Film’s Patrick Box is pleasantly surprised by Wonder Woman, heralding it as the shining light of the DCEU
Full disclosure: I wanted to hate this movie. Warner Bros’ last three DC movies haven’t really been up to snuff, ranging from the “meh” (Man of Steel) to the terrible (Batman vs. Superman) to the diabolical (Suicide Squad). In short, the approach the studio has been taking to their shared universe hasn’t been paying off. I was at the point where, in some perverse way, I wanted Wonder Woman to continue this downwards trend. Therefore I, as a DC fan, would never get my hopes up again and be able to write off this franchise until the inevitable reboot in 5-10 years time. It is with a heavy heart however, that I found Wonder Woman not just effortlessly the best movie of the burgeoning DCEU (we don’t count Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy) but also a highly enjoyable film in its own right.
Directed by Patty Jenkins and written by Allan Heinberg, Wonder Woman serves as an origin story to Gal Gadot’s spin on the Amazonian princess, last seen taking part in the dubstep-and-lightning-fest that was the climax of Batman vs. Superman: Oh-my-God-this-film-is-still-going. Set in 1918 we are introduced to a younger, more optimistic Diana (Gal Gadot) living on the hidden island of Themyscira populated solely by the Amazonian Women of Greek myth. The daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) Diana dreams, against her mother’s wishes, of being a warrior like her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) when the arrival of US Airforce Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and a force of pursuing German soldiers brings the outside world to her attention. She learns that German General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) has teamed up with chemist Doctor Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya) in a last ditch attempt to create a weapon to win the War to End All Wars. Convinced this war is the work of the Amazonian’s sworn enemy, the Greek god Ares, Diana decides to accompany Steve on his mission to stop General Ludendorff believing that she’ll be saving all of mankind in the process.
It’s a pretty straightforward fish-out-of-water, girl-meets-world, super-hero-origin tale that proves highly effective, so long as you have the right performer centre-stage to anchor the whole affair. Luckily DC has managed to find this in Gal Gadot, who this time around imbues her statuesque beauty, and warrior’s ferocity with a wide-eyed optimism. This Wonder Woman is not the seasoned warrior we’ve seen before but is instead a deeply naive young hero who still sees the world in black and white. The jury has been out on Gadot as Wonder Woman since BVS, with some claiming she stole the show whilst others pointed to her performance in the Fast and Furious franchise with trepidation. Here she benefits from the spotlight; instantly likeable whilst all the while managing to prevent her naivety sliding from charming into irritating. As the film progresses she skilfully manages to convey Diana’s disappointment and horror as she comes face to face with the darker sides of humanity. The tragic realisation that mankind needs saving from itself more-so than from the demonic Ares, who she stubbornly believes is the source of all evil, is the emotional crux of the tale and you can’t help but feel a little heartbroken alongside her.
Gadot’s central performance is buoyed by an equally excellent turn from Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. Pine’s Trevor is the perfect foil for Gadot’s Diana and their chemistry goes a long way to giving the film its charm. Both in awe of her abilities and awkwardly frustrated by her naivety, Pine doesn’t just phone-in his Captain Kirk performance instead going for heroically-earnest rather than arrogantly-smug. Unlike Diana he has no illusions about what mankind is truly capable of and seems reluctant to clue her in, knowing that doing so will unavoidably colour her perception of him as the first man she’s ever met. The pair are joined by a trio of diverse soldiers that assist them on their mission: Ewen Bremner’s Charlie (a Scottish sharpshooter with PTSD), Said Taghmaoui’s Sameer (a suave wannabe-actor), and Eugene Brave Rock’s Chief (a Native American opportunist who trades with both sides). Each manages to imbue their performance with a shot of real character, that manages to elevate them from what would normally just be perfunctory roles. Huston and Maru chew an adequate amount of scenery as the stereotypical warmonger general and crazy scientist. Nielson and Wright are pure grace and class as the Amazonian sisters whilst Lucy Davis gets some of the best jokes as Trevor’s suffragist secretary Etta Candy.
That’s right there are jokes in this film! Oh and primary colours too. Whereas Ayer and Snyder slapped a grainy filter on their films’ because they wanted them to be ‘gritty’ and ‘serious,’ Jenkins manages to make this work in her favour. Themyscira, where the film spends it’s opening half-hour, is a lush island paradise with verdant foliage, clear blue skies and seas, and towering white cliffs. This is then contrasted with the smog of 1918 London and the oppressive greys of mud-spattered war-torn Belgium. The intention behind this dichotomy is obvious yet highly effective, and against this depressive backdrop the blue, red, and gold of Diana’s armour sticks out like a sore-thumb. This results in some of the most striking images in a superhero film to date such as Diana stood ankle-deep in the mud of No Man’s Land, crouched behind her shield, as machine gun fire reigns down on her. The action sequences (for the most part) are top notch with a beach head battle between the Amazons and Germans being the standout alongside the previously stating sequence in No Man’s land. Here Jenkins shows that not only can she handle character and emotion better than her DC predecessors but can shoot a kickass action sequence just as well (and most of the time better). Jenkins understands what makes the character of Wonder Woman work, and whilst much of the plot is almost directly comparable to Captain America: The First Avenger and frames its protagonist as a beacon of hope for mankind in the same manner as Man of Steel, it emerges as a better film than both because of this.
However it’s not perfect. As I’ve just said the plot is very similar to the first Captain America, and not just because of its period setting although I can’t give specifics at the risk of spoilers. Also the film’s opening is unavoidably exposition-heavy and boasts an eye-rolling voice-over and framing device (get out of here Bruce Wayne!). Clearly Jenkins front loaded it on purpose so it wouldn’t bog the film down later on, but as a result it takes a while to get going. Sadly the film’s main flaw is that final climax is a big let down. Again no spoilers, but it lapses into the same heavy reliance on CGI as the other DC movies and as a result starts to drag. This final stumble feels particularly misjudged here though when compared to the brilliance of the action sequences that precede it. Also they lay it on a bit thick at the end with some of the emotional sentiment, especially when Gadot and Pine’s performances have already done the heavy-lifting.
Verdict: It doesn’t excuse the failings of DC’s previous movies but instead manages to deliver the film we’ve been waiting for: at once heartfelt, action-packed, funny, and a hell of a lot of fun. Never-mind Batman, Wonder Woman is the hero we deserve, and it’s about damn time.