I am always a bit skeptical of the simplistic thinking that a woman has to direct a movie about a female, but in this case Patty Jenkins [who has been working in TV since her last very smart feminist film, Monster] really delivers a film that comes from a female point of view, and that really is the best, most obvious thing about it. It’s not just that it’s very intelligently feminist [although it is], with its heroine able to take charge and solve problems on her own, and a male hero who is able to let her do her thing without being emasculated, but the main thing that sets the movie apart—aside from its unabashed hope and optimism—is that each scene is written with an emotional relatability missing from almost all of our recent films, even the most earnest indies. Here, each scene is emotionally involving, keeping us in touch with the motivations of our characters, even as they face extraordinary circumstances and perform unbelievable feats. It’s enough to make one wonder that the rest of movie writing is so canned and shallow, when suddenly we find in a film where every scene works and is emotionally involving. I cried several times throughout the movie, not because anything that happens in so wrenching, just because it is all written and directed so well as to bring out the relatable emotions.
So Diana is raised on this hidden island of women, the whole history of Gods and mortals told through animated paintings that refer to 17th-century allegorical paintings. We have the story of how she was trained, and, basically the very minute she unleashes her early power, a man crash-lands on the island, bringing with him a slew of aggressive soldiers. The way the Amazons effortlessly slaughter the soldiers [swords and arrows against guns] goes very far to show why Diana could be a badass in the human world. Diana follows the man, Steve Trevor, back to Europe to assist in World War I, and the film shows her following Steve’s lead, until a pivotal moment in which she’s had enough and is just going to do things her way, which turns out to be a triumph. The movie is smartly feminist in that it’s not a huge confrontation, Diana just decides that she’s taking matters into her own hands, and soon we see that Steve follows her lead without having to give up his own agency or masculinity. It helps that the scene—Diana walking unharmed across a desolated battlefield—is also visually and symbolically rich.
Jenkins has made no secret that she patterned the film after Richard Donner’s Superman in many ways, the most important of which is that Diana remains committed to love, truth and justice without any shame, embarrassment, or need to make her character “dark” or “edgy.” Almost all films, especially in the sad DC canon of late, have been afraid to make their characters simply heroic, and you know… these ideals and emotions may be sappy, but they are very emotionally powerful. Part of the way this film is such a surprising breath of fresh air lies in simply rediscovering how very powerful those emotions are.
So Jenkins has done an excellent, truly admirable job [and it’s nice to see the box office supporting it]. Chris Pine is more relatable and appealing than he has ever been, although that may be because he’s probably never had writing and direction this good. The one time he says “I love you” to Diana is simple and devastating. All that said, the filmmakers really unearthed a find in Gal Gadot. She is always able to suggest that a great deal is going on inside her head, and always brings layers to even her most simple scenes—unexpected layers. Her Diana often has curiosity on her face. Even in the final shot, as she leaps into battle, she reflects curiosity and interest, so far from the blank determination we’ve come to expect from our heroes. In this way, she is able to suggest a God-like detachment from the world of humans that really makes the whole thing work.
Gosh, here I am talking myself into seeing it again.
PS, I did see it again, and published some additional thoughts about the ending.