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WONDER WOMAN and Small Beauty in a Scary World

Monday, June 05, 2017 Rob Samuelson

Wonder Woman is a film that looks at the world with clear eyes. It understands that human nature is often vile and violent. But humanity is worth saving because we accomplish tremendous things between tantrums of destruction. We must appreciate those things to have a chance of preserving them -- and maybe we can avoid the tantrums in the future, too.

Photo credit: Wonder Woman/Facebook

It took until the fourth installment of the DC Extended Universe of films to get something that offered hope for our species. The previous movies reveled in humanity’s badness and seemed to sneer at the idea that their superhero protagonists were even heroes at all. But not here. Director Patty Jenkins cares about our world, flawed though it may be. She knows that people do evil things, like launching ever-escalating wars (the movie takes place mostly during World War I), but she highlights what we do right, even small stuff like street vendors selling ice cream.

It’s not just that Jenkins establishes that there is good in this world, even amid its most heinous conflict to date. She uses the tools of cinema in ways that simply don’t come up often in comic book extravaganzas. She shifts tones and moods often, never failing to find comedy in her characters’ plight and revealing longing for something more, even in the face of what would appear to be a perfect life. Most importantly, Jenkins uses different color schemes depending on which location Wonder Woman (as the title character, Gal Gadot is alternately smiley and resolute, ashamed of evil and eager to do good -- a true hero) finds herself.

Wonder Woman’s home island is idyllic, a mystical place populated by warrior women and hidden from human eyes by the magic of the Greek gods. It’s a Crayola box of vibrant colors, with emerald green grass and ocean waves that crash on golden-brown beaches in expressive bursts of royal blue to signify pristine nobility and honor. It is a place that begs to be hoarded greedily so that it is not polluted by interlopers. But Diana (Wonder Woman’s given name) does not want to keep the beauty for herself and the warrior goddesses who raised her. She wants to share the magnificent experience of growing up like this with others.

When Wonder Woman ventures into Europe’s war zone to follow her damsel in distress, a U.S.-British spy posing as a German officer (Chris Pine), Jenkins shifts to a more subdued color palette that is likely recognizable to fans of the previous DC films. While mortar shells pound the Allied trenches, Jenkins fills the frame with sludgy greens, browns, grays. Jenkins and director of photography Matthew Jensen make war-torn Europe look like a forest being lashed with rain in the weeks before winter begins. They shift visual tones again during the climax, when Wonder Woman does battle with an enemy she suspects of poisoning the human consciousness, filling it with the taste for war. The neon yellow of her lasso complements the oranges and reds of the explosions that pop off behind her and her opponent, while the deep blues of a haunting night sky encroach at the margins of the frame.

None of this is affectation or borrowed “cool,” like various other comic book movies of recent vintage. Jenkins changes her film from moment to moment with purpose and determination. It tracks logically that one’s safe home would appear gorgeous and ideal when juxtaposed with the sight of people being gassed and ripped to shreds by flaming pieces of metal on the battlefield. Crucially, it is important to keep oneself grounded in moments where you see carnage like that, so the reds and blues and golds of Wonder Woman’s costume (designed by Lindy Hemming to be a functional battle outfit and a striking piece of pop art simultaneously) recall her home, reminding her comrades and herself that there is more to this planet than humans doing harm to each other.

Things like ice cream.

Director: Patty Jenkins
Writers: Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya
Rating: 4/5 stars

Available in theaters now

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