Thursday, June 08, 2017

7 Wonders of Wonder Woman

The wonders of this Wonder Woman have nothing to do with feats of strength or beating off machine-gun fire with bracelets.  These days, animated snack foods do effects like that before the show even starts.

First wonder on my list is Gal Gadot as "Diana," a Woman full of Wonder.  Playing a warrior princess raised in a literal bubble on an island paradise, she has read everything about the world but experienced nothing of it. In Gadot's carriage, we see her character's self-confidence; in her face, intense engagement with a brave new world (a phrase Shakespeare wrote for "Miranda," similarly home-schooled on a magical island).  Her surprise can be funny and touching. "You're a man," she says, delighted to have fished one out of the sinking wreckage of his plane.  She wants to know, is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) about the same as other men?  When he explains that a pocket watch tells him when to eat, sleep, and wake, she wonders that he'd let something so small rule his life.    Then, her shock is touching: pleas for help from maimed and hungry victims of war send her instantly into battle.

Wonder #2:  Steve Trevor, the gallant American man, admires Diana's power and determination, but still is protective of her.  At first, he's shielding her from physical harm; later, he's trying to protect her from the bitterness that disillusionment can bring.  The original character in the old comics was a square jawed, blonde, broad-shouldered plot device, routinely stumbling into traps that required Wonder Woman to save him.  Chris Pine gets to be a full-fledged action hero himself, gathering buddies for his mission to destroy a doomsday weapon (created by creepy Dr. Maru, played as a passionate introvert by Elena Anaya).

Wonder #3:  It's that rare thing, a World War I movie!  It's also a surprise, since the original comic book character appeared early in World War II.  But there's another reason to applaud this choice:  In any given set of previews before any movie these days, we're going to see at least one "end of the world as we know it"; the war that began in 1914 was the real thing.   Trevor refers to the Germans and Turks as "the bad guys," but gives a more expansive view to Diana later: the as-yet-nameless war isn't really about anything, tens of millions military and civilians are dying, leaders on both sides are paralyzed, battle lines have remained static for four years, and horrible death is delivered long-distance by shells and poison gas.  At a loss for words, Trevor says, "Maybe war isn't caused by [the god Ares].  It's just -- us."  Trevor calls it "the War to End All Wars" with appropriate irony. When we get to see German soldiers close up, without their helmets, they're not the "bad guys," just teen-age boys, fresh-faced and bewildered. 

Wonder #4: Diana, like American soldiers, believes that one decisive victory for justice can end all wars, and her disillusionment is a bitter blow, so the arc of her story is congruent with the real history.

Wonder #5:  Quiet!  A celebration by townspeople that ends with snow falling on Diana's dance with Steve made a beautiful respite from the tedious noise that afflicts so many "action" "hero" movies.  Then, when Trevor says his most important lines to Diana, she's momentarily unable to hear him.   We hear just the low ringing in her ears, but we get the message.

Wonder #6:  Huge credit to Allan Heinberg (screenplay), Patty Jenkins (direction), and their collaborators for rising above the original material.  I've seen the original material, and it makes one cringe.  In The Great Comic Book Heroes, cartoonist Jules Feiffer opined that Wonder Woman was transparently the calculated and misguided creation of men who wanted to attract girl readers.   I've heard historian Jill Lepore ascribe higher ideals to Wonder Woman's creator William Moulton Marston, a bigamist-feminist who adopted the trope of chain-breaking from Suffragette tracts of his childhood (hear the story on NPR's Fresh Air).  Well, maybe.  But Lepore also quotes a letter to DC Comics from a soldier requesting more chains, and, please, a more prominent view of the heroine's red boots.  From those early comics, the creators of the movie took the Greek myth of Amazons, Diana's immaculate conception as a clay model animated by Athena, the lost pilot Steve Trevor, and the ebullient "Etta Candy," transmuting these into something with dignity and verve.  And what they side-stepped -- that's epitomized in...

...Wonder #7:  Diana's fingernails.  I got this one from my friend Susan, who noticed that Diana, even in her guise as a 21st century professional woman of fashion, keeps close-cropped fingernails. The small detail fits the character.  Another friend on Facebook proclaimed how great it was to see a movie in which the lovely heroine is objectified as a glam-sex object not even once.

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