In which someone in the DCEU finally worked out how to make a good movie.
DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins
PRODUCERS: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Richard Suckle
WRITERS: Allan Heinberg (screenplay) Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs (story)
GENRE: Superhero film
INITIAL RELEASE: June 2 2017
STARRING: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Rupert Gregson-Williams
Finally, DC, finally– you done did it, you done did yourself a good movie. It took you a little bit getting there, but at long last, with the arrival of Wonder Woman, we finally have a movie in this DC Extended Universe that isn’t an unmitigated train wreck. I’m proud of you, DC- well, not too proud, I mean it took 3 multi-million dollar fuck-ups before you got it right- but still, I’m proud-ish. I think we all saw the inevitability of the furor that has surrounded Wonder Woman- it’s the first female-led superhero film in either the Marvel and DC Universes coming off a series of well…see above. There was pressure, a metric ton of it, but as all great men and women do, Wonder Woman rose to the occasion and delivered big.
And thank God she did, cos if this one sucked, I think I would have had to have tapped out of this whole DCEU thing for good.
Wonder Woman shows the origins of Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gadot), born and raised amongst the powerful Amazon warriors of Themyscira, where she and her sisters are sheltered from the machinations of the world of men. That all changes when Allied spy Steve Trevor (Pine) washes ashore of Themyscira, and brings a whole lot of very angry Germans with him. Having learnt that the world is at war, Diana suspects the involvement of Ares, the God of War. Against the wishes of her mother Queen Hippolyta (Nielsen), Diana sets out with Trevor to the world of man to try and put an end to Ares and The Great War (or World War 1, as you prefer).
What Wonder Woman has that sets it apart from its predecessors is something rather simple, and yet something that has been so intricate to its success: hell, it’s the one thing that any movie truly needs to actually succeed on some level: heart. This film’s got heart, by gum. Unlike the grim, brooding brutes of Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman, who often speak in weirdly vague lofty platitudes about justice or whatever while punching everything into oblivion, Jenkins’s take on Princess Diana (or Diana Prince, again, as you prefer) has actual humanity: she’s naïve, she’s courageous, she’s determined she’s idealistic– my God, a hero with ideals, what a crazy novel concept that is, huh? And yes, Diana believes in love- love for herself, love for others, and love for mankind. And yeah, that’s cheesy as all hell, but fuck it- its wonderful to finally see a DC hero in these films who feels like they actually stand for something, and indeed it’s watching Diana’s growth and changing perspective and understanding of not just the nature of war, but the nature of humanity itself that’s forms the film’s core and really gives it that lovely aforementioned heart. We’re not just told that Diana is a hero, but we watch her truly become one, one worthy of her mantle, and one who’s actually worthy of being looked up to.
But its not just the fundamental understanding of what a hero actually is that makes Wonder Woman shine- tonally, Wonder Woman manages to be fun and adventurous and heart-felt, while having due respect for the more solemn and heart-breaking moments of self-actualisation. Wonder Woman is loaded to its gills with charm and surprising moments of subtle nuance. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed many of Wonder Woman’s supporting cast. I mean, yeah sure, none of them are amazingly deep or particularly well fleshed out, but they all have these wonderful little details that do wonders (accidental pun, I swear) to advancing so much of Wonder Woman’s underlying themes and ideas. Again, it’s not much, but it’s just enough to give Wonder Woman thoughtfulness about the cost and horror of war and our greater humanity in a way that BvS only wishes it could.
But perhaps the biggest part of Wonder Woman’s success has to lie in Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Diana Prince. Her appearance in BvS was a highlight for many people in that particular movie, and it was for me too, albeit somewhat by default given the rest of the movie. With that said, however, I wasn’t completely sold on Gadot as Wonder Woman based off of that alone. As it turns out, maybe I should have been sold because she’s fucking fantastic in Wonder Woman. Her performance is so on-point throughout- striking a great, varied balance between incredibly charming earnestness, believably and genuine naivety, and empowering ferocity that makes Diana a true joy to watch. That’s not to undersell anyone else’s performances, of course. This is particularly true for Chris Pine, whose warm and likeable take on Steve Trevor will have undoubtedly bumped Pine up the rankings in the Hollywood League of Chrises (he’s still no Chris Evans though, sorry dude.)
With all that said though, Wonder Woman had its share of stumbling blocks, most of which were, ironically, in the action scenes. Technically, the scenes were fine, well shot and executed for the most part, but the rather excessive and needless use of Snyder-esque speed ramping made many action scenes come off as a bit corny and dated. At times, it felt this was shoved into these scenes just to try and really sell the bad-assery on-screen, but it really just came off as trying a bit too hard. Now, Zack Snyder was in fact a producer on Wonder Woman, and I’m not necessarily saying this is his fault, I’m just really blatantly implying it to the point where I might as well outright state it. Another aspect of Wonder Woman that feels a little too Snydery is the film’s finale, which is by and large fairly typical of most superhero movies, though the intensity of action and the carnage that follows at times began to border a little bit into the “senseless” territory.
It should probably also be said that it’s a good thing the character work in Wonder Woman is great, because otherwise the overall story and plot is pretty much garden-variety superhero origin story stuff-‘n’-things- in terms of previous fare, Wonder Woman has a great many shades of the first Captain America film, beyond just the obvious aesthetics of both being set in wars. With that said, I think going a more familiar route than the…let’s call them “unorthodox” storytelling and narrative choices of previous DC films is actually a big point in Wonder Woman’s favor, and is a big part of what made it work as well as it did. Of course, there hasn’t been a DC movie yet that’s broken the tradition started by Marvel when it comes to these film’s villains, as Wonder Woman’s antagonists are also not all that memorable. Though in Wonder Woman’s defense, at least one of them, Dr. Poison (Anaya) is actually used surprisingly well, at least on a thematic and narrative level, which comes into play in some really satisfying ways later into the film.
Though I’ve spent the bulk of this review showering Wonder Woman with glowing praise, the truth is that overall I wouldn’t place it much higher than the best of the Marvel movies thus far, but so much of what made Wonder Woman great is in the context- DC gave us the first big female superhero-led film in a flagship franchise that’s be flailing badly and it absolutely hit it right out of the park. It has given me- dare I say- hope? Man, hope…that’s an unfamiliar thing to have. I could turn out to be completely wrong in feeling such a curious and alien thing as “hope”, but for the time being at least, I’m gonna embrace it. Long story short, go see Wonder Woman– it’s a heart-filled, tightly executed superhero film with charm, emotion, and a surprisingly amount of depth and nuance that makes it more than worth your time.