Action, Amazons, Ares, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, DC Extended Universe, Drama, Fantasy, Gal Gadot, Patty Jenkins, Review, Robin Wright, Superhero, Themyscira, World War I
D: Patty Jenkins / 141m
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Lilly Aspell
On the hidden island of Themyscira live the Amazons, a fierce warrior tribe of women whose presence in the world has been kept from the rest of mankind by the wishes of Zeus. The only child on the island is Diana (Aspell), the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Nielsen). Diana is precocious, challenging, disobedient, and determined to become a warrior like the rest of the Amazons, but her mother forbids it. Hippolyta’s sister, Antiope (Wright), trains Diana in secret, though, and she grows into a young woman (Gadot) to be reckoned with: the quickest, most agile, most determined Amazon of them all. With her fighting skills honed under the stewardship of Antiope, Diana finds she lacks a clear purpose in life, until one day the shield keeping the island hidden is penetrated by a plane that crashes into the sea. Diana rescues the lone pilot, Steve Trevor (Pine), who tells the Amazons of “a war to end to all wars”, and who provides all the reason Diana needs to leave the island and seek her destiny (once she leaves she can never return).
The pair travel to London where Trevor alerts the British High Command – led by Sir Patrick Morgan (Thewlis) – to a plot by Germany’s General Ludendorff (Huston) to end the War by use of the most deadliest form of mustard gas yet created. Forced to go it alone, Trevor recruits three old friends – would-be actor Sameer (Taghmaoui), sharpshooter Charlie (Bremner), smuggler the Chief (Brave Rock) – and with Diana, travels to the Belgian Front, where Ludendorff and his chief scientist, Dr Maru (Anaya), are in the process of preparing their new weapon to be used for the first (and they hope, last) time in the War. But Diana has no intention of letting them succeed in their plan, and convinced that Ludendorff is the modern incarnation of Ares, the disgraced God of War, she takes the fight to the Germans, and in the process learns something about herself that has been hidden from her all her life…
The question everyone is asking is an easy one to answer. The question is, is Wonder Woman the best DC Extended Universe movie to date? And the easy answer is Yes, it is. But that’s like saying, if I have one leg shorter than the other, and I have an operation to correct this, will I be better able to walk? Again, the answer is Yes, of course. And so it goes with Wonder Woman, a movie that provides a sharp upturn in quality in relation to its predecessors – Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016) – but which still embraces many of the issues and problems that have plagued those same DCEU productions.
It’s yet another movie where the tone is so earnest and so po-faced that when the script does make an attempt at humour, it’s the same as when Garland Greene says of Billy Bedlam in Con Air (1997): “he’s so angry moments of levity actually cause him pain; gives him headaches. Happiness, for that gentleman, hurts.” The humour is there, tucked away in odd places, but it never feels like an integral part of the overall tone and feel of the movie. It’s as if Allan Heinberg’s script was accused of being too heavy, and was charged with including moments of levity as a direct consequence. What this means in practice is that the movie rarely feels comfortable when it’s tasked with being funny, and seems to breathe a sigh of relief when it can move on and concentrate on providing audiences with an industrious trek through the land of superhero clichés.
As an origin story, it’s akin to the first Thor movie, in that it introduces us to a realm built on myth and legend, and after a suitable period, hijacks the central character and thrusts them into the “real” world, with all its problems and rewards. Themyscira is a first for the DC Extended Universe, a beautifully realised paradise that features sun-dappled buildings, verdant fields, and the healthy glow of bronze and gold. Its relentlessly blue skies stretch as far as the eye can see, and the azure waters of the sea are dazzling. But once the island of Themyscira is left behind, the movie defaults to the muted colour palette and downplayed visual aesthetic that governs all the movies in the DC Extended Universe. Whether we’re in London or the battle-torn Belgian countryside, the movie does its best to be all gloomy backdrop and sombre foreground. It all fits in with the earnest, dramatic nature of the material, but as a visual statement it’s less than satisfying and helps to drain some of the life from the movie as a whole.
Where the movie does score more highly is in its attention to the horrors of life on the Western Front, and the effects of warfare on the local populace. But even that acknowledgment is over quickly so as to facilitate the next action sequence (which unfortunately features the kind of jerky CGI gymnastics from Wonder Woman that you’d be forgiven for thinking wouldn’t be attempted anymore in a movie costing $149 million and released in 2017). There are other nods to the horrors of war – Charlie’s PTSD, musings on the terrible things that man can inflict on his fellow man – but while it’s good to see them addressed – however briefly – it’s as near to depth as the movie gets, and they seem shoehorned into the main storyline rather than arising naturally from it. Diana’s obsession with hunting down Ares also gives rise to further arguments about the nature of war and man’s predilection towards it, but these are largely spurious and serve only to weigh down a final showdown between Diana and Ares that quickly descends into yet another dispiriting bout of disaster porn theatrics.
As the 5000 year old Amazon princess, Gadot builds on her appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and proves that the praise she received in that movie wasn’t just a result of her standing out against its poor structure, lacklustre script, and wayward direction. There are some roles that can only be played by certain actors or actresses, and Gadot owns the part in a way that the likes of Sandra Bullock, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Beyoncé Knowles – all considered for the role in the past – would find incredibly difficult to match or improve upon. Elsewhere, Gadot isn’t the most convincing of actresses, but here she gives a compelling, intuitive performance that stretches her skills as an actress but does so in a way that marks her out – in the DC Extended Universe at least – as the character to look out for. She’s ably supported by Pine who reins in his usual cocky charm; Huston as yet another less than memorable villain; Thewlis as the politician who may or may not be all that he seems; and Wright as Diana’s strong-willed aunt. However, if anyone in the supporting cast has to be picked out, it’s Bremner, who injects some much needed energy into his scenes and who makes Charlie possibly the most well rounded character in the whole movie.
Much has been made of Patty Jenkins being the first female director of a superhero movie featuring a female character as its lead, and Jenkins does do a decent enough job of pushing against the narrow confines of a DC superhero movie. But though she does manage to incorporate some elements of feminism into the story, there aren’t enough to make the movie into something more relevant than it is, and it’s curiously flimsy as an example of female empowerment. This is still, and despite the presence of Wonder Woman herself, a Boys’ Own adventure that could have featured any number of superheroes as its lead protagonist. It gets full marks for its period setting (something that was avoided for a long time before production finally began), but the movie takes too long in getting its audience from London to the Front, takes too much time in attempting to flesh out characters that don’t need fleshing out, and provides enough exposition to deaden the senses more effectively than Dr Maru’s poison gas. A small-scale triumph, then, and a definite improvement on the movies already mentioned above, but there’s still a long way to go before DC and Warner Bros. overcome the same problems they seem incapable – at present – of recognising and prevailing over.
Rating: 6/10 – a movie that starts out strongly (much in the way that Suicide Squad did), Wonder Woman seems set on delivering on the promise it showed in its trailers, and the advance word from preview screenings, but it soon falters and falls prey to the apparently carved-in-stone requirements of the DC Extended Universe; bold and confident in places, yet haphazard and stumbling in others, it’s a movie that surprises more than it dismays, but when it does dismay the effect is, unfortunately, far more noticeable, and has far more repercussions.