I can sum up the film in one sentence: A good looking chic who can deflect bullets with a shield and swing a sword, needs mansplaining to help her get around.
I almost feel guilty being a man reviewing this film, but I refuse to change my gender to do it. At least a woman directs this on-off project, Patty Jenkins, but oddly written by a man, Allan Heinberg, or credited to a man, to be precise. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, stars the visually knock-out Gal Gadot in the title role, offering an idealised version of a woman created by a man, directed by a woman. (This review is fraught with feminist potholes.) Lovers of Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May might take comfort.
The character first appeared in All Star Comics in 1941, and incidentally for Trivial Pursuits fanatics, a few years after Superman and Batman. One supposes she was an attempt to capture a female comic consuming market. She’s the creation of William Moulton Marston, and a very American idea of a healthy woman, probably one who can play basketball well. Reading about his creation tells us he felt his type of woman should “rule the world”. Two who ruled are Golda Mier and Angela Merkel and neither look remotely like Gadot. After Marston’s death, in 1947, the superhero all but disappeared until she reappeared in the Lynda Carter TV series in the 1970s.
The comic book Wonder Woman is not without controversy. I recall complaints from women that the superhero’s “impossible proportions” were over-the-top, and her scanty costume plain silly. They had a point. Women have the same objection to the charmless Barbie doll. In addition, the character was dropped as an ambassador for a U.N. campaign for gender equality, and it has a history of being scripted and spiked by various directors and writers. Jenkins should be applauded for getting the script to screen. This is her second stab – if that’s the right word – at a larger-than-life character since her superb Monster, (2003) about rape victim and killer Aileen Wuornos. That study gave Charlize Theron her Oscar in the title role, curiously another former model-cum-actress.
I’m trying to think of a story where the woman is gifted intellectually and actually outwits the misogynist man who’s after her body, not her mind. This Boadicea without a chariot is a conundrum for us confused males. Her greatest superpower is never yearning for a child or suffering period pains.
Wonder Woman is the story of a young woman reared in an extraordinary place by extraordinary people – the age old comic book backstory to superheroes. She’s raised on the isolated island of Themyscira, the home of the Amazons – broad shouldered, strong limbed women – I nearly said ‘to a man’. The place sounds rather like a lot of run-down areas of cities where women hold the home together.
The woman are all fighters, and Diana obviously wants to emulate her elders. Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, (Connie Nielsen), doesn’t want Diana to become a fighter, but the willful Diana gets her way and is coached by her aunt Antiope, (Robin Wright) to be a top notch warrior. Now an adult, played by Gadot, she rescues an American airman, Steve Trevor, (Chris Pine) from the sea. Overnight their tranquillity is destroyed when the island is besieged by German soldiers in pursuit of him.
Why would a troop of swastika helmets be after sweet Chris Pine? Well, because he is attempting to stop production and deployment of poison gas by nasty Nazis against our soldiers and civilians. Convinced by his intensity of purpose (sarcasm intended) she follows him to London to join the battle, the battle that is the First World War. Talk about leaping out of the frying pan into the fire.
The film embodies an attempt to express lost innocence, most of it told in flashback, a technique I thought had past its sell-by date. Though it sticks to the tried and true formula of exceptional individuals born into a small tribe in a hidden idyllic valley who talk in pseudo-poetic verbiage, it does hold an intelligent simplicity in its story-telling, avoiding some of the cloudy mysticism of hero stories.
Does this attempt to put a vile male hating Amazonian on the screen work, or is it a gym instructor gone wild? In truth, it’s a bit of both.
Wonder Woman tries hard to have us believe she’s real, in my opinion, because she’s compensation for the lack of progress in western woman’s rights. And she’s white. Snow white. The film, it seems to me, is trying to be all things to all women, and a bit of titillation for the men.
The early scenes hold interest where the narrative takes Diana back in time, to young Diana’s upbringing in the all-female Themyscira, that is, Utopia, a place where there are no men to screw things up. After that, it’s a simulacrum of action sequences we’ve seen before only set amid the First World War, with the addition of a magical golden lasso. Sadly, though it reaches for symbolism, this isn’t a war story to teach us much we don’t already know. We know war is futile, and as a species we are addicted to it.
So, how does Diana react to manly men?
The tribe of women Diana belongs to are not too keen on men; where they met them and how they came to be conceived themselves is not told, one supposes they did without them entirely. “Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you,” warns Hippolyta. (I’ve been saying that for years!) When Chris Pine comes on the scene Wonder Woman’s misandry evaporates.
But like any wayward daughter, Diana takes not a blind bit of notice of that wise counsel. She insists on sailing off with the Yankee soldier and spy to protect Tommy and Yankee from the brutal Hun and mustard gas.
Gal Gadot doesn’t have an illustrious portfolio of acting prizes. She’s first and foremost a model. She can be seen selling Gucci perfumes, Captain Morgan’s Rum, and Jaguar cars. She spent time in the Israeli army, that and her basket ball height giving her a surface believability as the world’s most glamorous wrestler. She does her very best here to appear an actress with a reasonable emotional range while striking any number of catwalk poses. In fairness I should add, Gadot received lessons in swordsmanship, Kung Fu and Kickboxing for the film. She can certainly kick her height.
Gadot, (Hebrew for Goldstein) has done most of her acting confined to the Fast and Furious franchise. When you’ve seen two boy racers glare at each other as they rev at the stop lights, you’ve seen the entire Fast and Furious franchise. Characters devoted to octane injected engines who sniff petrol for a high are not my idea of people to emulate.
Gadot spends most of the film as a kind of well-honed gym teacher who’s not very bright. For example, she may be able to translate Sumerian – mysteriously one of the “hundreds of languages” Amazons can speak without listening to language DVDs – and, when wearing her skimpy body armour, deflect bullets with her magic bracelets, but she’s in ‘wonder’ (pun intended) over ice cream, and captivated by snow. She needs a man to tell her about those things and more. In steps Steve. You half-expect her to nod in approbation while taking a few long serious seconds to assimilate the new input of knowledge, before striding off to beat up another German. Still, photography and special effects are excellent, elements we’ve come to expect will balance thin storylines.
Whenever anybody begins to theorise or pontificate, particularly on the island, actors deliver their lines in an unintelligible garble. I found it hard to make out what was said.
Critics who should know better read all sorts of symbolism into the story, from Iraq to the Falklands, but it’s all hooey. This is Hollywood’s idea of a very fit chic who is a challenge to bed, but might be worth the effort.
I don’t want to give any more away of the plot, but the upshot is corny cliché. (Clears throat, evades eye contact, and shuffles feet): “Only love can save the world”.
The multiplex cinema I was in was full of noisy, chattering girls on their iPhones and some mothers with young daughters, but they were not there to see our own Trainspotting Ewen Bremner do his bit in the story for women’s rights.
That notwithstanding, the film is top box office here and in the States. Obviously I need a woman to explain why.
- Star rating: Two and a half
- Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston
- Director: Patty Jenkins
- Writer: Allan Heinberg
- Cinematographer: Mathew Jensen
- Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
- Duration: 2 hours 21 minutes
- RATING CRITERIA
- 5 plus: potential classic, innovative. 5: outstanding. 4: excellent. 3.5: excellent but flawed. 3: very good if formulaic. 2: straight to DVD. 1: crap; why did they bother?