Aristotle asked that a drama have “unity” of action, time, and place. The new “Wonder Woman” movie has these, more or less; what it lacks is unity of common sense.
Each of its three or four acts plays out to a different set of cosmic rules. Imagine Dorothy stepping out of the tornadoed farmhouse in “The Wizard of Oz” and onto the no-man’s land of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” only to find the battle taken over by a DC Comics superhero.
In Act I we meet the Amazons on Island Something-or-Other, and we meet Wonder Woman, who is every bit as cool and photogenic as a little girl as she is in the to-die-for form of Israeli commando/actress Gal Gadot. It’s notable that everyone who told me about this movie before I saw it today told me how awesome Gal Gadot is, which is undeniable. They neglected to tell me that her movie is ludicrous.
The Amazons all ride horses and throw spears and kick huge amounts of ass, and they all have biceps. Where did the Amazons come from in the first place? That would be thanks to Cosmology A: They were creations of the Gods, as in Olympus, which explains maybe why their island looks vaguely Aegean. Wonder Woman herself was conceived by Zeus blowing on some mud.
(For the Catholics in your thinking movie audience, this conceived-by-the-holy-spirit sort of motif at the beginning of the film is balanced by a stunning moment near the end, when WW takes off vertically from a battle—zoom—exactly like a Crucified Christ who thinks it’s the Ascension. By then, we’re being asked to consider Cosmology J or K.)
The Amazon world of Act I is pierced or penetrated by a bunch of uniformed men in planes and boats, who enter through one of those fuzzy space-time warps created with lensing hocus-pocus. Soon after this abrupt clash of realities—and just after Wonder Woman and Steve, the American flyer-hero who has infiltrated the German Navy (?), begin to feel the sort of male-female chemical stirrings that you really wouldn’t expect your thinking, ass-kicking Amazon to feel—we shift to Act II. It’s grim and gritty London, circa 1918.
This was the best part of the movie for me because here in London, with the war boiling overseas, we meet recognizable human persons with traits with which to identify. (Arguably, the only thing to ID with in Act I, before the WW-Steve sexual chemistry thing, is the theme of Female Empowerment, and I don’t. I don’t ID and I don’t accept the limited definitions on offer of either female or power.)
In London we learn that Steve has a posse of three mates, including a French-accented vaguely North African-looking “actor,” a drunken Scottish marksman, and an American Indian who, no surprise, is very good at tracking stuff, even ectoplasmic Nazis. And here in London WW bags her WW get-up and dons a sleek ensemble that makes her look like a suffragette as reimagined by Cosmopolitan circa 2017. Again, the Gal looks awesome. No doubt.
But then things get slightly surrealistic when the scene moves to the fabled WWI hell of barbed wire and machine-gun nests and mustard gas. In this Act (IIb or maybe III) WW violates all of the muddy rules of earth-bound soldiers by making a run at the Germans and deflecting literally thousands of bullets with her amazing wrist bands and, when the action gets too hot for wristbands, her shield! The effects, of course, are rad. There’s a lot of frightened, panicked German talk as the Nazis realize their reality has been penetrated by a cartoon person who can’t be stopped because she’s a cartoon.
We soon move toward the grand finale (Act III or maybe IV) through a sort of Indiana Jones-ish interlude, where we meet the nefarious Nazi female scientist with the Phantom of the Opera mask and her ectoplasmic handler, who is really the Greek god Ares done up Nazi. Finally comes the absurd cosmic blow-off ending and THE MESSAGE. Right in the midst of the hottest action, WW says to no one in particular: “It’s not about deserving. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”
This seemingly is the fall-back philosophy of any postmodern story that has no idea which way is up, literally. Believe what you want to believe as long as you believe in love. And as long as you swallow all the baited hooks in this pot pourri.
I don’t believe I’m going to see another DC Comics–inspired movie anytime soon, although the trailers we watched before WW seemed to promise nothing but. As the alliterative lady with the third W says in “The Wizard of Oz,” “What a world, what a world!”