Bringing the pages of a comic book to life on screen can be a herculean task, one of which our technology has only recently become capable. Burton’s 1989 “Batman” made do with the limitations of its time and even restored much of the caped crusader’s darkness and dignity that had been lost in the BAM! BIFF! POW! era of Adam West and shark repellent spray. The “X-Men” movies Singer helmed in the early 00’s rekindled the love many had for characters of their youth, and can be credited with starting the comic book movie fever that has swept the world ever since. They weren’t quite it either, though. Nolan came along in 2005, giving us the unspeakable beauty and depth of his realism-grounded Dark Knight trilogy. But we wanted super powers. We wanted mutations, lab accidents, aliens, future tech, time travel, gods… we wanted a world beyond our own that looked and felt real. We wanted to see our comics brought to life. Then, in 2008, in the midst of Nolan’s mentally ill gangsters, Singer’s well-cast but poorly executed mutants, and Raimi’s embarrassing attempt at everyone’s favorite web-slinger, Marvel Studios was born. They bestowed upon us what we craved in the form of “Iron Man” and the 14 or so films that have followed. Geek movies made by geeks. Their Avengers initiative has remained the paragon of the comic book movie ever since.
People wondered if DC was going to provide a similar experience in the grittier, darker, men-who-play-at-being-gods universe for which they’ve become famous. It was a swing and a miss for 2011’s “Green Lantern”, two hours none of us will get back. Comic fans lost faith in DC’s ability to bring super heroes to the screen, until the deliciously dark telling of the origin of the last son of Krypton, “Man of Steel“, showed up two years later. With hope renewed, the studio began work on the rest of their cinematic universe, only to grossly disappoint with both “Batman vs. Superman” and “Suicide Squad”. Many comic fans had sworn off future DC film ventures, preferring to return to the sanctuary of their local comic shops and the beautifully crafted DC television universe, and let the casual fans and muggles pay exorbitant prices to watch trash on the big screen. But all was not lost. As Harvey Dent himself once said, the night is darkest just before the dawn.
This past weekend, “Wonder Woman” hit theatres with force, beauty, elegant writing, and a fresh take on a character that many (myself included) had long considered boring and tiresome. As one who shuns feminism, considers SJWs no better than bacteria, having a single film rotate my life-long opinion of this character, one long-heralded as the poster girl for misandry, a full 180 degrees is nothing short of miraculous. Gal Gadot’s performance is innocent without childishness, and allows the warrior-princess of Themyscira to grow out of her naivety without a saccharin-sweet aftertaste. The actress’ real experiences as an IDF combat instructor are obvious, and clearly shaped her fierce portrayal of this capable and worthy heroine.
The movie provides an origin story that feels neither forced nor unnecessary, even though so many already know her roots. The bridges to and from the modern day which bookend the film are brief, concise, and effective. We’re quickly able to begin watching the young princess grow from a feisty little girl with a wooden sword, into a deadly warrior without equal. This enjoyable part of the narrative had little, if any, of the clumsiness that plagues the childhood portion of many origin stories. From there we’re seamlessly shepherded along to her adulthood, seeing her more than hold her own in training against the other Amazons, as well a small but important display of her unique powers when her fabled gauntlets send out shockwaves, toppling her sparring partners.
Early in the ostensible second act of the film, Chris Pine is presented as American spy Steve Trevor, and his introduction provides Diana’s first experience in a real battle, with real costs, the most taxing of which is the loss of her mentor, Antiope (Robin Wright). It’s this crack in her innocence that spurs her to leave the paradise of Themyscira to help Trevor end the war. Thankfully, this film doesn’t take the road it could have, one of giving in to anti-American sentiments or endorsement of the socialist ideals currently infecting the perpetually squeaky wheels of the millennial generation. Director Patty Jenkins and writer Allan Heinberg give us the chance to watch Wonder Woman find her voice, footing, and her grasp on the transforming world into which she flung herself, without imparting any heavy-handed personal views. Diana’s own moral code is allowed to shine through as she makes her way through WWI-torn Europe, and we’re allowed to experience humanity through her eyes at every turn. Despite some anachronisms and minor continuity issues, the movie flows quite smoothly as we make all the necessary stops on the tour.
Our tangible, visible villains, the war-mongering Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and the sadistically psychotic Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) are terrifying and dangerous. In some respects, they are more threatening than the looming specter of Ares, the god our Diana blames for the war and has sworn to defeat. The question of his very existence drives the film and makes viewers wonder if our heroine is chasing a fairytale, or a real-life big bad boogeyman. The inevitable unraveling of the Ares mystery, and the obvious transition to the upcoming “Justice League” team-up wraps the story in a relatively neat bow, and provides sufficient closure for even the most cynical of viewers.
The conclusion of the film is, however, irrelevant. In this case, it was the story and the journey that mattered more than the outcome itself. We weren’t on this quest for the destination, but for the tale that was woven for us. Comic books are modern day mythology, our pantheon of pen & ink deities that provide hope, solace, escape, answers, and sometimes help us ask the right questions. When any movie comes along that doesn’t bombard us with the creators’ personal political or religious beliefs, and allows us to understand the growth of characters and a world that is not our own, it is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise polluted and smothering era of leftist Hollywood propagandists. “Wonder Woman” has done what few comic book adaptations have been able to do, be a damn good movie, not just “good for a comic book movie”. If one chooses to dig and reach, it’s certainly possible to extract political or religious commentary, but it seems unnecessary and almost insulting to do so with a film that provides such satisfying and universally accessible moral fare. It takes an awful lot to make a person love a character they’ve spent the past two decades finding insufferable and nothing but a shill for the cult of feminism. Diana Prince clearly picked up a new superpower or two when no one was looking.