Movie Review: Wonder Woman
By Ben Gruchow
July 4, 2017
Diana is introduced as she observes Antiope running her warriors through physical training, and it's an instructive moment for us in the audience: she does not simply watch or spectate, but follows along as only the child can who is seeing something that they dream of doing one day: excitedly punching and kicking the air, moving and dodging. It's a little startling, witnessing this scene, how little we see moments like this in movies (especially in high fantasy and sci-fi and especially with girls): there is joy in this moment that's anticipatory, and Hippolyta’s subsequent admonition that Diana is to experience no Amazon training does nothing to dispel that excitement for her or us in the audience.
That idealism and motivation also initiates and propels the movie’s primary conflict. Themyscira is mystically obscured from view to the outside world, but this does not prevent intrusion. When pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands off the coast of the island, we and the characters are alerted to the period and the circumstances: there is a war outside of Themyscira, it involves many countries and millions of innocent deaths. It's a mess, a battle fought on multiple fronts with no clear antagonist. It is the sort of event that Diana believes she has been preparing for with circumstances that are alien to her way of life. To her, the existence of the war is the result of Ares’ return; to end the war, all she must do is kill him. This sets up the origin-story framework of a quest to discover a new world with a new sense of identity, always literalized to some degree by the existence of a costume and/or a mystical resources. It also sets up the fish-out-of-water concept that has been familiar to just about all of the post-Batman Begins comic-book origin stories.
What's different about this iteration of the outlay - different to a deceptively significant degree - is that Diana is not an ingenue when it comes to her sense of right and wrong. In Begins, Bruce Wayne had his definition of ethics and morals reshaped by his travels in the Himalayas; in the MCU films, the central characters generally have an attitude about the world that undergoes some form of radical reinvention that's necessary for them to become the superhero. Once again, Steve Rogers, in the Captain America films, comes the closest to what we're seeing here: he has a fairly unimpeachable moral code that drives his every action and never really comes into challenge. Even that, though, is a little softer and more vague than the sense of character stakes that we get here.
“I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves,” Diana says to Hippolyta as she prepares to leave the island for London; a sentiment echoed many times in the movies before, to be sure, but rarely with this degree of clarity and authenticity and relevance. As a cinematic moment, it takes the first really big step toward defining the arc of what we're about to see; as a pop-culture expression, it's as powerful as Gabriela’s closing statement to the title character in this spring’s Logan.