The cinematic universe of DC Comics finally hits all the right notes – bullets, bronze, and mustard gas included – in what for any other superhero would be a distinctly Marvel origin story. This, uh, wonderfully directed and near-perfectly cast iconic heroine female empowerment story is so similar in tone and feel to Marvel Studios’ Captain America that I was waiting for Stan Lee to show up, possibly as a eunuch. But, no, this is a big girl’s game all the way, replete with Greek mythos, star-spangled corsetry, and an exhilarating performance from Israeli actor Gal Gadot as Diana, Princess of Themyscira (aka Wonder Woman, although no one says it aloud), the bullet-deflecting, Lasso of Truth-whipping, not-entirely-American – yet utterly feminist – heroine created by writer William Moulton Marston and illustrator Harry G. Peter circa 1941. That’s roundabout the same time Marvel’s shield-wielding Cap’n arrived in “the funnies,” and both heroes were born amidst the chaos of World Wars, fighting for truth, justice, and freedom from bellicosity in comic books that were ultimately shipped to the European theatre to buck up weary Allied grunts and airmen.
But you already knew that history lesson, right? Fair enough. Director Jenkins, an Army brat herself, hews religiously to the Wonder Woman backstory, with a screenplay by Allan Heinberg (with story credit help from Jason Fuchs and Zack Synder). Created by Zeus to defend humankind from Ares, the God of War (a startling Thewlis), Diana is Amazon royalty. When Yank spy/pilot Steve Trevor (Pine, riffing on his Captain Kirk character perhaps a tad too much) is shot down over the hidden island chain of Themyscira while being pursued by vengeful Germans, she’s honor-bound to defend a world of men she does not yet fully comprehend. The Great War rages along the 400-mile-long Western Front with the lives of millions of innocents in the offing. So what’s a princess with powers unknown even to herself to do? Set out to kill Ares and stop the very idea of war forevermore. Enter chaos, and a trio of very dodgy help-meets, among them Trainspotting’s Bremner, Algerian scammer Sameer (Taghmaoui), and Native American The Chief (Brave Rock).
It’s worth noting here, amongst all the history-warping story of possible armistice or hellishly destructive mustard gas, that Wonder Woman isn’t just femme-inclusive, but open to all nations, colors, creeds, and religions (including pagan, obviously). The various heroes, immortal or otherwise, band together to defeat not only Kaiser Wilhelm et cetera, but also the hidden lust for death and mayhem that, as Diana learns, is part and parcel of every human being. It’s not just Ares – my sign, sorry – that’s responsible for the 25 million dead in World War I, it’s us, as a race (a race to the bottom though it may be). That is Wonder Woman’s most noble armor, after her heavy ordinance-deflecting shield and her seemingly incorruptible moral standing. Thanks in no small part to Trevor’s unshakable wartime ethics in the midst of the largest killing field of all history, she learns fallibility of the human kind. Sworn to save the innocent and steady the scales of humanity’s unending bloodshed against hope itself, Wonder Woman emerges as the epitome of female strength, compassion, and yes, kickassery. It may feel like a Marvel Universe movie, but Diana Prince constitutes her own constellation by herself. Men need not apply, unless of course they fight for all men and women, and the right to give peace a chance.
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