What I do is not up to you

What I do is not up to you

 

The warrior goddess decides she has had enough of being told to stand down and calmly walks alone on to the battlefield. Through the smoke and the mud, she strides with the power and pride of a tiger. Soon enough, she draws the enemy’s attention – their bullets shortly thereafter. She deflects the rounds like she’s swatting flies, drawing heavier and heavier fire. Soon she raises her shield and continues her advance, pressing through gunfire that would tear a mere mortal to shreds.

The moment is iconic. The moment is inspiring. The moment is a perfect encapsulation of the resistance this film has faced making its way to the big screen…and the power with which it pushed back all comers.

WONDER WOMAN is the origin story of the legendary superhero from DC Comics. Born Princess Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot), she is a girl who longs to fight, but is continually held back by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). As she grows, she is eventually trained by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), with the provison that she is pushed harder than any other warrior on the island of all female Amazon warriors…and that she never be told the full truth of her lineage. As the years pass and Diana’s talents are honed, it is clear that she is something far more powerful than anything The Amazons considered – but what?

Before that question can be fully answered, a stranger falls from the sky into the surf off the shores of Themyscira. When Diana pulls the stranger from the waters, she lays eyes on a mortal man for the first time. He claims to be a pilot, and says his name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). He is fighting in The War to End All Wars, and as if on-cue, the enemy sails through the fog that keeps Themyscira hidden and opens fire. Though fighting with much older technology, The Amazons win the battle against the German WWI soldiers, with Steve Trevor valiantly joining the fray. The cost of victory is great though, with someone close to Diana giving their life.

In the aftermath, Diana comes to believe that the war Steve Trevor fights in is the work of Ares – The God of War, and jealous brother of the all-powerful Zeus. She pleads with the powers that rule Themyscira to let her go with Steve Trevor back to his world, and confront Ares over the corruption he has brought to mankind.

When she is denied, she goes anyways…knowing she may never be able to return.

Soon, Steve is introducing the mysterious Amazon at his side as Diana Prince – his secretary. He is anxious to see his mission through, and eliminate a powerful German general named Ludendorff (Danny Huston) before he can slaughter millions with advanced weaponry. Meanwhile Diana bides her time, waiting for Steve Trevor to make good on his promise to take her to the frontlines…where she can survey the work of Ares firsthand…and use her considerable talents to reverse the worst parts of human nature.
Gal Gadot, Diana Prince in glasses

 

There is an inherent difficulty where characters like Wonder Woman are concerned; how does one tell the story of a god and make it interesting to us puny humans? How does one take an immortal spirit and an indestructible form and use it to spin a tale that will still captivate?

The difficulty is one director Patty Jenkins faced head-on, and her answer was a simple one – tell a story in which a god has to decide what she believes.

WONDER WOMAN is the story of one person going her entire life preparing for the inevitable. She works as hard as she can day-in and day-out, readying herself for…something, though even she is not entirely sure what. Her upbringing is shrouded in half-truths and overprotection. Then, when fate finally finds its way to her shores, it’s not at all what she anticipated, and she is quickly forced to choose a side.

This is the challenge that so many of us puny humans eventually have to face: to make known what we believe in, even if it isn’t what we always thought to be true.

In Steve Trevor’s actions, Diana has seen true courage and sacrifice; what mankind is supposed to be about, even if it’s usually not. Once that moment of honesty is laid bare, Wonder Woman lays plain what she believes in – difficult as that belief may be to stand up for. In so doing, she inspires us to believe in her.

Time and again in this film, we watch Steve Trevor try to run interference with Diana as she tries to right obvious wrongs. Time and again, the exchange is quite similar:

Steve: “That’s not how it’s done here!”

Diana: “But why?”

Steve: “…BECAUSE!…”

After the second or third time, it’s hard not to see the subtext in that half-assed mansplaining. Both the cinematic landscape, and the world at-large, has arrived at this point in time because of truths we believe to be self-evident. The fact of the matter is, there is not enough truth to what Steve Trevor has been ordered to do, nor much truth to what he is talking his unit into doing, nor enough truth to why this movie took so long to arrive on our screens. Things “aren’t done that way” because the world went and got self-interested and exclusive. The same way Steve Trevor can’t ever seem to give Wonder Woman a suitable answer, neither can many men provide WONDER WOMAN with a suitable answer.

The real truth is that we don’t deserve this hero, nor do we much deserve this film. There has been so much hand-wringing, naysaying, second-guessing, and qualifiers hung like chains on this goddess, that it’s a wonder she didn’t crumple under their weight. And yet, just as she’s been doing for seventy-five years, she broke through every chain and dared us to come up with a new trick. Like most heroes, this film is not without flaw. But also like the best heroes, WONDER WOMAN rises beyond its flaws – nailing the tone to make up for what it might miss in execution.

That tone comes down to the strength and grace that the character stands for, and that Gadot does a great job embodying. In an age where so many are afraid to get their hands dirty or rock the boat, we watch a woman grow restless wanting to do something for the greater good, and refuse to back down until she is finally walking full-stride into the fight.

To paraphrase another famous superhero film, Wonder Woman is a hero we don’t deserve, but the one we need right now.

She sees the world as it could be – complete with potential for greatness and true humanity, and believes it is worth protecting. She steps out of a complete paradise, walks into a truly terrible place, and employs her incredible talents and strength to inspire us. Something inside of her sees something inside of us as capable of making this planet something beautiful.

One can only fathom what she would make of the mess we’ve made of it since…

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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