DC Comics has its triumvirate – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Superman has had many adaptations on radio, television, and film, the latter two both live action and animated. Batman hasn’t had as many over the character’s existence, but has picked up on the number of film adaptations over the past two decades. Wonder Woman, not so much. The character had her own TV series in the Seventies and has appeared in the various DC-based cartoons featuring a full team of heroes, but her solo appearances are lacking compared to the other two in the Big Three.
Created by William Moulton Marston, who also developed the lie detector, Wonder Woman was to offset the more violent titles. Instead of beating her opponents into defeat, she’d use the power of love to change their ways, using her version of the lie detector, the Lasso of Truth, to rehabilitate them. Since her debut in 1941, her approach has changed, becoming an Amazon warrior, willing to take the steps that Superman and Batman would not.
Over the past ten years, DC’s domination of superhero moves have waned as Marvel Studios finally figured out how to make interesting movies. Marvel’s approach to The Avengers movies forced DC to accelerate their Justice League titles. The problem that Warner has right now, though, is that all of the DC-based movies look like the Batman films. While that approach works for the character*, it didn’t with Man of Steel or Batman vs Superman, turning both into colourless messes.
After a few fits and starts, Warner finally had a Wonder Woman movie released in 2017. Directed by Patty Jenkins, the film was the top grossing superhero film for the year and finished behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the live-action Beauty and the Beast overall. Even Justice League only wound up tenth. Turns out, representation is key. Wonder Woman is a feminist icon; the character is the best known superheroine, able to bring in an audience that normally wouldn’t consider a capes-and-spandex movie.
The movie opens briefly in the present with a voice over narration by Diana (Gal Gadot) about the problems of the world. A Wayne Foundation armoured truck delivers a briefcase to her. Inside are a photo of Wonder Woman standing with several men in a wartorn town and a note, triggering a flashback to Diana’s days as a child on Themiscyra. Diana is the only child (played by Lilly Aspell) among the Amazons, having been fashioned by clay by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and has no mind for studies, instead wanting to watch the Amazons train. While the Amazons are hidden, they are prepared for the day when Ares tries to destroy mankind and the world again. To prevent that end, Zeus left a weapon capable of killing a god on the island.
As Diana grows older (now played by Emily Carey), she convinces her mother to let her train. Diana’s aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright) pushes her past her limits, working the girl to be the best she can. As a full grown woman, Diana is capable of standing her own against several Amazons at once, but when Antiope pushes to far, something inside Diana pushes back, sending Antiope flying. Diana walks away to brood over what happened. As she does so, a German plane crashes off the coast.
Diana rescues the young pilot, unaware that a German warship has sent several boats to retrieve him. The Germans pierce through the veil that surrounds Themiscyra and land on the beaches. The Amazons fight the invasion, but swords, spears, and arrows can only do so much against trained soldiers with rifles. The Amazons win, but at a cost.
The young pilot is interrogated with the Lasso of Hestia, compelling him to give his name, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and his mission, an American officer working for British intelligence as a spy. He discovered German General Ludendorf (Danny Huston) and Dr. Isabella Maru (Elena Anaya) in the Ottoman Empire creating new weapons, including poison gas, to fight the Allies in the Great War. Diana insists on going off to fight, suspecting Ares behind the war, but her mother denies her. Undaunted, Diana breaks into the tower holding the god-killer sword. She takes it, the Lasso of Hestia, a shield, and the costume. Dressed and armed, she takes Steve to a small harbour. Her mother arrives, not to stop her, but to say goodbye, giving Diana Entiope’s circlet to wear. The parting is bittersweet.
London is a confusing whirlwind for Diana. So many new sights, sounds, and smells. Steve takes her to get appropriate clothes, with the help of his secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). After a few hours and many outfits tried, Diana gets an outfit that’s slightly less conspicuous. Leaving the store, Steve and Diana are followed by German spies. They confront the Germans in an alley, where Diana shows how effective she can be.
At Allied HQ, Steve gives over Dr. Maru’s notebook. Diana is able to decrypt it, understanding the languages used. However, she’s learning that in man’s world, women aren’t listened to. Diana goes off on the assembled generals, who have denied Steve’s request to track the General to Belgium. Steve pulls her out, explaining that he is going anyway, only convincing her after using the Lasso on himself. He makes a stop to pick up reinforcements, con man Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), marksman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and smuggler The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).
On the way to find Ludendorf, Diana leads an impromtu charge through No Man’s Land, clearing a path for the British troops to follow while reducing the German defences. She continues through to liberate the village of Veld, with assistance from Steve and his men. Diana is getting a harsh lesson in modern warfare, seeing the damage wrought to people and their lives.
The team tracks Ludendorf to German High Command. The General, opposed to the Armistice, had killed the rest of the Command with his new gas. The gathering at High Command is a show, one put on to demonstrate the new weapon by using Veld. Angered, Diana finds her own way into the aerodrome where Ludendorf is stockpiling the gas and begins her attack. The final battle of the film is one for Diana’s heart.
There were changes made to the character as created in 1941. The biggest is moving the date of Diana’s first appearance in the setting. When Wonder Woman was first published, World War II was an ongoing war, appearing in newspaper headlines daily. The US hadn’t yet formally joined the war, but was supplying the Allies supplies while trying to appear neutral. Comics of the time gained a secondary purpose, propaganda, so naturally, Wonder Woman fought Nazis. With the war now part of history and using Ares as the film’s villain, moving the setting to World War I made sense. World War I, also known as the Great War and the War to End All Wars, saw casualties in the millions, saw technological advancements that outstripped defenses, and saw an entire generation reduced in four years. Showing Ares having a hand in creating that War works in the context of the film. The movie didn’t show all the horrors of the war, but did show enough to give the audience an idea of the nature of warfare.
Gal Gadot as Diana worked well. She looks like the character, which is critical when adapting from a comic book. Appearances are everything. There were a few times in the film where Gadot’s appearance called back to Lynda Carter’s turn as Wonder Woman in the Seventies. While the movie was far more serious than the show, the portrayals aren’t that much different. Both find that they are fighting with the Power of Love. Chris Pine isn’t necessarily Lyle Waggoner, but he does bring charm to the role of Steve Trevor. Lucy Davis’ Etta Candy also harkens back to the comic and the first season of the TV series. Etta is there as contrast to Diana, but even she has her moments of heroism. Moving the time didn’t change the characters; they adapted well.
Wonder Woman is an origins story. Unlike Batman and Superman, Diana’s origins don’t leave her passive. She defies her mother and trains then leaves Themiscyra. Diana explores the world of men and carves out her piece of it. She is a warrior, but one who fights for love. The movie explores how she came to that decision.
The movie managed to add something that, until then, was missing from the DC adaptations – humour. The levity came from character moments, usually between Diana and Steve, typically centering around the different cultural attitudes about sex. Diana is well read about the subject and the Amazons are open and honest with each other. Steve, though, is coming from an American upbringing that has far more hangups than today.
Wonder Woman despite the changes, does keep to the nature of the character and the comics. Changes that were made help with the story without really taking away from the character. Diana is still Diana, warrior and defender of mankind. She is still recognizable on the screen in costume or regular clothes.
* To quote Batman from The LEGO Movie, “I only use black. And sometimes very, very dark gray.“