Wonder Woman (2017) Directed by Patty Jenkins. With Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston and David Thewlis.
The era of superhero films has been the dominant cinematic force of the past 10-years, yet while Marvel Studios appeared to find their rhythm from the very start with Iron Man and co, the DC playground had failed to affirm its stamp of quality. Until now.
As is now a familiar structure of these films, Patty Jenkins gets straight into the origins of Diana Prince (Gadot), which is given a fresh feel by the fact that all the characters are women. Though its roots story stuff, it doesn’t feel quite as laboured or drawn out as so many of these chapters in superhero storytelling can fall victim to. If that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, well…
Towards the end of the first act, Diana’s mother exclaims – “The world of men do not deserve you“. There’s also a feeling that Gadot deserves a better film constructed around her – not that Wonder Woman is a bad film – the contrary, it has fine moments and Gadot shines brightly. But the framework of the storytelling isn’t anything out of the ordinary for these movies. Of course, it’s a mountainous step up in quality from recent DCU offerings, most of which front-load an edgy collage of dampened drama that achieve nothing to elevate the soul. There is one dramatic shot when Gadot looks like an oil painting from Zack Snyder’s 300, however, under the eye of Patty Jenkins she’s a framed as a heroic Goddess to be worshipped, as opposed to a woman to be ogled.
Gal Gadot is stunning in that ridiculously beautiful kind of way, yet she’s portrayed in such a positive light, that it’s impossible to not fall in love with her. But we aren’t just falling in love with her physical appearance, we’re falling in love with her ideological insistence on putting others before herself. She has an extraterrestrial aura that modern superheroes can’t find. She isn’t suffering with the internal angst of Superman, Iron Man or Batman – she’s just plain good. And what’s wrong with that!? It seems that the trend for a superhero is to be brooding and complex, with a multitude of internal issues to decipher. Why can’t heroes just be straight up good like Christopher Reeve’s Superman, and have dilemmas and choices presented to them by the world. Gadot’s character is an emblem of hope.
Snyder co-wrote the story and is onboard as a producer, meaning his visual style is fully present, though his tendency to fetishise isn’t carried forward by Jenkins who aims to make Wonder Woman far more than a simple object of desire. Her ethos of ‘love wins’ might seem like jumping on the bandwagon of a hashtag, but it’s an important message for our world and Allan Heinberg’s screenplay aims to make a firm point of it.
One centrepiece action sequence is given a visceral kick-start, before branching off into spectacular slow motion mayhem, accompanied by Rupert Gregson-Williams’s excellent banshee wailing score. Seeing Wonder Woman in close combat makes for some remarkable visual imagery, though some air comes out of the tyres in less convincing CGI shots of her.
Chris Pine takes what would traditionally be the female sidekick role. It’s a switch that works for him as an actor. Pine isn’t always credited for the strength of his performances, possibly due to his ‘Ken doll’ good looks, but his character doesn’t get in the way of who Diana is, rather adding to her through his own arc. Touches of humour let in some light, which is found in various responses to Diana’s naivety.
Though filled with undercurrents of darkness and a few stock baddies, where Jenkins triumphs is that she attempts to embrace the soul of who a hero is, rather than shying away from it with embarrassment. The final act ‘boss level’ almost squanders much of what comes before it, and it’s a real shame the character has to be wasted as part of the overall DC extended universe. On this evidence, she should leave them all behind and forge her own path.