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‘Wonder Woman’ gets what superheroes are made of

A return to pure heroism makes for a refreshing experience.

Gal+Gadot+plays+Diana+Prince+%2F+Wonder+Woman+in+the+2017+reboot.+
Gal Gadot plays Diana Prince / Wonder Woman in the 2017 reboot.

Gal Gadot plays Diana Prince / Wonder Woman in the 2017 reboot.

Gal Gadot plays Diana Prince / Wonder Woman in the 2017 reboot.

Carlos Villicana, Assistant Arts and Life Editor

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Since its announcement, a lot has been said about what “Wonder Woman” may mean for future female-led Hollywood franchises. As the first female-led superhero film since 2005’s “Elektra,” “Wonder Woman” was seen by many as a chance to prove to the world that there is an audience for powerful heroines in theaters.

The fourth DC Extended Universe film, “Wonder Woman” is also the first superhero film helmed by a female director. That director’s name is Patty Jenkins, and she’s created something truly special.

First seen in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was a supporting role for two of the most unheroic versions of Batman and Superman to exist. Now she’s alone and returning to an idealism that made 1978’s “Superman” and 2002’s “Spider-Man” resonate with audiences. The idealism where the hero selflessly risks their own life for the innocent targets of villainy.

Effectively serving as her origin story, the film goes back in time to WWI. A young Diana lives on the island of Themyscira with her mother, Queen Hippolyta, (Connie Nielsen) and aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). Lush green nature, ancient Greece inspired buildings and a population comprised entirely of women known as the Amazons occupy the island. That’s why it’s such a shock to Diana when she meets a man for the first time.

A rusty yellow plane booms through the sky, a trail of black smoke following it into the sea. Diana lunges in and rescues the drowning pilot, Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Diana’s face flashes with confusion and sadness as Steve tells the Amazons of the horrors Germany has inflicted upon the world. She believes the war to be the work of Ares, the Greek god of war, whom the Amazons were created by Zeus to destroy. Together, Diana and Steve leave Themyscira for the frontlines of “the war to end all wars.”

The leads are both complex characters made more likeable by details. The way Diana reacts to people cheering her for saving them says a lot about her; she’s not after their worship, she’s just happy that they’re alive.

They don’t go to war seeking adventure or fame, they go to protect innocent lives. Diana, Steve and their team see this as their duty, not a burden; and that’s why they’re likeable. Both are heroes but they aren’t perfect, we see them learn from each other and become better individuals for it. These are people with compassion, something that has felt sorely missing in prior DC films and the world at large.

“Show, don’t tell” is what makes the characters work so well. The camera forces us to experience their emotions by closing in on their faces as death invades their lives. Its action scenes aren’t revolutionary, but they’re emotionally resonant. Watching Diana charge through German soldiers to save people is not only inspiring to the soldiers on her side, but to the viewer.

However, the villains are lacklustre, an unfortunately common trait in superhero movies. Not satisfied with peace talks commencing, German General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and chemist Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya) are trying to spread a new deadly gas that they think will secure a German victory. That’s enough reason for any decent person to dislike them, but why do the villains themselves want this? A lack of clear motivation makes them totally uninteresting.

The fact that the film introduces the Ares character tells the viewer that he’ll eventually appear, and when he does, he’s really distracting because of heavy and poor CGI. His look undercuts what was otherwise an interesting twist on the god of war’s relationship to man’s wars.

It’s a film with flaws, but “Wonder Woman” is such a joy to watch that it’s easy to get lost in it’s world and want to spend more time in it. “It’s just a story,” Diana’s mother says. She’s talking about the stories that inspired Diana’s desire to be a warrior for peace. But she doesn’t care if this is true or not, she still wants to be a beacon of light for the world in one of its darkest times; even as she is forced to question whether man is truly good or truly evil.

“Wonder Woman” is a movie about the power of stories to inspire us to be better, and one that tells us to not let a constant onslaught of evil keep us down.

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