“Wonder Woman all our hopes depend on you and the magic that you do” or so the song goes. The Amazonian has not let us down even if her first solo big screen outing is not without flaws. The success of Wonder Woman paves the way for more big budget comic book films with a female protagonist, more blockbusters helmed by female directors and creates anticipation for more DC film adaptations and it does all of this by following one simple rule – make a good movie.
Kicking off in the mystical hidden away island of beautiful Themyscira we first meet Diana as a child growing up under the influence of her protective mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her vigilant Aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright). One trains her to fight and the other to love and it’s no surprise that Diana will prove to be the best of both their natures. When fully grown and now Gal Gadot she begins to discover her powers when a man comes crashing into her life. Ain’t that always the way? Steve Trevor played by Chris Pine brings war to the island and Diana seeks to enter the world of man and stop this war. Based on the myths she was told as a child she is certain Ares the God of War is responsible for man’s current suffering and needs to be sought out and defeated. The world and men she will discover are far more complex and imperfect than that.
Director Patty Jenkins shows a delicate touch flitting between several tonal shifts with ease doing an origin story, a fish out of water comedy, an old school romance, a horrifying war drama, a team on a mission actioner and a fantastical super heroine adventure. Diana arrives in London 1917, raised on an island where no men live she is suitably ignorant of the patriarchal times and this is played for both social commentary as well as laughs. Captain Trevor is on a mission to relay information about a new form of poison gas being developed by General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). Assembling a team of his old compatriots (including Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock) he as promised travels to the front so that Wonder Woman can search for Ares.
Unlike say World War II, it is unusual to have World War I depicted on screen with some of its horrors yes, but also involving a super-being that can provide some fantasy elements that rewrite the grimness and realities of trench warfare. Where millions of soldiers would not dare look out over a battlefield lest a sniper blow their head off in a second, Diana’s head rises proudly unprotected for the camera to drink her in during a pivotal moment. Where thousands were mowed down by machine gun in seconds Diana withstands withering fire with a shield covering half of her torso. This is not how we’ve seen World War I onscreen before and it certainly was not how it was experienced by the hundreds of thousands who are buried in those fields along the French/Belgian border. Yet as a superhero movie it is a classic moment rendered well, having entered the world of men Diana spends the next half hour being told what to wear, how to address people and to go against her instincts at every turn. In this moment she reveals her costume in full, follows her own voice and ends the slaughter of battle by taking action herself. As director Jenkins has provided a set-piece that feeds into the themes and character she has been nurturing for well over an hour and it arguably is the highpoint of the film.
The action scenes of the film are a mixed bag, the third act finale is too CGI heavy and noisy struggling to connect as easily as earlier action scenes did but a great use of sound editing does well to augment an emotional beat. Throughout some incredible fight choreography struggles at times to be seen on screen with poor editing and camera placement choices. Speed ramping up and slowing down of film is used often to show off dazzling poses from combatants mid-fight harkening back to classical art of mythological tales. With this Jenkins creates some powerful imagery whether it is Wonder Woman lifting a tank or snapping a rifle into smithereens while her buffed female arms flex.
There is a budding love story between Trevor and the Amazonian too that is wonderfully played by the two leads. Pine’s character has a modern sensibility to gender roles but is aware of the times he is living in. A lot of thought goes into how the military spy is protective of this Goddess but also more and more aware that she is much more powerful than him. Pine has grown a lot as an actor since his debut as Captain Kirk eight years ago and here he projects a wonderful relaxed decency and good comic sensibilities. Jenkins is most likely responsible for getting out of him his best performance in a while because she simultaneously reveals new talents of Gadot as an actress. Gadot of course is a stunning beauty and a great physical performer but here she is required to play many emotions and often underplay her scenes. In the London scenes for example a lot of her performance is silent reacting to the advice of others while subtlety creating some physical comedy. There is a naivety to Diana that does not come across as annoyingly ignorant but as innocently noble. As an audience we know that innocence will at some point be lost and we hope it will not compromise the goodness of her heart. The rest of the cast does well to make an impression with very little screen time but two standouts have to be Robin Wright who could easily have her own spin off and Etta Candy who earns some of the biggest laughs.
The creators of this film have created a strong likeable central character that Gadot embodies fully, more so than perhaps anybody since Christopher Reeve as Superman, Gadot does not play Wonder Woman – she is Wonder Woman. The rest of the cast are likable and affecting, the film is full of humour and heart with a strong message about the need to love and not make war. Yes the film is in search of a strong villain and the first half’s witty dialogue and neat character interactions give way to mindless spectacle in the second half but this is a strong debut for the Amazonian princess. There is no limit to what this Wonder Woman will become.
Directors: Patty Jenkins
Screenwriter: Allan Heinberg
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, and Robin Wright.
Runtime: 141 mins
*** 3/4 Stars