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:MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

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Wonder Woman
Release Date:  June 2, 2017 (USA)
Studio:  Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, and Elena Anaya
Music:  Rupert Gregson-Williams
Director:  Patty Jenkins
Rated PG-13

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

As with all superhero or superheroine movies, there are many possible versions available from past comics, movies, and television shows.  The 2017 Wonder Woman is not exactly none of the above or all of the above but some of all the above.  In short, like many of the DC-based films, it draws from parts of various preexisting versions while not bound to any of them and adds its own history.

We don’t get outdated comic book versions in which Diana Prince / Wonder Woman is essentially a pinup girl running around in her underwear worrying about her relationship status with Steve Trevor and even going so far as to give up her powers and distance herself from her fellow Amazons in order to be with Steve.  The strong feminist element present in some of the earliest versions of Wonder Woman is here.  This does not mean, as some people mistakenly believe it to be, that she is anti-man.  Rather she believes that all people have the right to be free and be who they want to be regardless of gender.

Certainly gender is a huge focus of the movie.  There is a sequence in which Diana displays strong interest in a baby on a London street.  Is this because babies are rare or unknown back on her home, the island of Themyscira, which is sealed from the rest of the world?  Or is this a backtracking, a message that Diana is like every woman in that she should be interested in babies, motherhood, and other stereotyped female behaviors?  It’s difficult to believe that the latter is Jenkins’ intent, but could she have thrown it in as a conciliatory gesture towards more conservative viewers (there’s still hope she’ll marry that nice Trevor boy, settle down, have a family, stay at home instead of traipsing around the globe, and stop all this hero nonsense).  We see a scene in which Diana Prince / Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor, who is nude, discussing penises and wristwatches.  Diana concludes that it’s strange how something so small tells him where to be and what to do.  Yes, it’s a stereotype that men are ruled by their sexual urges, but boy/girl is it clever, well executed, and funny.

Women’s clothing figures prominently in the movie whether it’s Diana dealing with the encumbrances of 1918 British clothing or figuring out what to do with her sword while wearing evening wear.  In terms of her hero garb, while it’s still below business casual, it’s a step up from the star-spangled panties and bustier she ran around in during much of the comics and all of the 1970s television series starring Lynda Carter (one has to start somewhere and at least the series placed Wonder Woman on the map in television and film).  Gadot at least gets a skirt, albeit a very short one, and a top that cover more cleavage than most, if not all, earlier versions of Wonder Woman.

The camera shots don’t focus or linger on her body parts or anyone else’s.  The gaze seems to be asexual, which is somewhat surprising.  However, while she is not sexualized, she is sexual.  There is a romantic scene between her and Steve in his room in which they kiss.  How it ends, we don’t know, but quite possibly something more, maybe a lot more, happened.  In short, she’s pretty, but not a sexpot.  While Diana seems quite interested in the outer world, at times fascinated by it, and Steve is her closest contact point for information, she never seems dependent on him or infatuated with him.  He’s just interesting to her.

Too many movies try to tell us what to think and force us to feel a specific emotion instead of letting us come to our own conclusions and experience our own emotions.  Like situation comedies and their laugh tracks, such movies signal and prime us through the use of music, usually orchestral, slow motion, and a cessation of dialogue.  Wonder Woman has a scene with all of these required elements in which Diana makes a bold dash across no man’s land into enemy gunfire.  In this instance, the scene completely works and is a highlight of the movie.

A lot is riding on this film.  Just as the success of Straight Outta Compton means that we will get to see more films about rap, the failure of Wonder Women would have meant a long delay in future films with heroines as their central characters.  And, of course, this means a lot for DC after the double flop of Suicide Squad—how can you make a movie this bad with Jared Leto in it?—and Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice, whose best scene—I guess, I slept through the rest of it—is Wonder Woman’s appearance.  DC would do well to continue in the direction charted by Wonder Woman:  snappy dialogue, interesting characters, and an actual plot.

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