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Putting the “Wonder” in Wonder Woman (Spoiler-Free)

By now, most of the world has witnessed the phenomenon that is the superhero hit Wonder Woman. It surpassed $200 million dollars in its first two weekends domestically, and is the #1 film in the world, much to the joy and surprise of many film critics.

This film is the debut of Wonder Woman as a film protagonist, only 76 years after her introduction in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941). Her first singular appearance came in 1942.

As an avid reader and fan, I admit that this film made me nervous when it was first announced. I have read the comics for years (New 52, Rebirth, Legend of Wonder Woman), plus I own and enjoy several bind-ups, including the George Perez Omnibus, the “War Years” assembly, and the 75th Anniversary collection. In addition, I have a ridiculous amount of Wonder Woman merchandise – POP figures, dolls, signs, posters, statues, and action figures adorn my book shelves and office walls. I have blankets, socks, mugs, an adult onesie, and more t-shirts than one should own and be considered sane. She is, by far, my favorite comic book character (Doctor Strange is second). So, yes, I had some reservations and anxiety about the new film.

But it did not disappoint.

First of all, let me address the elephant in the room. This film has had its fair share of controversy. From “all female” showings, to the lack of hairy armpits, the absence of stars on her knickers, to the race of the actress – Gal Gadot – there have been enough fog and noise to fuel clickbait titles on the internet and create some nasty comments beneath articles. Sure, I’m female and females were interested in seeing the film. But as someone who watches and enjoys DC/Marvel movies (well, didn’t really enjoy Batman Vs. Superman, a film in which Gadot stole the show for me), I can attest that DC did not underestimate the box-office power of this character. The studio obviously spent a hefty amount on special effects, casting, and the overall effect. Patty Jenkins stood at the helm of this project, and she has done an admirable job. It’s not a good “female superhero movie,” it’s a great “superhero” movie.

To begin, the casting was fantastic. Gal Gadot did not just play a character; she embodied the role of Wonder Woman. Gadot, who spent two years serving a mandatory stint in the Israeli armed forces, is tall, lean, and fierce. Her training is obvious to many, yet before her military training she represented Israel in the Miss Universe pageant. Gadot herself seems to contain the gentle/aggressive amalgamation that encompasses the character. She is believably good-hearted, and she is believably threatening when provoked to anger. Gadot is convincing in this role, which was a tough combination to achieve. Although Wonder Woman is unaware of the climate in a man’s world, she still possesses the hope that mankind can be intrinsically good, erroneously believing that Ares persuades humans to wage war. By simply pulling out her ponytail and donning the iconic outfit, Diana became Wonder Woman (and she didn’t even have to spin!). Gadot successfully and impressively achieves the transformation.

There are some alterations to the storyline. For example, this film is set during World War I, not World War II as the original WW story. There are small Easter eggs with the various Amazons. However, the origin story that Diana must disguise herself and earn her spot to accompany Steve Trevor back to the “man’s world” is not included. This, happily, did not detract from the cinematic representation of Wonder Woman. Diana follows a fantastic “coming-of-age” story – defying her parent, leaving home, acclimating to a new life/world – but she never loses hope. “It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe,” she says. Yes, truly this is the character I know and love from the comics.

Chris Pine as Steve Trevor was also perfection. His bravado, mustered in moments of vulnerability like the Amazon pool or the conversation on their odyssey to London, shows how his character arc develops comfortably along with hers. He is a great foil for her, a teacher who knows much (and pretends to know more), but is consistently surprised at the layers he uncovers.  Contrary to traditional storytelling, Diana rescues Trevor, who finds himself at the mercy of Amazons who could easily, easily kick your butt but who, unlike his enemy, are merciful. Diana keeps surprising him, detailing the many “volumes” that she has read about men, and illustrating the hundreds of languages that she can conjure in an instant. She is a valuable resource, but not just because she is an Amazon princess breathed to life by Zeus, but because she is fully convinced of the power of love and hope.

Etta Candy, another great character from the story, is in full bloom in this film. She is Trevor’s secretary (she plays various roles in the comics – for example, she’s a singer who adopts Diana in the Legend of Wonder Woman comics), but her comedic timing is priceless. The whole scene with her maneuvering a sword and shield on the London streets was side-splitting hilarity. Wonder Woman asks how women “can fight” in such get-ups, while she performs high kicks in layers of petticoats. The whole section of the film is fantastic.

Like many, I was moved by the No Man’s Land scene, Diana’s first attempt to fight what she believes is the “armies of Ares.” Persuaded by the cries of a young woman and her child, Diana whips off her coat and emerges from the trench in all of her glory. She crosses No Man’s Land armed only with her sword, arm cuffs, and shield. (On a side note, I thought the reference to “No Man’s Land” was a little cheesy at first since she, as a woman, can cross it, but then I discovered that this is the actual name of land in front of enemy trenches). Diana takes the fire which allows the others to advance. Eventually conquer those in the German trenches. It’s a pivotal moment for the character, but also for the audience as well.

Overall, Wonder Woman was worth the wait. The casting was spot-on; the cinematography was breathtaking. Themiscyra is beautiful and the battle scene on the beach rivals the best and most extravagantly-choreographed fights I’ve ever witnessed on screen. From start to finish, Wonder Woman is a triumph.

About Niklas Anderson