Review of Wonder Woman (No Spoilers!)

On the way to the cinema yesterday, my daughter and I were talking about male and female role models in film. I told her about a YouTube video I had recently found that described Newt Scamander (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as a refreshingly different model for what a male hero is supposed to be like. We both agreed that, though we enjoyed stories featuring the more “traditional” male heroic archetype (Harry Potter, Iron Man, etc.), it was important to remember that there are other ways of being “a man.”

We looked forward to seeing this newest interpretation of Wonder Woman, a character who, from her inception in the 1940s, offered a rather complex role model for women and girls. She is a woman who is at the same time beautiful, kind, intelligent, and willing and more than able to kick butt and take names when the situation calls for it.

Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins and portrayed expertly by Gal Gadot, measures up and then some! Other reviewers have commented that Wonder Woman doesn’t necessarily feel like a superhero movie. Yes, there are super-powered characters in outlandish costumes, but Jenkins grounds these characters so thoroughly in the real world that I found it quite easy to suspend disbelief and imagine that it would be reasonable for Diana and the rest to exist in my world.

I think a large part of this is that the movie doesn’t flinch from portraying the horrors of World War I. Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that the “villain” of this movie is Ares, the god of war. The true villain is World War I itself—the senseless destruction, the loss of life, the social dislocation, and especially the loss of hope that this war, perhaps more than any war that came before it, brought. And, as Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor says in a moving piece of dialogue near the end, it was all something we humans did to ourselves.

There is even dialogue that implicates those who would appease the enemy by calling for an armistice are complicit in the tragedy. I don’t know if that is meant to be a cynical note, another gut punch when we the viewers have already been schooled in just how bad war can be. But I couldn’t help hearing that line in the context of Gal Gadot’s former service in the Israeli Defense Force and the many broken cease-fires her country has contended with from enemies all around. Is there a political commentary in there? I don’t know, and at any rate, if it was, it was so exceedingly subtle that it didn’t come across as in any way preachy. (As a side note, this movie could have easily gotten way too dark without the comic relief. It is applied liberally, but never in places that where it detracts from the drama.)

Gadot’s Diana and Pine’s Trevor are both complex and well-acted characters. They are multi-dimensional, and the chemistry between them seemed quite authentic to me. Some of the supporting cast may have come across as more one-dimensional, but their one dimension still added to the overall tone of the movie in important ways.

Are there nits that I could pick? Sure. As visually stunning as the movie is, there are places where Jenkins relied a bit too much on “bullet time.”

Most of my problems (and they are admittedly minor) have to do with the logic of the story world. How can the people of Themiscyra can speak so many modern languages and yet have apparently no knowledge of modern warfare—or indeed the modern world? Who thought flaming arrows were a good idea? How can a proud race of warriors manage not to invent armor for the shoulders or neck? (Yes, that’s directly from the source material, but still…)

Go see Wonder Woman, and take your young teen (or older) children. As I noted above, the scenes of wartime violence and its societal effects are quite intense, probably too intense for younger kids. But beyond that, there is little to offend. There are a few lines of sexual innuendo that will probably go over the heads of most children (and possibly more than a few teenagers!). I don’t recall any questionable language at all, though I may be forgetting something.

In my opinion, Wonder Woman strikes an almost perfect balance of humor, action, and thought-provoking themes. Well worth the price of a ticket.