Somewhere between the plots of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017) lies Wonder Woman (2017). It is really murky. If you watch these films in order, very little will make sense. I know. I have done it. That is the DC Cinematic Universe for you. Wonder Woman was widely heralded as the best of those films, though I am not entirely sure why. Granted, it is not as confusing of a mess as the other two, probably owing to its focus on one character instead of several. But in watching the latest film version of perhaps the most famous female superhero of all time, I was left scratching my head as to so many of the choices made in presenting her to audiences.
If you are unfamiliar with who she is, Wonder Woman reintroduces her background in Greek mythology at the outset. It is something about her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nelson), molding her out of clay and having Zeus grant the sculpture life before dying himself. Despite her knowing the story of her own creation, Diana (Gal Gadot) is at first unaware of her divinity growing up on the secret Amazon (the race of warrior women, not the global corporation) island of Themiscyra. She longs to train as a warrior like her peers, and when her mother finally gives in it is with the caveat that she be instructed harder than anyone else. Thus life goes on in their little paradise until history intervenes in the form of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash landing in a stolen German plane off their coast. This is where the film begins to lose me, and yes, it is mostly because of the history involved. Somehow Trevor (in a plane not designed for crossing broad seas because this is 1918 and World War I) was being pursued by Germans in a boat. Diana rescues him and pulls him onto the beach, only to be chased there by a band of German soldiers in their rowboats. Though the invaders are defeated, Trevor informs the rest of the Amazons that there is a global war going on outside the confines of their tropical island. This convinces Diana that it is the long prophesied return of Ares, the God of War, and it is her lifelong mission to defeat him once and for all. So, gathering up sword, shield, and armor, the immortal Diana, princess of Themiscyra and the Amazons, goes off to end World War I, and in an impossible feat of seamanship, sails with Trevor from somewhere in the Mediterranean to London in one day. Once she arrives there are a series of comic relief scenes as the ancient Amazon encounters life in the early twentieth century. But when support for her desired purpose of defeating Ares is met with incredulity, Trevor decides to form a team and sneak her onto the front. He goes because he believes that General Erich Ludendorf (Danny Huston), who actually existed and helped lead the German war effort in the late stages of World War I, had a secret weapons base with which he planned to prolong the conflict. Diana believes him to be Ares. Yada, yada, yada, a bunch of battles take place, Trevor takes off with a payload of bombs filled with deadly gas and sacrifices himself, and Diana defeats Ares who turns out to be British politician Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis).
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why they felt it necessary to set Wonder Woman during World War I. Diana, like all the Amazons, is immortal (and apparently invincible, which dissolves most of the tension in the action for this reviewer). Thus if she can live forever, why 1918? I ask because if you are going to go for a historical era, get it right. I already mentioned the problems with the plane towards the beginning. There are other tidbits, like having civilians in trenches (no) and having various Allied soldiers mixed in with each other on the lines (also no). One thing that keeps being discussed is how close the two sides were to an armistice, meaning November 1918, when the war actually ended. Despite everyone fighting until the end, there was a real sense that the conclusion of the hostilities was near. Yet we see hundreds of soldiers apparently still preparing to go to the front. Just no. Additionally, nobody was calling each other across the English Channel, as happens in one ridiculous moment. And the way they portrayed Ludendorff is absolutely absurd. In real life, he had lost his son in the later months of the war and was quite eager for it to be over. However, the most glaring problem is in Wonder Woman’s womanhood. It does not take a historian to know that women in 1918, to put it lightly, did not have the same rights then as they do today. One of the things this film was trumpeted for was that it was about female empowerment. Sure. Yet aside from a few throwaway lines from the comic relief secretary, Etta (Lucy Davis), that issue is not really addressed. I suppose given the awesome power and fully realized strength of her person is enough. Yet it might have been a little more interesting to see her addressing modern issues with her character than having to contend with the backwardness of the early twentieth century. Then again, there is always Wonder Woman 1984 coming out soon.
That strength of Diana’s character in Wonder Woman is perhaps the one praiseworthy thing about the film. During the climactic moment of her fight with Ares, the God of War tempts Diana by showing her how useless are humans and that it is really them who are responsible for all the death and destruction, not him. He offers her the chance to join with him to rid the planet of mortals and return it to the primordial eden that Earth had been before man set foot on it. The devil offers Jesus a similar deal when Our Savior was tested in the desert. Satan tells Jesus that he can give dominion over everyone, total power, in other words, which one would assume would lead to tyranny. The thread that links them is that people are not worth mercy or protection, and trying to be a beacon of good and hopefully redeeming them is pointless. Neither Jesus or Diana give in to such lies. Just know that there was a real life example of this, though it is nice to have a cinematic reminder from time-to-time.
As I said at the outset, Wonder Woman is not quite as bad as the other DC films, but that is not saying much. Wonder Woman is truly heroic and cares for people, but boy was this hard for me to watch at times. If you know nothing of World War I history, then perhaps it will be a little more watchable for you. As for me, it seems like there were a lot of missed opportunities here, but here is hoping that Wonder Woman 1984 gets it right.