Thursday, 1 June 2017
FILM REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN
Roadshow Films/Warner Bros.
About 14-months ago, I wrote about how awful Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was. The second of Zack Snyder's DC Extended Universe films, after the disappointing Man of Steel (2014), BVS was a dimly-lit, over-long mess of a film with one saving grace: Wonder Woman.
But did Wonder Woman look impressive simply by virtue of being surrounded by shit? And how would Gal Gadot's Amazonian princess fare when forced to carry the weight of her own film on her muscular shoulders?
The good news: Wonder Woman is not terrible. In fact, it's quite good. And in terms of DCEU films, it's arguably the best so far. A low bar to hurdle, to be sure, but the film, director Patty Jenkins (2003's Monster), and Gadot do so with all the determined grace you'd expect of a warrior princess.
Jenkins, and screenwriter Allen Heinberg, have obviously used Captain America: The First Avenger (still one of Marvel's best efforts) as both inspiration and their template; its world war setting, unconsummated romance, and an at-first naive hero who fights for what they believe is right and not simply for what is ordered of them are all from that other film's playbook. (Even one character's sacrifice at the end of Wonder Woman is either an homage to, or a blatant rip-off of The First Avenger's final moments.)
But Wonder Woman is its own film, too. From Themyscrica, the secret island home of the Amazons ruled by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) -- and where her daughter, Diana (WW's actual name), is trained for combat by her aunt, General Antiope (a fierce Robin Wright) -- to the muddy trenches of No Man's Land and the battlefields of World War I, Jenkins creates two very distinct but wholly believable worlds.
Those worlds collide when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane off the Themyscrican coast and is rescued by Diana, who is given an immediate introduction to the dangers that mankind presents when German soldiers storm the beach. It's 1918 and Trevor, a US spy who, having gone undercover behind enemy lines, has escaped from the Germans with the notebook of so-called Dr Poison (Elena Anaya). She has been developing a biochemical weapon to win the war and help General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) prevent the signing of the Armistice.
Tales of this great war, and the possibility that it is Ares, the god of war and sworn enemy of the Amazons, orchestrating it, ignites Diana's sense of justice and piques her adventurous spirit; accompanying Trevor back to London ("It's hideous!") and then on to the Front, where Diana witnesses firsthand man's cruelty towards his fellow man. It's also the film's best set piece: Wonder Woman rising from the trenches, going over the top and single-handedly taking down a German battalion. She then liberates a nearby village with equally impressive force.
But in spite of the superhuman heroics, in Wonder Woman we have an identifiable heroine. She may be a warrior princess and daughter of a god, but Diana also has a child-like wonder; a curious nature that has her thirsting for knowledge. She also has a very strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. And she's still learning. As much as Jenkins' film is a big screen coming out for Wonder Woman, it's also Diana's coming of age tale.
Unfortunately Jenkins can't avoid the third act curse of the superhero film: a GCI-heavy, low stakes showdown between heroine and villain. (Spoiler alert: Wonder Woman doesn't die.) But in spite of this bloat and wobble, Wonder Woman manages to stick the landing. And we won't have to wait an eternity to see her again: Diana will be back, alongside her fellow superheroes, in Justice League later this year.
Here's hoping we don't have to wait too long to see her front and centre of her own film again, now that we know Gadot and Jenkins are both well and truly up to the task.