The knock on the DC Universe (DCU) movies is that, apart from a lot of them being rather rubbish, they’re all incredibly joyless.
While the Marvel universe films are filled with as many snappy one-liners as they are epic action set-pieces, the likes of Man Of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice are moody affairs, populated with down-at-the-mouth heroes and presented with such a sense of self-importance, you’d think you were watching War & Peace: The comic book movie.
Wonder Woman bucks this trend. It’s a lighter, altogether more breezier affair than its DCU stablemates, and while it certainly contains its fair share of dour moments, audience members aren’t likely to feel like a massive weight has been placed on their shoulders by the time the credits roll.
Wonder Woman Review – Amazon origins
The movie kicks off on the hidden island of Themyscira, a place so gorgeous to behold it makes the Amalfi Coast look like a dump. The island, which exists in a state of classical antiquity, is populated entirely by Amazon women, apart from Diana, the daughter of Themyscira’s queen Hippolyta and, incidentally, the only child on the island.
Hippolyta (a warm Connie Nielsen) and her sister Antiope (a flint-like Robin Wright) have different views on Diana’s upbringing; the former wants her daughter to enjoy childhood while the latter believes that conflict with the Greek god of war Aeres is coming, and Diana had best be prepared. Antiope eventually gets her way, but just as Diana (now an adult played by Gal Gadot) starts developing powers that outstrip the abilities of her Amazon sisters, an American pilot called Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands off Themyscira’s coast, bringing a bunch of German soldiers behind him.
After a costly breach skirmish, the Amazons learn from Trevor that outside their hidden bubble, World War I is underway and that he’s come into possession of a document that could bring about its end. Diana suspects Aeres has a hand in the war, so she leaves with Trevor for Europe and the front line. It’s not long before she’s encountering the horrors of war and sexism in almost equal measure.
Wonder Woman Review – Journey of discovery
Wonder Woman successfully combines two narrative aspects plucked from a couple of Marvel films from a few years ago. Diana is a godlike hero on the frontline of one of history’s global wars (like Captain America was) and as she collides with the world outside Themyscira, she’s a proverbial fish-out-of-water (much as Thor was) who approaches each encounter with a different set of values from those around her.
That having been said, Wonder Woman does more with those strands than either Marvel entry. First, the film looks at the fact that the war carried a very human cost (even if you weren’t best mates with a superhero). The closer Diana gets to the frontline, the more she sees in the way of crippled, afflicted and terrified victims, and this starts to chip away at her warrior veneer. It’s all handled a bit ham-handedly – and one might question the levels of taste involving a push across No Man’s Land – but it’s easily glossed over if one settles in for the ride.
Second, the film take a couple of rather satisfying digs at the sexism of the early 20th century (which still pervades society today). Most of the men Diana encounters (including Steve Trevor) attempt to either dismiss her or boss her about, which is laughable since she’s far more intelligent and physically capable than any of them.
A lot of these barbs, incidentally are cut down in an affable way, with Diana using simple pragmatism rather than rage or scorn. The only time she truly loses her temper in one of these situations is in response to an army general casually writing off the deaths of soldiers and civilians with the same attitude one would have when selecting pizza toppings.
Wonder Woman Review – Holding the centre
What holds the centre oft he movie together impeccably is Gal Gadot rather fine performance. Over the course of the movie’s running length, Gadot has to hit several disparate beats – kick-ass goddess, wide-eyed explorer, a leader coming into her own, soldier and compatriot – and she manages to with aplomb. While Diana is out of her element, Gadot never portrays her as an innocent. Furthermore, while she’s the only superhero on the playing field, Gadot never makes her feel overbearing to her comrades; they’re her brothers in arms.
Chris Pine is also pretty good as Steve Trevor, a battle-hardened cynic who, despite himself, believes that he and his mates can change things for the better. His ragtag band of soldiers (played by Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock) are fun to hang with, but really they come across as archetypes – the scoundrel, the recovering drunk and the pragmatic soul respectively. Lucy Davis is great as Trevor’s secretary, Etta Candy, who provides the comic relief without heading into pantomime territory. Only Danny Huston and Elena Anaya as two German antagonists really turn on the Vaudeville.
Wonder Woman Review – Verdict
So is Wonder Woman an unqualified triumph? Not really; like a lot of other DCU movies it’s very silly while being over-earnest and considering the liberties it takes with its setting, it hasn’t earned that right. Is it a good film? Yes, in fact it’s probably the best DCU film released to date, establishing both its protagonist as force of nature ahead of the upcoming Justice League movie, and its lead actress as a bona fide star. Who knows? If the Warner Bros producers can take some lessons away from Wonder Woman, they may be able to turn the DCU’s future around.