorrowful crash-course in 20th-century warfare and the world of men. Soon, she's struck a deal with Steve to take her to the European front where she intends to make a difference, but Diana has much to learn, not just about politics and society, but her own potential.
 

What Works?

Who knew that we were "Waiting for Gadot"? The actress, already the best part of Batman v Superman along with her theme music, becomes a star here. This movie had every excuse to fall apart (remember this Tweet from three years ago when just conceptualizing this film and finding a director were issues?): an unknown star, a lack of previous film iterations to borrow from or avoid, a prevailing "DC can't do it like Marvel can" wind, darker DC themes and scenes, questions of whether a superheroine could carry her own film. Might the movie stray too sexy one direction, too anti-male the other? The list of potential troublespots grew.

The result, however, is a fun, clean, entirely watchable film that puts all of the above to good use as strengths. DC darkness? Works here because first and foremost Wonder Woman is a war movie, and the smoky tones of the front - here representing the dark parts of the human soul - contrast perfectly with the bright innocence of Themyscira and the muted primary colors of Wonder Woman's outfit. Unknown star and relatively blank canvas of source material? Gadot brings us on Diana's earnest journey and the unexplored territory is refreshing - we learn of Wonder Woman's cares, concerns, powers and potential right in step with the character.

The Amazons, particularly Robin Wright as fierce general Antiope, are good enough and interesting enough for a film of their own. There's humor here, too, thanks to another casting win: Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, Steve's secretary (Diana suggests an alternative word for her position). Would that Etta had more time to shine, but she carries off everything she's asked to do, including a brief bit of sword wielding.
 

What Doesn't?

Okay, the Captain America: The First Avenger complaint. I get it: girl scout with a cool shield wearing blue underpants helps fight one of the World Wars and kick off a franchise. So? The better comparison, as Crosswalk contributor Jeff Huston explains on his blog, is probably to the 1978 Christopher Reeve Superman: sincere, unconflicted hero makes us believe in principled rightness again. Wonder Woman is also more grounded in the lessons of WWI than Captain America was in those of WWII. Although, where Cap was frozen in ice for decades, what has Diana been up to in the century between her 1918 arrival and apparently revealing herself to the world in the events of Batman v Superman? We see her springing into action at the end, but that would seem to belie the fact that we already know she's still a pretty big secret in 2016.

Then there's the overcooked CGI of the climactic showdown. In the interest of saving spoilers, I won't talk too much about the plot twists that get us to it. One isn't really a secret except to Diana; we're pretty much told 90 percent of it. The other involves the identity of the villain, and that can be a risky proposition with a marquee superhero movie (fear not; the big baddie is indeed part of the Wonder Woman rogues gallery and terrifically portrayed). However, I saw the reveal coming very early on, so these twists didn't quite turn properly for me. Similarly, if one is hoping for Justice League Easter eggs, one will be disappointed but for the brief minutes at the beginning and end in which this movie takes place in modern times.

While their performances are top-notch, the supporting team Steve and Diana put together of Native American smuggler The Chief (Eugene Braverock), Scottish sniper Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and polyglot Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) feels underutilized (but notice how just being in the presence of caring Diana is a balm to their souls). Sadly, the shortest straw goes to a woman, Elena Anaya as Isabella Maru/Dr. Poison, a Wonder Woman enemy from the comics. Sidenote: did we need Steve Trevor to be an American so badly even though the U.S. has nothing to do with the rest of the story? Eh, best to just go with the canon and not overthink.
 

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

A background story told via a unique bit of animation (or was it a tad Monty Python-esque?) explains how Zeus created men as basically good, but they were corrupted, becoming warlike. Zeus later created the Amazons to help show men the way. Feel free to question, then, why they are staked out on their island. In this myth, gods can die, and with his dying strength, Zeus hid Themyscira and left the Amazons a secret weapon. Diana grows up believing she came into being when her mother sculpted her from clay and Zeus brought her to life.

Beyond the mythological elements, this movie has some strong talking points about the nature of humanity; the positives that powerful, self-assured women bring to it; and even the question of what men "deserve" (this recurring concept relates to both sinful destruction and to women knowing their worth). Christian audiences will appreciate the ultimate decisions to err on the side of mercy and love instead of destruction and judgment. One character suggests that the 'god of war' and the 'god of truth' are one and the same, implying that it is man's disagreements over what is true that lead to war. One character's sacrifice becomes another's touchstone for understanding and choosing love. Defending is a "sacred duty." The importance of faith is present in the form of "it's what you believe" that matters. "Saving the world" as a life goal is questioned and examined. Diana questions working in the company of "liars, murderers and thieves," to which Steve points out that even good guys like himself have lied, killed and stolen in the war effort.
 

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
 

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: I sat through this screening going, "I can't wait to bring my daughter and wife to this." But that doesn't mean for a second boys and men won't enjoy this film. In fact, another round of applause for another great bit of balance by director Patty Jenkins and her crew: yes, this movie DOES promote the strengths and virtues of women and the frailties of men (the species), but in no way trashes men (the gender), who play a vital and important role here, and rise to the best of their capabilities when inspired by a truly confident, wonderful woman.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: The under-10 crowd. Those who prefer more superhero in their superhero origin stories (think the level of actual Batman scenes in Batman Begins). Those who think Marvel movies are the only superhero stories worth telling.

Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, opened in theaters June 2, 2017; available for home viewing September 19, 2017. It runs 141 minutes and stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Lucy Davis, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Eugene Braverock, Said Taghmaoui and Ewen Bremner. Watch the trailer for Wonder Woman here.
 

Shawn McEvoy is the Managing Editor for Crosswalk.com and the co-host of ChristianMovieReviews.com & CrosswalkMovies.com's Video Movie Reviews.

Publication date: June 1, 2017

Image courtesy: ©WarnerBros.

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