After playing what was little more than a bit-part in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman gets a chance to stretch her legs and crack some skulls in a surprisingly fleshed out and refreshing origin story.
I’ll start this review with a pretty alarming fact, 2017’s Wonder Woman is the first superhero movie directed by a female, just let that sink in a bit… What has probably become the most lucrative and saturated genre of cinema over the last couple of decades has never been blessed with a woman’s vision. It’s no wonder then that Patty Jenkins’ take on the story of Diana, Princess of the Amazons, tips all of the expected genre tropes on their head and delivers an exhilarating and often surprising experience.
If you’re anything like me, your only real experience of Wonder Woman prior to the DC Universe is the garishly-costumed TV show from the 70s. So much was this vision burned into my consciousness that I struggled to envision a modern day, hard-hitting representation by the same name. Jenkins’ Wonder Woman definitely delivers. The film shows us the beginnings of Diana’s journey from curious little girl to head-kicking hero status.
Born on a secluded Amazonian paradise, Diana is raised and trained to be an independent warrior, just like the generations of women before her. Her world is one absent of men and the woes of general Earth. Most of her knowledge has been gained through extensive archive reading and some pretty deep bed-time stories. Her protective bubble is suddenly broken, quite literally, when a Chris Pine shaped fighter pilot crashes onto her shores, bringing a wave of angry German soldiers behind him.
Thus starts Diane’s journey into a war-torn world in which her one lofty goal is to destroy ‘hate’ itself. Welcome to the world of men.
A lot of the positivity surrounding Wonder Woman is focused on the portrayal of women in the film. It’s a subject that shouldn’t need to be highlighted in this day and age, but still, it’s true. The characters on show are strong both physically and morally. There are no damsels in distress to speak of, with Pine’s Steve Trevor being the one most often finding himself in a bit of a pickle. Gal Gadot shines in the lead role and captures the perfect balance between strength, wisdom and naivety. When compared to say Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow, the difference in portrayal is staggering. She manages to come across as physically imposing whilst maintaining the innocent nature she developed on her secluded island home.
The First World War setting of Wonder Woman throws up a lot of unexpected dark tones too. Evil German scientists, love, peace and large-scale massacre are all tackled head on. We see the destruction through the unfiltered eyes of Diana as she struggles to comprehend the sheer stupidity and hatred of man. It more often than not feels more like a war film than typical comic book fare.
In terms of action, Jenkins’ has worked masterfully to throw up exhilarating engagements using long takes and focused slow-motion. There’s a real kinetic excitement in seeing Gal slide along the floor on her shield and knee some poor sucker through a wall. There are some fantastic set pieces to boot. An Amazonian beach battle with warriors backflipping from horses and firing off a few arrows on the descent, Wonder Woman stepping out onto No Man’s Land and batting away a mortar shell like nobody’s business. It’s hard not to get a bit giddy in those moments.
The supporting cast is great too. Chris Pine plays his bumbling double-agent well, acting as a realist balance to Diana’s optimism. Robin Wright also stood out as General Antiope ‘The Greatest Warrior of All Time” and WW’s mentor. There’s a slew of other familiar faces dotted around for good measure, but the film always feels grounded.
If I have one complaint it’s that I wasn’t super jazzed about the casting of the main villain. Without saying too much, I suppose you could say it plays with what our expectation of evil should be, but still, I found it a little lacking. The message of Peace and Love is sometimes hammered home a bit too much for me as well, but it’s hard to stay angry at a film that is holding a mirror up to the senseless fighting and violence in the world, particularly following recent real-world events.
Wonder Woman is a success. Superhero fatigue is a common symptom these days, but it’s not something I was aware of here. A fantastic action film with a real heart. It also manages to be an inspiration and landmark for female directors, and well, women in general. Talk about Gal Power!
Watch it if you liked:
300, Gladiator, The Last Samurai