Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wonders Never Cease

Two Dianas:

The New Original Wonder Woman (1975)  Before seeing the new Wonder Woman currently in theaters, I whimsically revisited a version from four decades ago.

Wonder Woman in 1975 was no newbie to the superhero scene. She first appeared in comics in 1941 and has been around in one form or another ever since. The character Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) was created by psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston who wrote about the cultural and educational value of comic books. He also invented the polygraph lie detector, which puts the “lasso of truth” in perspective. Marston was fond enough of women to live simultaneously with two; the ladies stayed together after he died. He felt a strong female superhero would be a cultural plus: “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”

The two-hour made-for-TV pilot for the 70s Wonder Woman TV show is a generously budgeted and surprisingly elaborate production for what was intended to be a much less ambitious weekly series. Lynda Carter was a wonderful pick for the main part, and the 1940s setting was very much the way to go. (The TV series was later re-set in time to the 1970s for budgetary reasons, which I personally consider regrettable.) The plot: pilot Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) crashes by the hidden island of the Amazons and is rescued by Diana, daughter of the queen (Cloris Leachman). Attracted to Steve and convinced by him and by events that Nazis are dangerous, she leaves the island and joins the Allied war effort. The style of this TV-movie was strongly influenced by the campy ‘60s TV series hit Batman. It imitates much of Batman’s comic book style silliness without going quite so far over the top. It is a well-cast and entertaining TV-movie with old school fx: the flashes on the bullet-deflecting bracelets, for example, are small explosive charges triggered by a button in Lynda’s palm.

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Wonder Woman (2017)
This year’s Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins, avoids any hint of camp. It is written, played, and directed in earnest straight-face. All humor (and there isn’t much) comes naturally from the characters, not from self-referential satire (of which there is none).

The origin story retains many elements of the original. The Amazons have been hidden and empowered by a dying Zeus to one day fight Ares, god of war, when he returns and plunges earth into total war. Once again Steve Trevor crashes a plane just offshore of the Amazons’ hidden island and Diana rescues him. Learning of a global war, she is convinced that Ares is behind it; she leaves with Steve to find Ares and kill him. Steve is doubtful about her analysis, but after all he didn’t previously believe in a secret island of Amazons either, so he is unconvinced but somewhat open-minded. In this iteration, however, the time frame is World War 1. The reason, presumably, is that World War 1 morally is a much more ambiguous conflict than World War 2, and this version of Wonder Woman is no Allied partisan. She is an internationalist – or rather non-nationalist – heroine. She does fight alongside Steve against Germans, but not because she sees the war from the Allied point of view. She does so only because she suspects that General Ludendorff of all people is Ares. Steve’s special concern (which puts him and Diana in the same place) is a war-changing new poison gas being developed by Ludendorff’s protégé chemist.

There are the smash’em-dash’em CGI battle action sequences culminating in a big climactic one, as we expect in a blockbuster superhero movie. They are well done, as are the fx in general. What is missing is the cynicism that has tinged characters both in the DC and the Marvel universes in the past two decades. Instead there is noble sacrifice and doing the right thing. Even when Diana comes to learn that Ares alone is not wholly responsible for the darkness in human hearts, she doesn’t lose her empathy for people or her ability to see their redeeming virtues, too. Naïve? Yes. But sometimes a little heroic naiveté is refreshing.

Kitty Kallen The Wonder of You


  1. The new Wonder Woman has gotten pretty good reviews. I haven't seen it yet, and probably will wait for the DVD release. Heck I haven't seen the last Capt America or Avengers movie either. I'm sure they are all fun. I was going to go see Alien: Covenant, and heck I'll just wait for that too.

    I still watch the old Wonder Woman on TV from time to time. It's a bit cheesy and I never watched it when it originally aired probably because I wasn't that much enthused about female superheroes, though it can be fun. I saw where Me TV has started broadcasting the old Battlestar Galactica series too. Chessy, but fun.

    1. With the improvement in quality of home viewing and the rise in ticket prices, there is less reason to rush out to the theater, especially since DVDs arrive a few months (sometimes less) after a film leaves theaters. I didn’t see Kong: Skull Island, for example, but it will be available in July. Still, there are some things I like to see on a big screen and sometimes I just have an urge foe overpriced popcorn.

      “Cheesy” is a kind description of the Wonder Woman TV episodes, especially after the reset to the 1970s. Oddly, Lynda Carter enjoyed making the ‘70s shows more. Perhaps it allowed her to be more naturalistic than when in ‘40s period pieces. The pilot, though, is pretty good – by TV-movie standards, of course. The original Battlestar was fun, though I liked the less innocent 2000s reboot a lot.