1 July 2017

Review: Wonder Woman

(Dir: Patty Jenkins, 2017)

Even though June has barely passed, it seems that Wonder Woman is the movie of summer 2017. It is a highly entertaining film but it's hard not to see that being the case partly because of the gender politics (I won't go into how obviously ridiculous it is that we've not had a Hollywood produced, female-led superhero movie since Elektra in 2005, let alone that women are not being given the director's chair for these films, as the film's box office success is more effectively making that argument). It might also be tempting to think that the DC universe is now offering some appeal to audiences, but as a film set around the First World War it's immediately set apart from the present day environment where the previous films have been establishing themselves, meaning something crazy must be happening – people want to (finally) see this character on-screen!

The strengths of Wonder Woman lie within those two facts – Gal Gadot as Diana, the titular character, and the setting(s). Gadot portrays her with a mixture of myopic certainty about her purpose in life and the mission at hand, whilst convincingly selling a sense of innocence and wide-eyed wonder once she leaves her sheltered existence. And she kicks ass too, totally convincing in the copious action scenes, proving more thrilling to watch than her counterparts in this universe. But anyone who has watched Batman Vs Superman should not be surprised by that.

Starting the film in an idyll soaked in Greek mythology sets the character up nicely (ironically there are shades of Disney's Moana here), before bursting that bubble with London and Belgium circa World War I. The manner in which the Greek mythology abuts to these time period feels a little awkward at times, but setting the film outside of modern day was the right decision. The film can entirely forget the DC world building (aside from the obligatory short bookends) and just concentrate on this character and her story.

Not all is perfect of course. In any other film, Chris Pine's Steve Trevor character would've been a solid lead (much in the way he plays similar characters), but here he has to play second fiddle. It's nice to have two strong characters heading up the film, but you can guarantee if he was the lead then any female character would've just been token love interest. Small spoiler alert... it also commits the cardinal sin (in this viewer's eyes) of having her fall for him. It would've been unbelievable if he hadn't fallen for her (she is Wonder Woman, an Amazonian, after all!), but having such a strong character succumb to love in this manner is the ultimate terrible cliché, diminishing the character and reminding us of the disparity between how male and female characters are usually portrayed. The only thing that saves this element of the story is the aforementioned wide-eyed marveling Gadot brings. 

Villainy is something these DC films have struggled with so far, and not doing too much better here. Danny Huston sells the menacing General Ludendorff convincingly – a good casting choice – but it's a little too easy to have a boo hiss German general as your personification of evil. Plus some unexplained gas to make him all powerful is a little too conveniently fantastical. Elena Anaya's chemist Dr Maru is potentially more interesting but definitely under-explored. And when the threat is brought back closer to Diana's roots, it never sits quite right, leaving you wondering of the better ways this could've been brought to fruition.

Wonder Woman is a highly entertaining film, with a fascinating lead character and solid action (even though some of the CGI is a little ropey at times). What helps immeasurably is setting it away from the rest of the DC universe by going back a hundred years. Making comparisons to what Marvel are doing feels lazy and should be avoided, but this comparison is inescapable – Wonder Woman really does feel like a reimagining of Captain America: The First Avenger, but set one world war earlier. Just count how many of the story beats are remarkably similar between the films! That is not a criticism as (entirely subjectively speaking) that first Captain America film is one of Marvel's best. Both films are glowing examples of why letting these characters have their own space to breathe and shine is so much more satisfying than some overblown superhero melange. Here's hoping Warner Bros/DC don't now screw up what they do with this character, or suck her up into their all pervading darkness.

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