The summer blockbuster season has already started, but the film of the season has already been delivered. Wonder Woman is the best thing to happen to the DC extended universe since Christopher Nolan presented The Dark Knight almost nine years ago. Even if you didn’t watch any of the lead-up films (Man of Steel, Batman VS. Superman, Suicide Squad), you can and should watch Wonder Woman. It has emotional intelligence and kick-assery that is reminiscent of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and is unafraid to portray a woman who is entirely in control when she moves into the realms of men. Wonder Woman is a warrior worthy of imaginative stories, an immortal being, and dammit, she’s smart as hell, too. Kid-me yearned for a heroine of my own, one who wasn’t a part of a team, and wasn’t considered a joke. Why, oh why, did it take so long for a live action version of Diana’s story to come to the movies?!
So who is this Wonder Woman? Diana (Gal Gadot) grew up on an island paradise called Themyscira (the island was originally called Paradise Island in the comics). She’s an Amazonian princess whose mother, the Queen Hippolyta, trained from a very young age to fight, educated her on governance, and a lot of languages. It should have been obvious to Diana early on how special she was: her mother told her she was molded from clay, and blessed by the god Zeus. She was also the only child on the entire island.
One day, a pilot named Steve (Chris Pine) crashes a German plane into the sea nearby the island, and Diana saves him from drowning. He is a spy working with the English to gather intelligence against the Germans, who are developing a version of mustard gas capable of spreading far and fast. Diana asks about life outside the island, including what war he is fighting—the first World War—and his story suggests to her that the God of war, Ares, is likely responsible for it. It is her strong belief that Ares’ influence is turning the men into monsters, and that all people have inherent goodness. She is the antithesis of the brooding Batman. Diana is the compassionate heroine we need.
Diana’s belief system is focused in the concept of a strong world community, one where the defenseless are inherently worthy of the defense and care of the strong. Diana, who was the strongest fighter on her island, knows that it is her duty to help end the war, so she joins Steve in his travels. She does the standard-issue fish out of water sequence: in 1918 Europe, it would be unusual to see a woman in anything other than full coverage clothing, yet Diana still must carry her sword and shield. She coos at the sight of babies and children, and enters war rooms where The Men are discussing strategy. The very idea that the men in power could be sexist is unfathomable to Diana. It is the period in which Virginia Woolf was struggling to find a “room” of her own for writing and research in the University libraries. Women’s suffrage was only just gaining momentum. And yet, Diana.
We’re on our third incarnation of Spider-Man in less than twenty years, endured Smallville, Superman Returns, and the two Zack Snyder films (Snyder produced Wonder Woman and has a story credit, for what it’s worth). But somehow, our dear Wonder Woman lived out the last forty years in Linda Carter’s TV show, artist Dara Birnbaum’s seminal video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, the comics, and in cartoons (save the failed pilot attempt in 2011). The director of our Wonder Woman is Patty Jenkins, whose credits include the writing and directing the Oscar-winning film Monster, the pilot of The Killing, and an episode of Arrested Development.
Believe it or not, big-name studios, you can ask Patty Jenkins to direct more work. Her skill is evident in this very film: each phase of Diana’s life could be considered an homage to the superhero genre, it has romance, comedy, and a rousing middle. This is a scene in which Diana enters the trenches, and the troops must cross No Man’s Land to save the village occupied by the German forces. I felt emotional, not only because of how damn good the movie was, but also because of the significance of the setting, the character, the place, and the actress. Gal Gadot is from Israel, her family escaped the Nazis, and she served in the Israeli armed forces. She is the real deal: even without that background, you can tell that Gadot believes in everything Diana stands for, and would fight for the freedom and rights of her fellow humans. Even though we all know that Wonder Woman is not real, we want to believe in her, and all of her ideals. No matter what Bruce Wayne thinks, you can’t buy your way into being a good person.
In keeping with superhero film convention, of course, the end fight sequence is far too long and bombastic. Diana beats up a lot of people, and wins by the end, but that’s just one victory in time. As an immortal being, she has all of time (and space) to save, so we should expect more of Diana in the future. I’m pretty happy with that.