Saturday, June 24, 2017

Wonder Woman: What We've Been Craving

I had no desire to see Wonder Woman. Which is shocking, because as someone who generally likes superhero films, is all about female representation in Hollywood, and applauds films that pass the Bechdel test, this movie should have been a no-brainer. But the fact that it was from the DC Comics universe made me think it would be dark, dismal, and dull. When a Wellesley friend of mine asked if I wanted to watch it, I initially declined and then said, oh fine, let's get this over with. And when the credits rolled, we stepped out of the theater, stared at each other with bright eyes, and said, "Oh my God, that was incredible!"

It's hard to explain why this movie matters so much. There were many think-pieces and a great deal of feminist rhetoric around the movie, being that it was the first superhero(ine) film to star a woman (Gal Gadot), and also be directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins). But that all seemed like overblown hype. I had already seen Black Widow kick ass through various Marvel movies, that was enough right? Nope. After watching Wonder Woman, I realized how naive I had been. And honestly, I think that will be any woman's reaction to this movie. Watching it is an exercise in realizing how much you were secretly craving something that hitherto never existed. 

The first half of this movie takes place on the Amazonian island of Themyscira (fancifully known as Paradise Island, but not in this movie that assumes nothing fanciful about a tribe of independent warrior women). We get to see the young Princess Diana as she grows up on this island and hungers to be a warrior like her admired aunt, General Antiope (a superb Robin Wright), despite the reservations of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). However, there's no stopping Diana, so Antiope eventually takes her under her wing and trains her up to be the warrior who will eventually become Wonder Woman.

The movie is a classic origin story, with the conceit being that Steve Trevor (the charming Chris Pine) washes up on shore in Themyscira as a spy fleeing from the Germans in World War I. Diana and the Amazons defend him, and Diana realizes it is her destiny to leave her home behind and venture outside to keep humanity from destroying itself. There's a lot of mythology and history wound up in this tale, which is always fun, but ultimately the second half is both funny and action-packed as Diana learns how the real world works and how human beings can be both brave and despicable.

There was a point in this movie when I worried that Chris Pine was going to take over. He led the hapless Diana around London and mansplained the world to her, while she stared around in wonder and played dress-up. However, my worries were quickly banished once the action began; perhaps, that initial trepidation was a necessary highlight of what women face everyday if they don't have the luxury of whipping out a sword and lasso and punching a guy's lights out. But even these action sequences had an ethereal perfection to them that made me get misty-eyed. I thought I had been growing weary of action sequences in movies, but it turns out I was just weary of watching men whale on each other. Watching women fight (especially with other women during the training montages at the beginning of the film) with grace, and power, and defiance is overwhelming. Apparently this is what had been missing in superhero franchises all along.

So more of this please. More women, more action, more comedy, more compassion, more superpowers, more magnificence. Wonder Woman is a brilliant start but it certainly should not be the end. People complain of superhero fatigue, but that's simply because we haven't had enough superwomen. With Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins leading the way, this genre has been revitalized in spectacular fashion.

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