Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny.
If you’ve just walked out of your local cinema with a feeling of intense positivity and awe it’s likely that you have just witnessed Wonder Woman. After 75 years of entertaining us in the pages of DC Comics Diana of Themyscira is finally on the big screen. In a world where we’ve seen multiple versions of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man on film it was about time that DC Comics brought the worlds first (and finest) female superhero to life.
Many will have seen the classic Lynda Carter TV series with its trademark spins and invisible jet. Those expecting to see that level of camp translated to the big screen will be sorely disappointed. Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, is a love story wrapped in a war epic wrapped in a comic book. Where once there as camp is now true heart, positivity and most of all hope.
Though the comic character was introduced during WW2 this film is set during WW1. There’s no doubt that the WW1 setting helps to give the film a better parallel to current world events. WW1 was a time of new weapons, new threats and cataclysmic change. Those parallels serve to make the audience feel like they are in familiar territory but also to transport us to a world which doesn’t quite look the same as ours. It’s realism wrapped in surrealism.
For the cynical of you there is also the lingering plot point from Batman v Superman that we needed to see events which caused Diana to walk away from man over 100 years ago.
The film is bookended by scenes set in the present day, post Batman v Superman. Unlike the reviled end credit scene of Suicide Squad this scene doesn’t double down on info we already know. Instead these scenes provide a warm introduction to Diana’s life in Paris. Her voiceover in these scenes resonate well and almost completely lay out the ethos of the film. The inclusion of a nod to Bruce Wayne is a subtle way to remind audiences of the connection to Justice League without ever forcing it in your face.
There’s a neat little easter egg on the Wayne Enterprises van number plate. We’ll let you spot that one for yourselves.
When the true narrative of the film gets going we’re in familiar origin story territory. We’re immediately on the island of Themyscira with the Amazons. The island is so well constructed that one could be forgiven for forgetting it isn’t a real location. Considering the film is budgeted at only $100m I had very little issue with most of the CGI. In particular the landscape of Themyscira is incredibly well constructed.
There are very few moments in the film which feel poorly constructed. From the scenes of Amazons training to the battle on the beach with German soldiers Wonder Woman exudes confidence. Patty Jenkins direction is as close to flawless as I have seen in any comic book movie.
There’s no rush for Wonder Woman to reach its climax as its pacing remains consistent throughout the first two acts. It is only during the third act that things begin to pick up speed. We spend enough time on Themyscira to care about its people and likewise when we reach London and Belgium the film stops to take in its surroundings.
If there’s any complaint to be had then it is how rapidly the battle in the final act escalates but more on that later.
Some true standout moments both comedic and dramatic come in the more quiet moments away from the action. When Steve and Diana first arrive in London her fish-out-of-water characterisation really comes to the fore. This provides some of the highlight comedy scenes. One of the best examples being the interplay between Diana, Etta Candy and Steve whilst out clothes shopping. Lucy Davis is a gem in this film.
On the dramatic side the film strikes a real chord when the gang reaches Belgium. In particular a scene where Diana, still naive to the war, witnesses horses stuck in the mud and a soldier with his legs blown off. It’s s short but intense scene soundtracked by crying babies and shell fire which really drives home how seriously Jenkins took the films setting but also how Diana was losing her innocence.
It’s Jenkins tender handling of the setting paired with Gal Gadot’s approach to the character which really sets Wonder Woman apart from other comic book movies. There are a couple of moments on Themyscira where Gadot falls a little (really only a little) flat. The scene where Diana argues with her mother that Ares is behind the war springs to mind as being particularly weak.
Gadot hits her stried once leaving the island. From her comedic moments with Trevor to her speech in the trenches she runs a gamut of emotions with ease. Critics of her performance in Batman v Superman will soon be silenced.
The absolute standout moment by far is the No Man’s Land scene. Beginning with Diana at her most serious, arguing with Steve that they cannot stand idly by whilst the war rages. The scene soon escalates to our first moment of seeing Diana in full costume. The mix of slow-mo editing, the rousing score and the sheer emotion of the speech make her emergence as Wonder Woman truly outstanding.
Where the film falls down a little is with its villains. Contemporary comic book movies are often criticised for lacking compelling villains. That is not the case here. Where Wonder Woman fails to capitalise on its strong villains is in giving them little to do. Dr Poison and General Ludendorff are both compelling characters.
The General is based on a real life person who, according to the history books, had a fairly tragic experience which brought him to where we find him in the film. Exploring more of that could have made him a more conflicting villain for the audience to watch.
Dr Poison has the kind of cruel nefarious evil flowing through her that I wish most comic book movie villains would have. But she also could have benefited from a little more backstory. The time taken to reveal the scars under her ceramic faceplate is almost wasted by the lack of explanation as to how she came to wear it. Giving her a subplot of her own to explore her history could have improved her characterisation.
That leaves us with Ares. I was impressed his reveal was kept until seeing the film itself. I was also happy to see he wasn’t treated in a similar manner to Doomsday. There’s more to his character than the usual generic villain. However he is still held back from living up to his full potential. The ending doesn’t make it clear as to whether he could return for future films so perhaps down the line there will be time for more development.
His reasons were clear but perhaps for non-comics fans they may have appeared a little convoluted.
As for the films supporting cast Ewan Bremner, Said Taghmaoui and Eugene Rock are all solid as the gang backing up Diana and Steve on the front line. Each has their own small moment of character development. But I couldn’t help but feel they were partly in the film just to justify the photo seen in Batman v Superman.
Hats off to Chris Pine for one of his best performances that I have ever seen. His mix of comedy and drama fits perfectly with Gadot. The two have excellent chemistry on screen. It’s tough to discuss his characterisation without spoilers but he is a genuine highlight of the film. The emotional impact of which will linger through any sequels.
When it comes to Themyscira the island is owned by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright. The two are outstanding. So often with the type of role they play it would be easy to chew the scenery but neither do. Instead they bring a great emotional resonance to the film. Both are unofficially confirmed to appear in Justice League and that can only be a good thing.
Considering the $110m budget the CGI in the film is generally good. There are a couple of smaller moments in the film where CGI characters make some inhuman movements but these don’t detract from the action. Most of the budget was presumably saved for the films climactic battle in the final act.
The fight itself is on a scale to be expected from DCEU movies but with all the added heart of the rest of the film. The action itself is well edited. There’s no prolonged moments of not being able to define characters amongst the melee. The explosions are big, the destruction is fairly large scale but the body count is not astronomical.
The fight is still the most Snyder-esque moment in the whole film though.
Rupert Gregson-Williams score is incredibly rousing, taking the theme which Hans Zimmer introduced in Batman v Superman and subverting it into something much more hopefully and romantic. He is able to uplift the film in moments of hope and accompany the darker moments with incredibly provocative themes. It’s well worth giving the soundtrack album a listen to hear the music on its own terms.
Wonder Woman is a genuine triumph for the DCEU. It’s funny, thoughtful and most importantly it is hopeful. Beautifully shot and masterfully directed it’s the pinnacle of the current DC film slate without doubt. Living in a bleak world as we do we need more heroes like Gal Gadot to show us that love conquers all. Some cheesy dialogue aside there’s is nothing not to be enjoyed.
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Wonder Woman hits movie theaters around the world in June when Gal Gadot returns as the title character in the epic action adventure from director Patty Jenkins (MONSTER, AMC’S THE KILLING). Joining Gadot in the international cast are Chris Pine (the STAR TREK films), Robin Wright (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO, HOUSE OF CARDS), Danny Huston (CLASH OF THE TITANS, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE), David Thewlis (the HARRY POTTER films, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING), Connie Nielsen (THE FOLLOWING, GLADIATOR), Elena Anaya (THE SKIN I LIVE IN), Ewen Bremner (EXODUS: GODS & KINGS, SNOWPIERCER), Lucy Davis (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), Lisa Loven Kongsli (upcoming ASHES IN THE SNOW), Eugene Brave Rock (AMC’S HELL ON WHEELS) and Said Taghmaoui (AMERICAN HUSTLE).