“Be careful, Diana. They do not deserve you.”
Maybe the commercial success of previous DC Universe efforts like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad was enough for the execs at Warner Bros to sleep comfortably at night. Critics may have savaged the dumpster fire of a film that was Suicide Squad (and BvS hadn’t fared much better) but the audiences still flocked to the cinema – both films combined made over $1.5 billion at the box office. But audiences are only so forgiving. The second week box office for BvS was one of the worst ever recorded and the cinemascores for both were mediocre B’s. It seems that despite insulting and condescending phrases being banded about like “this one is for the fans” (a PR-friendly way of saying “the critics think our film is a pile of crap but the audiences won’t care”) the fans know a good film when they see it. While the critically lauded Marvel studios have earned more than enough goodwill to pretty much release anything, DC have wasted all their chances with an already forgiving audience. Audiences were letting their upset with the DCU films be known; through low IMDB scores, outraged news articles, and increasingly important websites like Reddit. One or two more flops and the DCU was guaranteed to go under. And for the studio that produced what many see as the best superhero film ever, that must sting. So rejoice then as Wonder Woman, the latest film in the DC cinematic universe that BvS so lacklusterly launched, is unreservedly brilliant.
Wonder Woman is the best DC comic book movie since 2005’s Batman Begins. Not only does the film give us a much overdue successful solo outing for a female superhero, it’s also just damn good. Director Patty Jenkins directs with flair and the action pops with the kind of kineticism that you might find in the very best of Zack Snyder’s work. A second act sequence that see’s Diana crossing No Man’s Land is undoubtedly the best comic book movie set piece I’ve seen in a long time. Unlike Synder though, Jenkins’ plot, story, and characterisation don’t a back seat to the (admittedly glorious) action set pieces. Gal Gadot’s Diana especially has a wonderful (ha) character arc, taking her from naive wanna-be warrior to bona fide superheroine. The film dedicates the first act to Diana’s early years on the Island of Themyscira, a hidden island populated entirely by Amazonian goddesses. Diana wishes for combat and war but when dashing American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island, she begins to realise the true realities of conflict. Believing that Ares, the God of War, is behind all of the hatred and violence in the world she and Steve head to The Front.
“The action pops with the kind of kineticism that you might find in the very best of Zack Snyder’s work.“
Wonder Woman in The First World War is a brilliant concept and Jenkins uses it to it’s full potential as a catalyst for Diana’s change into Wonder Woman. Jenkins also uses the time period to emphasise many of the problems female led Hollywood films face. How better to do this than by setting it in a time period when women didn’t even have the right to vote? Jenkins’ never does this overtly though, and just by existing the film is destroying the film industry’s outdated view that only men can carry tent pole studio movies. Jenkins never lets this get in the way of the film either and gleefully plays with many of the tropes critics often take umbrage with. The camera does linger on Diana in her revealing outfit, but not in a male gaze, objectification kinda way, more a ‘wholly shit, Diana is ripped and could totally kick my ass’ sort of way. The kind of way that typified the action heroes of the 80’s. Nobody is going to deny how ridiculously beautiful Gadot is but it’s secondary to her being bad ass (as the wonderful Saïd Taghmaoui puts it in the film when seeing her fight; “I’m both frightened, and aroused”). Jenkins see’s that embracing the tropes that have long plagued women in film, and then using them in her own way, is a stronger statement than a complete rejection of them.
Both Gadot and Pine are brilliant and their relationship is one of the best in comic book cinema, harking back to the sweet and charming romances of Hollywood Golden Era cinema. Gadot is especially impressive and it’s through her fantastic performance that the whole film rests. Despite many questioning her initial casting Gadot more than brings the required nativity, headstrongness, and (most importantly) badassery to play Wonder Woman. She’s entirely believable whether she’s playing the anguished hero who couldn’t save everybody, or the awesome superhero picking up tanks and barrelling through waves of enemies. Superhero movies succeed or fail on the performance of the person in the lead role but with Gadot’s confident and charismatic performance front and centre, Wonder Woman soars. The supporting cast are surprisingly strong too. The always magnificent Danny Huston is at his hammy best as evil German baddie General Ludendorff, while Elena Anaya is perfectly cast as his evil accomplice ‘Doctor Poison’. Along with them the film also stars Connie Nielson, who plays Diana’s mother and Robin Wright, who plays her aunt, Antiope. Their time in the film is short as most of it takes place off the island of Themyscira but both leave a lasting impression. Wright especially; her three in one arrow takedown is perhaps the film’s coolest money shot.
Even though Wonder Woman continues DC trend for skewing slightly darker than their Marvel counterparts, the film is often refreshingly light-hearted. Eschewing all of the ridiculously over-the-top ‘edgy’ darkness from BvS and Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman makes sure to spend some time just getting to know the characters in a more playful way. The relationship between Diana and Steve could be straight from a early Hollywood screwball comedy and the scenes in London as Diana tries to adjust to society are much better than they have any right to be. Not only do they demonstrate Diana’s take-no-bullshit attitude (and contrasting naivety) they’re also very funny. The Office’s Lucy Davis makes a much appreciated appearance as Etta, the secretary to Pine’s character. Her reactions to Diana’s ‘fish out of water’ antics are hilarious, I wouldn’t have even minded if they’d given her a ‘stares at camera’ reaction shot.
Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air in almost every way. People familiar with the genre will see similarities to other comic book movies, but Jenkins elevates it over most of them. The relationship between Diana and Steve is wonderful; feeling unique and different from even the similarly world war set romance in Captain America: The First Avenger. The performances are all fantastic and even the sidekicks feel like fully rounded characters who, despite being people of different cultures (Eugene Brave Rock’s Native American character The Chief, or Ewan Bremner’s Scot character Charlie) never stray into caricature. The action is also brilliant – the mid film No Man’s Land scene is worth the price of admission alone. Even the CGI heavy final showdown is great. It’s elevated above similar films with the big bad having as much of a idealogical battle with Diana as a physical one. Perhaps the greatest aspect of it though is just how revolutionary it is. Wonder Woman proves female led summer blockbusters can be successful and, in this case, be even better than their male counterparts. The goal of the film was to just show a kick-ass superhero is a kick-ass superhero, regardless of their gender. In that, it more than succeeds.