You don’t expect a live-action movie that hinges on a DC Comics super-hero to be anything more than what the brand usually offers – some regulation gonzo war movie glorifying combat. But “#Wonder Woman,” directed by Patti Jenkins, takes you past the one-dimensional, Johnny One Note character of kill or be killed to an impressionable warrior sensitive to the collateral damage of innocents.

And as assuring as it is to see a reactive fighter for peace, it isn’t the only distinguishing characteristic. A portrait painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection impacted the coloring and lighting of the movie. While I was unaware of this interplay between motion picture and painting at the screening, learning this afterwards helped explain why watching “Wonder Woman” was such a stirring experience.

Advertisements
Advertisements

Diana, the Amazon warrior’s alter ego

Although the influence of the painting is not straightforward or conspicuous, the’ portrayal of Diana, the mythical princess of the Amazons, can be said the picture of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of the French socialite Madame Pierre Gautreau, better known as “#Madame X”, painted in 1884. The Sargent effect can be seen in the movie’s glowing aura. Like “Madame X,” the look of “Wonder Woman” is a vision in contrasts that deepens the drama.

Diana shows the same jet black shade found in Madame X’s silk gown along with the background of muted brown that act as foils. As well, the gown’s gleaming jeweled straps parallel the shiny metal of Diana’s headband along with the countering recessive tints behind her. Then there are the sudden reds in each art form that act as accents.

Advertisements

The upshot of all the contrasts is pure stagecraft – the more there are, the higher the drama.

Giving credit where credit is due

Matt Jensen, director of photography for “Wonder Woman,” gives full credit to Sargent’s painting of “Madame X.” As he told Digital Spy, “I think a key thing for us was we wanted rich blacks, beautiful portraiture on the faces, and when we did see color ― because he tended to not use a lot of color ― it was vibrant.” Another connection between the Sargent painting and the screen image: a crescent tiara on Madame X’s head invokes the goddess Diana. For an adaptation of a comic book, this film is unexpectedly artful.

Did this leading movie critic miss the point?

All of which is why I don’t agree with Pater Travers’ review in Rolling Stone, particularly when he says that “Wonder Woman” is “hobbled” by “over reliance on exposition,” or that “action only comes in fits and starts,’ or that “just when Diana is ready to kick a*s, we get backstory.” Oh, Peter, that’s the whole beauty of the movie. Bloodlust doesn’t rule it, hearts and minds do.