Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston
Runtime: 2 hrs 21 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: http://wonderwomanfilm.net
Opening Day: 31 May 2017
Synopsis: Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when an American pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers...and her true destiny.
Unfortunately for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight’ set it on a path of grimness, paving the way for a series of bleak superhero tales that never quite found the right balance between darkness and light, seriousness and humour, gravitas and fun which made their crosstown rival Marvel’s adaptations such critical and commercial crowd-pleasers.
Fortunately for the DCEU, ‘Wonder Woman’ is as different from ‘Man of Steel’, ‘Batman v Superman: Man of Steel’ and even ‘Suicide Squad’ as it gets. Unlike her red, blue and black Justice League peers, Diana Prince’s origin story is a superhero movie brimming with hope and humanity. Devoid of phobias, daddy issues and any laboured soul-searching, Diana (Gal Gadot) is most significantly an uncomplicated superhero whose mission and motivation is simply to fight for truth, justice and peace. As the first female big-budget blockbuster devoted to a female superhero, it is not only the most satisfying DCU movie to date but also by far one of the best superhero movies – grand, rousing and perfectly thrilling.
Assembled from the original 1940s William Moulton Marston stories as well as various revisionist updates, it kicks off its first act on the ladies-only island of Themyscira with young Diana as a feisty, rebellious and strong-headed little girl (Lilly Aspell), who insists on training in combat under her aunt Gen. Antiope (Robin Wright) despite the objections of her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Hippolyta knows that Diana’s destiny was to resist Ares, the god of war, when he returns, and her fierce objections at the start stem primarily from her protective instinct as a mother – but if she’s going to train, Hippolyta tells her sister, make her the best.
The tranquillity of their island sanctuary is broken by American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-landing into the ocean, pursued by German forces in the heat of World War I. After a session with the lasso of truth, Steve tells the Amazonians of the Great War that now roils the 1918 world, and of his discovery of the Germans’ experimental new weapon: a powerful poison gas developed by the facially scarred chemist Dr Poison (Elena Anaya) and wielded by sadistic General Ludendorff (Danny Huston). Though the rest of his German peers are adamant on reaching an armistice with the Allies to curb their losses, Ludendorff remains defiant to the end, believing firmly that his weapon will turn the tides of victory in their favour. By the end of Steve’s tale, Diana is convinced that the Great War is the work of Ares, and resolves to follow Steve to the front lines to confront the nemesis she was born to conquer.
The bond between mother and daughter gives the Themyscira sequences pathos – more than anyone, Queen Hippolyta knows Diana’s destiny; more than anything, she knows that humans do not deserve Diana; but above all, she knows that Diana will have to choose her own path. But once Diana sets sail with Steve for war-torn London, their adventure takes on a whole different rhythm and poignancy.
On one hand, it is a fish-out-of-water comedy, where she learns not only about the world outside hers (there is a delightful aside where she tries ice cream for the first time and tells the vendor he should be proud of how wonderful it is) but also of its chauvinism. Amidst the politics of British male-dominated military command, the film’s feminist message comes through most clearly and distinctly. And yet, director Patty Jenkins (who, by the way, is the first female at the helm of a major studio superhero picture) is far more adroit than to hit you over the head with its gender politics – at most, she has Diana point out, partly out of her naiveté, the hypocrisy of generals sitting safely behind desks deciding that not to act against Ludendorff for fear of endangering the armistice, even if that inaction costs more lives on both sides.
On another, it is a love story, where Diana will come to admire Steve’s determination to do what’s right (after failing to convince his superiors, Steve assembles his own motley crew, including Ewen Bremner as a Scottish sniper battling PTSD, Saïd Taghmaoui as a sweet-talking master of disguise, and Eugene Brave Rock as a Native American guide) and fall for his virtue, sincerity and charm. It is through Steve that Diana will come to recognise the goodness that exists within mankind at the same time as she learns of their capacity for evil, and without spoiling anything, let’s just say that it is as beautiful, funny and moving as the best of ‘em romances thanks to the chemistry between Gadot and Pine.
And last but not least, it is a war movie, demonstrating the impact of war not just on the often nameless faces sent to the battle field but also on the civilians often regarded or used as collateral damage. It is precisely that which motivates Diana to step forward onto No Man’s Land in the middle of a trench battle on the Western Front and eventually liberate a small French village just behind enemy lines, and boy oh boy is that a magnificent sight to behold. Because Diana has yet to grasp the full extent of her powers, it is as if we are learning exactly what she can do just as she is discovering her abilities – and watching her deflect machine gun-fire with her gauntlets, flip army tanks with one hand and pummel an entire clock tower is as stunning for her as it is for us. Not since ‘The Matrix’ has slo-mo action looked so cool onscreen, and Jenkins uses that technique not just to emphasise Diana’s moves but also for us to glimpse at her expressions even as she is taking out the bad guys.
Nothing quite tops the exhilaration of that sequence which caps the second act, and as some commentators have rightly pointed out, the third act threatens to be overwhelmed by the same CGI excesses which made its DCEU predecessors frustrating. It is within this climactic battle that Diana comes face to face with Ares just as Steve and his ragtag band of comrades tries to stop Dr Poison from further unleashing her canisters of gas, and the former in particular is guilty of the visual overkill of explosions, mayhem and stodgy spectacle that ultimately generates little excitement. Yet even amidst the misstep, Jenkins doesn’t lose sight of the human-scale moments between Diana and Steve (one in particular, played the first time round with the dialogue muted and another with their exchange will leave you teary-eyed); nor for that matter, does she dilute the film’s intimate and unequivocal focus on Diana, who is confronted with the decision whether to continue fighting for this strange human race that possesses as much vicious depths as redeeming characteristics or stand with Ares against it.
Thrust into her first lead role, Gadot is simply exceptional. That she can convey beauty and sass in equal measure was evident in several of the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies she was probably best known for before this, but over and beyond, she displays great screen presence and sheer magnetism in how she carefully balances the doe-like naiveté and determination of her character. Having done time as a combat trainer in the Israeli army, Gadot certainly possesses the looks, moves and derring-do, but it is how soulful and utterly credible her performance here is that is the real surprise. It is needless to say that he has the somewhat thankless role of playing second fiddle, but the blue-eyed good-looking Pine turns out to be perfectly cast not only for his chemistry, camaraderie and even sexual tension with Gadot, but also as the audience surrogate reacting with amusement and amazement at her strange and remarkable abilities.
Quite simply, ‘Wonder Woman’ is nothing short of wonderful. Like we said at the start, it isn’t grim, glum or self-serious like its DCEU predecessors were, and for the most part, manages to avoid succumbing to the same CGI incoherence. It has honest emotion, spirited humour, breath-taking spectacle and a sincere commitment to its protagonist’s humanitarian ideals. As unlikely as her last big-screen feature 14 years ago may make her seem for a big-budget superhero movie, Jenkins proves to be a wonder herself, combining plot, character and spectacle with nuance and feeling into one of the most stirring entries in recent memory, with touching and powerful moments quite rare for a movie of this kind. Outside of the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, it is by far the best DCEU movie, and we dare say one of the best superhero movies we’ve seen.
(Brimming with hope, heart and humanity, ‘Wonder Woman’ is funny, moving and breath-taking all at once, and lives up to the hyperbole of its character’s name by being simply the best DCEU movie by far)
Review by Gabriel Chong