Wonder Woman, 2017
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Ewan Bremner, Lucy Davis, Eugene Brave Rock, Emily Carey, Lilly Aspell, and Saïd Taghmaoui.
Before she was Wonder Woman she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.
There’s a popular phrase used in football analysis here in the UK (or soccer for our American friends), which is to describe a match as “a game of two halves”. It’s used when one side plays very poorly in the first half, allowing several goals to be put past them, but then pull it back in the second to either draw or win the game. The DCEU’s latest outing Wonder Woman is just that, a game of two halves.
While this site has been lambasted in the past for being “anti-DC”, it is fair to say that the DCEU hasn’t got off to the best of starts. Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad have their fans and supporters, but none have been universally praised by either fans or critics. Early reports and rumours coming from the set and production of Wonder Woman seemed to echo the issues many had with the first three entries, with one “source” claiming it was “a mess”. And if that source had only seen the first hour and a half of the movie, it would be easy to see why they made that mistake.
At a stonking two hours and twenty minutes, Wonder Woman takes a long time to get out of second gear with the movie’s first half hour being nothing but clunky exposition and rushed sequences. We’re introduced to Diana in present day Paris, where she receives a package from Bruce Wayne, asking her to tell him her true story. The film then plays out as a flashback to Diana’s time as a child, her training on Themyscira and eventually joining the First World War in her hunt to take down Ares, whom she believes is behind the Germans’ actions. The problem is that the explanation of Diana’s origins and her subsequent training are done in the quickest manner possible which means nothing is given time to settle in. Just when we see teases of her discovering her powers, Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor suddenly arrives and a new plot kicks in.
Which does lead to one of the film’s other issues: the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. While both are mostly fine separately, they never truly click together and are given some woefully bad dialogue and attempts at humour in order to form a relationship. Director Patty Jenkins, Gadot and Pine all try their best to make their way through Allan Heinberg’s script, which features an extended (and unfunny) gag about Diana asking a naked Trevor if he represents the “average male”, but they never really get past it. On the whole, Wonder Woman is full of plot threads that are started but never finished.
The film’s runtime is perhaps the biggest hindrance. Running around ten minutes shorter than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there isn’t enough in Wonder Woman‘s butt-numbing length to warrant it. You feel every minute of the movie, and not always for the right reasons. The plot is fairly basic and the character interactions (for the most part) are solid, but the two hours and twenty minutes of screentime feels rather unnecessary. However if you took out all of the slow-motion, Wonder Woman would probably be around ninety minutes long. Wonder Woman also keeps up the grand and proud Warner Bros. tradition – alongside The Legend of Tarzan, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the rest of the DCEU – by having some embarrassingly bad CGI for 2017 standards. I’m not sure what is that Warner Bros. are doing wrong, but none of their films marry the relationship between practical and computer effects effectively like the other studios can. Wonder Woman is by far the least egregious of this phenomena, but it’s still very noticeable – especially when the film is slowed down so often.
But as this review said at the start, Wonder Woman is a game of two halves. By the time Diana and Trevor get out of London (which features more cringe-worthy humour that evokes the scenes in Escape From the Planet of the Apes where Cornelius and Zira try on “human clothes”) and into The Great War, the film suddenly becomes great. Like, seriously great. Wonder Woman finds its feet and the film becomes a complete joy to watch. Jenkins directs action with incredible flair and grace, and Gadot looks like a complete and total badass when she’s in full costume kicking the crap out of bad men. This is the Wonder Woman movie we’ve been waiting for. They even manage of overcome the divisive Wonder Woman theme created for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, using it sparingly in these first true action sequences. It’s clear what Jenkins thinks of the theme, as it’s only even used here and not in the film’s climax.
It’s quite amazing how different the two halves of Wonder Woman are, from the slow and plodding (yet incredibly still rushed) opening ninety minutes to this rip-roaring superhero movie with plenty of fist-pumping action. The action beats in Wonder Woman are unmatched, and will likely be the best a comic book movie has to offer in 2017. Even the interplay with characters improves, thanks in part to a supporting cast including Ewen Bremner and Saïd Taghmaoui, and the film raises some interesting themes. They discuss the concept of war and who Ares really controls, actors of colour struggling for roles in films and PTSD among other topics. In these real-world times where the fear of war breaking out seems inevitable, Wonder Woman is a beacon of hope promising us a world of love and happiness. Naive? Perhaps. But it’s the message we need right now, and with previous DCEU entries being rather drab and dreary this is a refreshing change of pace.
So, Wonder Woman is a game of two halves. The first half is a bit of a slog and pretty uninspiring, but that’s followed up with sublime comic book movie joy. Gadot is also a mixed bag, struggling with dialogue but shining brighter than any action star when it’s time to fight. There could have been a better emphasis on the villain, the CGI needed to be tightened up throughout the picture and stories and themes should have been further explored or at least finished, but Wonder Woman is a welcome success – from an action point of view, anyway. If you can manage to get through the tripe exposition on Themyscira and the awful attempts at comedy in London, you will find easily the best comic book movie DC and Warner Bros. have put out since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Now given the DC movies that have come out since The Dark Knight that is an extremely low bar to step over, but Wonder Woman leaps over it and sets a brand new standard. Justice League and Aquaman will have to work very hard to not only follow it, but also keep up.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made (which you can pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US). You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.