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I didn’t expect much going into Wonder Woman, in part because of franchise fatigue, which I’ve admittedly complained about far too many times recently, in part because the previous three films of the DC Extended Universe – Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad – failed to impress me. But the film worked to engage me right from the start, and by the time it was over, I knew I had seen a terrific entertainment. While more solemn and serious than I would have preferred, as all the DC films of late have been, I didn’t leave feeling depressed or hopeless. If anything, the film aims to restore one’s faith in humanity, to show that for all the terrible things we’re capable of, so too are we capable of kindness and compassion.
Cynical male audiences, I have no doubt, will submit both the title character and director Patty Jenkins as evidence that the film is little more than man-hating feminist propaganda – in all likelihood without having actually seen it. Why certain men find feminism such a threat, I don’t know, but that’s beside the point; if they can set their egos aside and muster the strength to sit through this movie, they may find that a story with a female lead doesn’t automatically make it a story with a political or social agenda. Wonder Woman doesn’t have anything to prove about gender. If anything, it’s just like most other comic book movies: Made in the spirit of fun, not intended to be taken too seriously, chock full of stunts and special effects for us to gawk at.
What you might have to work harder at is your willingness to suspend disbelief, given all the elements that can exist only in comic books. Consider the fact that the title character, whose given name is Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), comes from an amazonian tribe created by Zeus, and that her tribe apparently don’t age and have lived for millennia on an island protected by a force field, and that the God of War Ares corrupted all mankind and killed all other gods, and that a weapon was said to be forged in the event that Ares should return. Oh, and that these Amazonians, clad in very stylish armor, don’t do much else besides train to be warriors, despite the fact that Ares’ absence has left the entire island free of war and violence.
The plot focuses on Diana taking part in World War I, having learned about it when the first man she ever lays eyes on, Allied spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crashes his plane in the sea and accidentally infiltrates the force field surrounding the amazonian island. Believing Ares to be responsible for the evils plaguing our world, Diana is motivated to track him down and destroy him once and for all. On her journey, she teams up with Trevor and his team of misfit soldiers (Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock) as they plot to foil an evil German general (Danny Huston) and his mad scientist cohort (Elena Anaya), the latter sporting a Phantom of the Opera-like mask on the left side of her face.
Both humor and heart can be found in little moments in which Diana is an obvious fish out of water: When forced to try on dresses more in line with the early twentieth century in order to blend in; when she sees great disparities, not just between men and women, but by those in power and those who aren’t; when Trevor’s Persian buddy confides to her that his skin color holds him back from his dreams of acting; when she straightforwardly tells Trevor’s secretary (Lucy Davis) that her job would be considered slavery where she comes from. Of course, in being a fish out of water, she’s essentially no different than a youth in a coming-of-age story, which is to say that her experiences are part of her journey from naïveté to maturity.
That’s not a particularly original approach, but then again, the purpose of Wonder Woman isn’t to reinvent the wheel. At heart, it’s full-blooded comic book movie – telling a story that’s intentionally heightened and preposterous, full of action sequences involving impossible yet dazzling slow-motion stunts, loaded with special effects that really do pop out when viewed in IMAX 3D. Although my gripe about our current plethora of comic book movies remains (we have no less than three more set to be released later this year), at least I can say that this particular comic book movie is engaging and entertaining. For those who will see it only as a militant declaration of female empowerment, what can I say? Narrow minds often can’t be widened.