A Wonderful Review: Wonder Woman; Spoilers and Mythos

Dear readers,

Fletcher here again, this time to offer you a movie review of the recently released Wonder Woman by Warner Bros Films, directed by Patty Jenkins, and starring Gal Gadot.

Patty Jenkins also wrote and directed the film that launched Charlize Theron’s career, Monster, as well as directing for the cult-classic TV series Arrested Development.  The star of Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman is the Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot.  Though she may seem like an unknown to some, she has been a recurring character in the Fast and Furious series as Gisele.

Side note: Wonder Woman was banned in Lebanon due to the lead actress, Gal Gadot, being Israeli and Lebanon and Israel’s tortured history.  Interestingly, Lebanon did not ban Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in which the Israeli Gal Gadot also appears.  (http://variety.com/2017/film/global/wonder-woman-banned-lebanon-gal-gadot-israeli-1202448666/)

The short version of this review, and for those leary of spoilers, is that it was a fantastic film.  I was not, personally, impressed with Man of Steel.  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was even worse by far.  Both films were riddled with, in some cases, mind boggling writing choices.  I won’t get too deep into my issues with those films– this is a Wonder Woman review, but sufficed to say, MoS and BvS were deeply flawed.  Their receptions were generally poor, and many considered the abysmal review of BvS to be the possible death knell of the DC Comics cinematic universe.  However, Wonder Woman was still incoming even at the time of that movie’s release and as trailers for Wonder Woman emerged fans pleaded hopefully that Wonder Woman would be the turn-around point for the DC Comics cinematic universe.  It may very well be.

The film was a joy to watch.  Not only did it maintain excellent pacing from beginning to end, but also it had a storytelling aspect that made it enjoyable to follow.  Perhaps one of it’s most important elements is that its cast was legitimately well chosen and seemed to truly enjoy and embellish their roles.

Gal Gadot as Diana/Wonder Woman is one of the best performed super heroes in modern film making.  Her side kick, Chris Pine as Steven Trevor (best known as Captain Kirk from the recent Star Trek movies alongside Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Karl Urban as Bones and the talented Zachary Quinto as Spock).  Also joining the cast is Steven Thewlis as Sir Patrick (a prolific actor that many will recognize as Lupin from the Harry Potter series), Said Taghmaoui as Sameer (A Morrocan/French actor recognizable from his role as Caesar in Lost), Ewen Bremner (a prolific Scottish actor I recognized from Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Dawn), Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta and mother of Wonder Woman (a Danish actress notable for her roles in Law and Order: SVU and Gladiator), Danny Huston as the villainous Ludendorf (American Horror Story fans will recognize him as the Axe Man from Coven, also Stryker from X-Men Origns: Wolverine) and Elena Anaya as the villain Dr. Maru/Dr. Poison (a Spanish-born actress with a long list of mostly Spanish films to her credit).  One of the most popular and appealing secondary characters, though, was played by Eugene Brave Rock in the heroic role as Chief, portraying a Native American that has fled America to seek freedom in foreign soil after having lost everything.

Side note: I found Chief’s role in Wonder Woman wonderful.  I wasn’t aware of it before watching the film, but when Diana speaks to Chief privately, she questions him about his people.  He says they are all gone, and when she asks who destroyed them, Chief turns towards Steven (Chris Pine), and says his people did– the very man he now calls “friend.”  I also discovered later that Eugene was in charge of developing his character for the film, to properly represent the Native American aesthetic.  He even speaks Blackfoot to Diana, and continues to play a significant role throughout the film.

Side Note: The sister to Hippolyta, Antiope (Ant-EYE-oh-pee), is another of the simply glorious cast of this amazing film.

In this image we see Antiope/Robin Wright (right) and Hippolyta/Connie Nielsen (left).

Antiope is in fact derived from Greek mythology having been the wife to Theseus, killer of the Minotaur.  She is played by Robin Wright, whom many may remember from the 1987 classic The Princess Bride in the role of Buttercup.

A side-by-side image of the Princess Buttercup that fans of the film The Princess Bride grew up with, and the chiseled maven that would embody the Amazon General Antiope.  For kids like me that grew up enchanted by the romantic comedy The Princess Bride, this tidbit of trivia was a jewel.

Despite early reviews being stellar, and the trailers for this film truly enticing, I went into this film with great trepidation.  Man of Steel had many strong points, but was outweighed by its weaker ones, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was simply an egregious mess.  Yet, Wonder Woman gripped me from the very beginning.  As the movie played on, I kept mentally telling myself that I prayed the movie maintained its quality and didn’t hit 2nd or 3rd act problems that would ruin the film overall.  I can say, though, from beginning to end, this film was a joy to watch.  I will definitely be purchasing the Blu-Ray of this to watch again, something I have not been able to say of a DC film since The Dark Knight.

Now, let’s step deeper into the film, mythos and the spoilers.

Wonder Woman, as a character, originated in 1941 in Sensation Comics.

Her origins differed slightly originally from those of the movie but much of the origin material was retained.  She was an Amazon molded from clay by the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta.  As a gift to Hippolyta, Zeus bestows the clay form with life and Diana was born.  Similarly to the movie, Steven Trevor, a United States soldier during World War I, crashes on Paradise Island, the ancestral home of the immortal Amazons.  Only the most worthy Amazon may return Steven to the mortal world, and Queen Hippolyta holds a tournament to determine who that will be.  Her daughter, Diana, is forbidden from participating, as Hippolyta will not allow her daughter to enter the dangerous mortal world.  Diana disguises herself and enters anyway, winning the tournament.  Hippolyta begrudgingly agrees to honor her victory, and sends her into the mortal world with a set of special gifts.  Among them are her sword and shield, her lasso of truth, a tiara she can throw, bracers that can deflect anything, and a suit of armor.

That origin is somewhat tapped into in the Linda Carter Wonder Woman of 1975.

In the 2017 version, Diana does not participate in a tournament.  She openly defies her mother, steals the gifts and attempts to flee Paradise Island with Steven against her mother’s wishes.  This departure from the canon didn’t bother me and maintained a very smooth narrative that even people that know nothing of DC comics or Wonder Woman could follow.

From then on, Wonder Woman would find herself comically– and in some cases traumatically– exposed to the modern world as of World War I.  Taken back by many of the qualities of the age, such as women’s clothing, being barred from rooms simply for being a woman, and the concept of military bureaucracy, she goes through her 2nd act attempting to understand a world completely foreign to her, while still pursuing what she believes to be her ultimate goal– to find and kill Ares, the Greek God of War.  Steven Trevor’s description of this war neatly fits into stories Diana was raised with about the fall of the Greek Gods at Ares’ hand, and Ares contaminating humankind out of jealousy with a desire to destroy itself.  She believes, as an Amazon, it is her sole duty to find and destroy Ares to save human kind.

Throughout the film, we watch Diana discover her special abilities.  She isn’t like other Amazons, and until she attempts to escape Paradise Island, she never truly understood how different she was.  Her physical prowess is tremendous.  She is strong enough to tear apart stone like it were clay and lift German tanks with ease.  Her speed is super-human, able to track bullets by sight.  The further into the film we go, the more the heroine discovers her true power and her origins and purpose.

I won’t go into a complete dissection of the film yet, having completed my viewing of it, I truly feel that DC Comics and it’s cinematic universe could potentially be prepared for a rebirth.  Though it struggled early on with Green Lantern, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and (in my opinion) Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman may affect a recovery that could rival Marvel’s cinematic juggernaut.  The real proof of this will reveal itself when Justice League premiers in November 2017, only a few months from now.  One thing I took away from both BvS and WW is that Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman has overtaken the DC Comics cinematic universe as it’s lead character, not Henry Cavill/Superman or Ben Afflek/Batman.  If the writers for the DC Comics universe are wise, rather than attempt to change this, they’ll embrace it, and make Gal Gadot their center figure in their ongoing film series with Wonder Woman as their cinematic star.

Now, having discussed the films, let’s discuss the mythology.

The Amazons depicted in the film are not a DC Comics invention, as many people know they originate in Greek mythology.  According to Greek myth, the Amazons were an army and culture consisting entirely of women that raised the most deadly warriors in the world next to heroes of legend such as Hercules, Achilles and Perseus.  They lived on a mysterious island, and it was said any man who set foot near the island would be killed, and that male children of the Amazons were abandoned on the shore to be raised by other Greeks.

An interesting difference between the DC Comics lore and Greek lore is that the Amazons were not at odds with Ares.  In fact, they worshiped him as their patron god, and were often depicted as his daughters.  In Homer’s Iliad, we learn that in the Trojan War when the Greeks had taken the upper hand against the Trojans, Ares (who sided with the Trojans), called upon his daughters to rescue the Trojans from defeat.  The Amazons arrive in the war and lay waste to Greek forces, decimating them with ease.  Achilles beheld this slaughter and went to engage their leader, a masked warrior.  Achilles had never encountered an equal in battle before, but discovered it in his foe, yet managed to finally strike a killing blow.  Wanting to know the identity of this mighty warrior, he removed the mask only to discover it was Penthesilea, the Queen of the Amazons.  It was said that Achilles fell in love with her at that moment, and lamented having slain the only woman that could have been his equal.

Here, Achilles realizes his error in slaying the noble Penthesilea on a Helenistic Greek clay work.

Before this, we go back to the story of Hercules.  According to Greek myth, Hercules visits the dreaded aisle of the Amazons as a part of his trials to appease the mighty goddess of the stars, marriage and women: his step mother Hera.  The legendary Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta, was said to be one of the greatest warriors to have ever lived, and Hercules was tasked with retrieving her girdle by Hera.  Legend stated that any man approaching the aisle of the Amazons would be killed on sight, but Hippolyta was impressed by Hercules and permitted him to visit.  It is said she became enamored with the legendary warrior and chose to give him her girdle.  Hera, desiring to see Hercules fail at his task, whispered to the other Amazons that Hercules had stolen the girdle.  The Amazons, attempting to protect their queen, inadvertently kill her, and Hercules escapes the isle with her girdle.

Here, on an ancient Helenistic clay piece, Hercules is depicted fending off the Amazons.

It’s often believed the Amazons exist only in myth, yet there is evidence they did indeed exist in some form.  According to myth, the Amazons were captured at the end of the Trojan War and put aboard a fleet of slave ships.  They overpowered their captors and crashed on the shores of Scythia where they encountered native tribes, overpowered their men, turned them into their husbands, and their wives into their maids.

This may indeed just be myth, yet anthropological evidence shows that Sarmatia in Scythia is rife with burial mounds in which women are buried with weaponry and horses, which are traditionally rites reserved for honored warriors.  What was called Scythia is much of modern day Russia and Siberia, and the culture of these areas is filled with the tradition of female warriors and hunters.  Did the Amazons truly exist?  Like much of what exists in legend, there is often a far removed basis in historical fact.  Perhaps at some point explorers of the ancient world discovered the tribes of Sarmatia, and from them derived the legend of the deadly female country of the Amazons.

For those curious of the film, I recommend you watch it.  It will stand alone regardless of the success or failure of the rest of the DC Comics universe as a fantastic super hero adaptation.  It’s my hope that no matter what becomes of the rest of the DC Comics universe that this is not the last DC Comics will give us of stand alone Wonder Woman films.  Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot should be applauded for creating a truly enchanting and exhilarating superhero film.

Thanks for reading and catch you again soon,

Fletcher

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