Taking the lasso of truth to humanity’s failings

Taking the lasso of truth to humanity’s failings

Review: Wonder Woman

(M) Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Danny Huston

The first big-screen adventure devoted to Wonder Woman is the same, but enjoyably different, to most superhero movies. Based on a DC Comics character who rose to primetime fame in the 1970s with her own TV show, Wonder Woman’s blockbuster movie is yet another origins story about where a costumed stranger came from and why they are so darn superpowered. But the savvy handling of this courageous lady treads the different path of female empowerment – even as it falls curiously short of being a feminist war cry. Instead, as this rollicking adventure delivers popcorn pleasures and laudable superheroics, it also teaches sad, hard truths about the equality of women and men.

Having been briefly introduced to salivating fans last year in that forgettable swirl of sound and fury called Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman stamps her mighty mark. Nailing the tough blend of naivety, determination and true grit that this supheroine possesses, Gadot effortlessly engages viewers in the silly but fun backstory of how warrior princess Diana (who is half-human, half-god!) ends up fighting on the frontlines in World War I. Of course, she’s working with the Allies as they try to stop the chemical warfare schemes of crackpot German leaders. Yes, of course she is. But one of Wonder Woman‘s biggest surprises is its impressive ability to not limit evil to one side. Or, even, one gender.

Yes, Wonder Woman lands some sweet blows against the patriarchal arrogance of the Western World, circa 1900s. With poise, Gadot smoothly smacks down the restrictive and prejudiced treatment of women (to Diana, being a secretary sounds like slavery), and blasts the cowardice and inhumanity of male warlords responsible for untold bloodshed. At the same time, though, Diana’s introduction to the horrors of humanity includes plenty of statements and situations which tumble off the path to female empowerment.

Is Wonder Woman a feminist war cry? from The Big Picture on Vimeo.

Gadot is paired well with Chris Pine, who does a great job as US spy Steve Trevor, a cocky but likable soldier that Diana, weirdly, often relies upon to “help” her out. Even though she can leap tall buildings in a single bound, hurl tanks and deflect bullets. But it’s the blossoming relationship between Diana and Steve that most undercuts any potential for Wonder Woman to register as a feminist firecracker. While the mix of action and personal details is solid throughout (apart from the videogame ending; man, what a letdown of computer-generated excess), there’s something disappointing and overly familiar about Diana’s discoveries of the heart and Steve’s significant position in her life.

On a more positive note, even as the finale’s message sticks in the throats of anyone daring to believe Diana was meant to be a feminist revolutionary, Wonder Woman is notable for what it also says about the equality of humanity. With unexpected depth, this origins tale keeps taking us back to the origins of women and men, and dares to remind us that every single person is not as good as they could be. Evil and darkness lurks in both genders, as Diana painfully comes to realise, pointing to an equal footing when it comes to the shared inability of the sexes to preserve their hearts as pure or true.

Thanks to being an entertaining dose of screen storytelling, Wonder Woman doesn’t become a soul-crushing sermon about how terrible we all are (ladies AND gentlemen). Same goes for a very similar wake-up call blared by other well-known observers of the human condition. Writing in the 1st Century, a long time before Diana took on World War I, Christian leader Paul applied the opening words of Psalm 14 to what he saw in people: “There is no one righteous, not even one … There is no one who does what is good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12; see also Psalm 14:1-3)

Wow. What a downer. Like Wonder Woman, though, Paul doesn’t leave us to wallow in the knowledge that all humans fall well short of being anywhere near as good as we think we can be. While the refreshing if flawed superhero movie presents a solution which, you know, is plucked from the pages of a comic book (Note well: Wonder Woman is NOT real), Romans 3 (and the rest of the Bible) provides an actual answer to our heart problems. Just keep reading beyond Romans 3:10-12 and you’ll discover, in the closing remarks of that chapter, the amazing remedy to what ails us. How wonderful.

Ben McEachen

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