After what can only be said as the frustrating and disappointing efforts of Man Of Steel and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad in the DC Comics movie universe. The hopes of the DCEU and an opportunity for it to be redeemed appeared to rest on the shoulders of Wonder Woman. The first female led comic book hero movie since 2005’s Elektra nonetheless. A huge undertaking but something that this film manages to achieve as well as once again reminding us about the true spirit of heroism.
Diana (Gal Gadot) is the princess of Themyscira, a mystical place where Amazon warrior women train to defend the world from the god of war Ares. When spy pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes and Diana saves him she is abruptly introduced to a greater world around her, one at risk of being consumed by war. Believing that it is her duty to stop the spread of carnage, Diana leaves with Steve on a mission to stop General Ludendorrf (Danny Huston) and his sinister chemist dubbed Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) from dispensing their chemical weapon and killing millions more people.
Gritty reality and airbrushed mythology marry together in this film about war and a warrior seeking peace. Director Patty Jenkins (Monsters) with screenplay by Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy tv series) have crafted an origin story that gives us insight into Diana’s beginnings but also a seamless transition into how those beginnings shaped her to be a courageous fighter. From the rambunctious young child (Lilly Aspell) to the teenager (Emily Carey) to the strong willed and idealistic young woman, and even though it’s brief we are shown her growth and development. This is then added to with the arrival of Pine’s character, the first man she has ever seen in her life. Her innocence and naivete makes her more endearing, and despite Diana being a demi-god she seems more grounded and human than any other superhero.
The chemistry between Gadot and Pine is wonderfully played out, the humorous moments never feel forced, and the intimacy feels deserved. And it’s in the awkward butting of heads around ideals and action where these two seem to have the most fun, as a perpetually confused Steve tries to reason with Diana who’s fixated on defeating a mythical God. Steve’s realism and cynicism versus Diana’s purest idealism by the end of the film rub off on each other, with each becoming a little more like the other. With Diana’s entry into the outside world she sees a variety of prejudices and injustices, and yet instead of reacting with indifference she voices outrage. A character who is willing to speak up, stand up, and fight for something is a role model sorely needed in today’s cynical climate.
There’s an interesting mix of supporting characters and actors, all of which are engaging to watch however are limited by their lack of screentime. Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta (and Diana’s mother) and Robin Wright as General Antiope (Diana’s aunty) are strong influences on the young warrior princess, with the former’s nurturing love and the latter’s fierce fighting abilities. It’s a shame that after this film we probably won’t see more of them unless it’s through flashback. Then there’s Trevor’s team who assist on his and Diana’s mission, made up of Ewen Bremner, Said Taghmaoui and Eugene Brave Rock. Each of their characters having their own dark issues such as PTSD, racism and working as a mercenary, they’re basically the DCEU version of the Howling Commandos. Whilst the villains of this film are once again a little under-developed and two dimensional, they still serve the purpose of providing a plot device.
The cinematography by Matthew Jensen (Chronicle), production design by Alien Bonetto (Amelie) and the costume design by Lindy Hemming (The Dark Knight trilogy) all manage to transport us from place to place. Beginning with the idyllic paradise of Themyscira, resembling a mediterranean like island and the Amazon warrior women in their gold and bronze armoured corsets and leather sandals. Diana’s warrior outfit is less star-spangly and more Greco-Roman, with less cleavage and more practicality too since she does a lot of fighting. Then to the foggy and smoggy industrial-age of London, where women are expected to be subservient. Here Lucy Davis’ portrayal of Etta Candy (Trevor’s secretary) introducing Diana to women’s fashion gets a glorious short-lived moment to shine. Then there’s the grime, mud and horror of the war front, dropping like its own bomb on Diana as she comes to realise the gravity of the situation. And the irony of it all is that despite the World War I setting of this film, this is a far more colourful and vivid entry into the DCEU than we’ve seen to date, all because of the characters, settings and costumes.
The action scenes, like any other big blockbuster are epic, filled with meticulous choreography and tight editing. The battle between the Amazons and the Germans early in the film does two things. It not only shows us how badass they are, even with their “primitive” weapons against machine guns but it also sets the tone of the film. In Themyscira it’s almost as if time is moving slowly but in the real world progress is marching on and with that comes destructive change. The ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence gets to showcase a fearless Diana climbing out of the trenches and forging a path for Steve and his team to break the German line, and the accompanying score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is spine-tingling. The final battle though is a little too OTT unbelievable, and also a little long-winded. Maybe it’s a case of action sequence fatigue, but sometimes a less-is-more approach feels far more effective in getting a point across and also leaves more on screen time for character development which is what some of these superhero films need in order for us to empathise with them.
Wonder Woman is not entirely without its flaws, the supporting characters are lightweight crutches for our two leads, the villains are a little underwhelming and the final battle is too long. But these all seem like minor quibbles against the overwhelmingly positive aspects of the film. A well plotted and paced origin story for our heroine, strong female characters (not just Diana!), compassionate heroic role models, colourful costumes and excellent musical scoring. To redeem the DCEU, it took a wondrous woman to do the job.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 141 minutes
Wonder Woman screens in Australian cinemas from 1st June 2017 through Roadshow Films and Warner Bros Pictures