Wonder Woman - Review: The DCEU's First Great Film
“She’s not the problem, we are”. While Ridley Scott’s GI Jane won’t go down as an all-time classic, that line and central theme have always stuck with me -- How within the film the problem was not Jane’s ability to function as an elite solider but getting her male counterparts' ability to view her as a soldier rather than as women. The problem making a successful female-fronted superhero movie in this modern era hasn’t been the female superhero’s but our ability to make a film about them. It’s why past efforts like Elektra and Halle Berry’s Catwoman have flopped. Those involved felt overwhelmed to emphasize their lead character being a female (or rather a make expectation of one) rather than just letting them be a superhero. Now, over a decade after the last failed attempt, Patty Jenkins (The Killing) attempts to bring the Amazon Prime herself, Wonder Woman, to the big screen. It’s a film weighed down by a lot of hopes and expectations.... but fortunately this is no ordinary woman. This film is a superhero and you won’t need a golden lasso to admit you enjoyed it.
In 1918, Diana (Gal Gadot – Fast & Furious), the immortal Amazonian princess first the encounters the outside world when American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine – Star Trek) crashes on her island and tells of The Great War. Taking it upon herself to fight for peace, Diana sets out to save the world from self-destruction.... but her half-brother Ares, God of War, has other ideas.
Let’s start from the beginning…. because you won’t need to. Save an opening minutes featuring the photograph from BvS, this film is entirely standalone to the DC Cinematic Universe. Neither does it require any existing knowledge comics/character knowledge as all key points are explained in good time. So if you’re just a curious casual to DC or superhero movies then take this woman for a spin because she’ll lead you all the way. This is in essence an origin story of its lead character (something tells me I shouldn’t use “titular”) that sees her discovering her powers as well the strange new world outside her hidden island paradise. Yet this has a distinct advantage over most origin stories in that although we don’t see Gadot in full costume until the midpoint, she’s still strong and battle ready for earlier action sequences. That makes the eventful reveal more of a satisfying reward (it’s also pretty badass) and less of a trudging, “are we there yet?”. In terms of character portrayal, Gadot and Jenkins land a solid blow. Diana is strong and courageous but at the same time compassionate and emotionally vulnerable. The First World War setting also plays extremely well into the film and character as she becomes a fresh set of eyes meeting mankind at their worst. It even conjures up some good and stirring dramatic themes about the madness of war as Diana learns that even she can’t save everyone.
Yet the film’s most surprising strength is its humour and frequently light-hearted tone. It draws from similar material to the first Thor movie with fish out of water dead pan laughs to great effect from Diana’s almost childlike bemusement at early 20th century society. Gadot is wonderful (you knew that pun was coming) as she keeps a straight face while navigating a sword & shield through a revolving door. Allan Heinberg’s script gives her and her fellows plenty of divine material to work with which where Wonder Woman outdoes Thor in this capacity. It makes much better use of its supporting characters as foils to bounce off Diana’s oddities. Lucy Davis gets some superb as a happy go lucky Etta Candy but the real heavy weapon in this arsenal and film MVP is Chris Pine. Above all else, it’s his comic timing that elevates moments to the next level and really helps in bringing the film’s mythology and realism elements together. Pine’s Trevor hears Diana tell of her birth via clay and mother’s prayers to a brief pause of confusion before just going with it. It naturally encourages you as an audience to roll with the film’s punches.
Speaking of punches (seamless link), let’s talk about the film’s action. Now there is a slight hindrance of 300 syndrome here (Synder’s influence?) because God, does this film love its slow-mo more than Kel loves Orange Soda. Like that similarly Greek affair, some of the slowed-down sequences are jaw-droppingly spectacular but through overuse, the technique’s effects become diluted and occasionally tiresome as the film progresses. However, there is still no shortage of thrills and variety from the film’s action sequences. Everything concerning Diana and her fellow Amazon’s looks amazing. The first act battle pitting them against German soldiers (a very Sid Meier affair) looks incredible and throughout the film Diana’s sword, shield, lasso and fist swing antics never stop being enthralling; with Gadot really proving her worth. You know Batman’s amazing warehouse fight in BvS (aka the film’s redeeming scene)? Well, Gadot gets her own equivalent as she takes down a German base. The final showdown with Ares goes a bit too crazy with the War Daddy’s powers but still feels as epic as two God’s clashing should be.
The only real issue I have with Wonder Woman is that the story and overall film quality does dip in the final act. Much like Captain America Winter Solider’s big airborne finale felt like a good, more grounded, film going bigger out of obligation so too does Wonder Woman get into more generic superhero territory in fashion that feels out-of-place. It’s not bad, it just stops being the film you’ve enjoyed for the past hour and a half to be the film it thinks it needs to be. The ending itself feels a little flat with even a Spider-Man like jumping into camera final shot (note – on UK release at least there is no post-credits scene).
For many reasons, I was worried going into this film. For many more reasons I was smiling as I left. While it may not be troubling Dark Knight at the top, the DCEU is showing us that it knows how to handle one of its biggest characters, which casts greater optimism on their upcoming film slate. Whether you’re a superhero movies fan or not, this is a terrific piece of all round entertainment. I can’t comment on #hairyarmpitgate because, to be honest, my eyes had other priorities but I can say that you won’t regret spending a night out with this Wonder Woman.