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.
Arriving amid fan ambivalence about the future of the DC Extended Universe and claims from insiders that the studio scrambled to salvage the “messy” production, Wonder Woman is a shockingly sturdy and coherent effort, taking a refreshingly old-school, less-is-more approach to the origin story of its iconic title character, one that just might’ve course-corrected the troubled franchise.
Though prior DCEU movies have struggled to maintain a consistent tone, here director Patty Jenkins (Monster) launches from Diana’s (Gal Gadot) self-serious origins on Themyscira, to introducing a pair of highly cartoonish villains – one a drug-hoofing German General (Danny Huston) and the other hilariously named Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) – to genuine, full-hearted emotion at the turn of a heel, and it all gels together uncommonly well. Considering how much death and destruction takes place over the course of the movie, it’s impressive that a daft sequence in which Diana tries on some new clothes and wanders around the streets of London, for instance, doesn’t feel remotely jarring.
To this end, Wonder Woman is sure to be compared to a lot of the movies, but the most obvious touchstone is surely 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger; the tone is pretty much identical at times, opting largely for earnest optimism and more than a little silliness.
Jenkins takes her time introducing us to Diana, her mother Queen Hippolyta (a radiant and fierce Connie Nielsen) and the other Amazons residing on Themiscira (including Robin Wright’s magnificent General Antiope), before British spy pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands in the ocean and she promptly rescues him. From here, Diana travels to the outside world, where she gets a lay of the land in Britain and beyond, and finally, takes on the villainous Ares, who she believes has brainwashed mankind into becoming bloodthirsty warmongers.
It’s a classic three-act structure that works well by reining things in and keeping it from becoming sloppy or nonsensical, as was a major problem with Batman v Superman in particular. A lot of its storytelling success stems from keeping things relatively simple and doubling down on character above all else, particularly Diana and Trevor, who share an unexpectedly potent romance that stands as one of the best in recent superhero cinema.
It’s a major credit to Gadot and Pine, the former a tremendously convincing physical specimen – despite initial skepticism from myself and countless others that she had neither the stature nor acting chops for the part – and the latter a convention-flattening sidekick, that it doesn’t feel hokey or tacked on considering the relatively little time it has to be established.
Also, there aren’t any big gestures towards the wider DCEU, nor any particularly ambitious or risky storytelling beats, yet Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg nevertheless manage to emphasise the poor place women had for themselves even just 100 years ago, serving as a reminder of not only how far we’ve come, but how far we need to keep going (with representative, inclusive superhero movies as much as anything else).
Much like Mad Max: Fury Road, the pic excels at crafting scenarios that require men and women, albeit a super-powered one in this instance, to work together in order to vanquish the enemy. It’s a welcome message that doesn’t undermine the film’s prevailing undercurrent of ferocious feminine energy and spirit, which will surely endear it to a generation of young girls searching for a superhero role model, especially one with her own movie (and Marvel Studios, with their near-infinite resources, should absolutely be shamed for not pulling the trigger on a Black Widow film yet).
The first two acts feel so coherent and full of smart choices that it’s a shame things take a bit of a nosedive in the more conventional, possibly studio-mandated third reel, which sees Diana facing off against a Vaseline-smear CGI enemy who makes the dual faux pas of looking both laughable and like the most generic breed of video game boss imaginable.
Jenkins does just about as well as anyone could helming a green-screened battle between two Gods, but one can’t help but consider whether a more grounded, intimate fight might’ve been more entertaining, and certainly helped distinguish it further from its DCEU predecessors (yes, there are echoes of Doomsday here). It also doesn’t much help that the two peripheral villains are rather rote creations and don’t get enough screen time to feel like much more than time-wasting also-rans ahead of the big finale.
Thankfully most of the movie’s action pops where it counts, even if the visual effects are thoroughly inconsistent and Jenkins loves slow-mo shots a little too much. If her mission statement in accepting this directing gig was to make Wonder Woman a badass, statuesque goddess worthy of devotion and adulation, then she has certainly done that, though she might want to calm the stylistic excess down a tad next time (the editing is also a little patchy in places).
Though the final half-hour is something of a comedown after those riveting first two acts, and it doesn’t quite make the most of its ridiculously talented ensemble cast (more of Saïd Taghmaoui and Ewen Bremner as Steve’s comic relief squadmates would’ve been great), Wonder Woman is nevertheless a significant step-up from recent DCEU joints. It’s a steady, funny and warm-hearted superhero flick that proves you don’t need aggressive, exhausting sarcasm or relentless portent to make an entertaining comic book movie.
While the future of the DCEU still remains very much in doubt, at least most will agree that the first major female-led superhero movie in years is a rousing success.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.