Wonder Woman had a whole lot riding on its shoulders. After Electra (2005) and Catwoman (2004), neither of which were particularly well received by critics or fans, Wonder Woman is only the third incarnation of a female-lead superhero movie since the X-Men and Sam Raimi Spider-Man films blasted the superhero genre into the stratosphere. It’s also the only female lead superhero film since Marvel/Disney and DC/Warner Bros. decided to do to movies what comic books have been doing for decades and turn their films into one, big connected universe. After the mixed response (and mixed is putting it lightly) to DC’s Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016), Wonder Woman pretty much has the fate of the entire DC Extended Universe on its shoulders as well; so yeah, no pressure or anything. Thankfully, this film exceeds expectations spectacularly in ways I didn’t even know it could. I know it’s cliché, but this film is just, wonderful.
Firstly, before diving into Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, a brief idea of where this character is coming from, because her incarnation itself is pretty damn interesting. William Moulton Marston is credited with creating Wonder Woman in 1941. Much of Marston’s inspiration was taken from his wife, as well as their partner Olive, with whom Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with. Remember, this is the forties, so kudos not only for empowering women way before feminism was a thing, but for totally being down for a nonconformitive lifestyle. Marston also invented the systolic blood pressure test, which helped in the creation of the modern polygraph, a.k.a. lie detector (lasso of truth start to make any more sense?). Marston’s life is really worth looking into, there’s a whole lot more behind Wonder Woman’s origins like bondage, discussions on submissiveness, femininity and masculinity, and a whole lot more!
Patty Jenkins has the honour of bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen for the first time, and does so in spectacular fashion. It’s no secret that women behind the camera are lacking in big budget projects, and given that Jenkins’ last project was Monster (2003), winning Charlize Theron her best actress Academy Award, it’s pretty disappointing that it’s been 12 years since Jenkins has directed another feature film. That certainly says something about gender equality within the industry. Who directs an Oscar calibre film, and gets nothing for another 12 years? See, THAT is why we need Wonder Woman. Jenkins has stated that she was inspired by the Richard Donner Superman films of the late seventies, and it’s very apparent. Wonder Woman has an honesty and integrity to it really makes the film. There’s the same fish-out-of-water humour but it never feels forced, and there’s a few direct homages to Donner’s ’78 Superman that fans with keen eyes will recognise. Props also go to Lucy Davis’ Etta, who is thoroughly enjoyable in this film. Comic relief, but well timed, well written and well executed.
In fact, the entire cast is really good in this. Chris Pine and Gal Gadot have fantastic chemistry, and whilst they weren’t given much to play with Danny Huston and Elena Anaya were both fine villains. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen were spectacular as Amazons. This movie starts at Themyscira and boy, I could go a whole movie just on that island, but Gal Gadot. Perfection. Gal Gadot is simply sublime in this role, for any nay-sayer remaining, I don’t know what to tell you. The casting of Wonder Woman is unbelievably on point, she sells this role immaculately. Gadot plays a difficult mix of innocence and power, whilst always remaining the most capable person in the room. Personally, I feel the character of Ares was miscast, but lets not head into spoiler territory. This cast, overall, is great, and I can’t praise Gadot enough in this role.
There’s also something to be said about Wonder Woman not being American. I mean, she’s created by an American man, but in today’s current global climate, and with Hollywood’s reach, Diana having an accent from a middle eastern country and standing up against the concept of war itself is a very bold move, and one that I think will reach much farther than being overbearing with any patriotic message. In one particular scene, they’re on the precipice of No Man’s Land, there’s a prime moment for Diana to turn around and pitch the line “but I’m not a man!” And to my delight, that moment didn’t come. It didn’t bash you over the head with feminism, and I write this as a feminist, it simply was representation. A woman, a Wonder Woman, kicking butt.
There are so many things that make Wonder Woman a spectacular film. The writing, the humour, the cast, the score (oh my god, I’ve listened to the soundtrack on repeat more than once this weekend!) But what really tips it over the edge is its portrayal of war. Diana is a warrior who is fighting for peace, and that in itself can be a really tricky line to walk, but what sells the premise is Diana’s innocence. She’s an outsider to the entire human race, raised on a utopian island of Amazon Warrior Women, and the audience views humanity through the eyes of Wonder Woman, someone seeing us for the first time. Unlike other war films, including the most highly praised, you’re given a glimpse into what a soldier deals with on the battlefield: the intensity, the rush, and then the aftermath: the bodies, the injured, etc, and there is a great level of discussion on how Hollywood – to a lesser or greater extend – glorifies war. What Wonder Woman does so spectacularly, is show you the aftermath of war, before you’re in the middle of the trenches. Highlight Diana’s reaction to the needless death and horror of war, before going anywhere near the action paralleled Diana’s reasons for fighting. She’s not doing this for any one country, and she’s not on any one side. She is fighting the concept of war itself. That is why Wonder Woman is so spectacular, it’s the war movie I’ve always wanted to see. It de-glorifies war in ways other war films with the highest of accolades fail to do.
Not everything is perfect, I mentioned the casting of the god of war, but I won’t go into that in detail. Where I feel Wonder Woman falls short, just slightly, of being perfect, is with the final act of the film. There’s three major battle sequences, and the first two are really something else. The final battle however, becomes a bit of a CGI, Snyderesque, collision, and it didn’t quite keep in tone with the rest of the film. In addition to this, certain revelations are made in the final act, and who the film endows with that knowledge, and how Jenkins chooses to highlight that shift, was a bit of a missed opportunity for me. I know that’s vague, but I really can’t get into it. Just go watch it yourself. What I will say, however, is any gripe I have is married with an understanding of why they chose to go in that direction. This is a superbly made film, that’s just shy of sticking the landing, and my feeling leaving the cinema was of utter excitement.
Wonder Woman Makes me more excited for the DCEU, it makes me hopeful. It even managed to make me appreciate moments in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice more, and has me super excited for Jenkins’ next project! The Wonder Woman of this film is predicated on her innocence, and the Wonder Woman in Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent’s world is a very different woman. I want to know how she got there, and what happened in between. There’s so many stories to tell! So many ways to take this character! Jenkins, Gadot, I salute you. Yes Wonder Woman is the movie, the hero, the story we need right now. Go watch it. Take your little girls, and little boys, and get out to watch this film as soon as you can.