So I watched Wonder Woman…
The best way to begin this review are with the words “better late than never”. I definitely got to watching this film much later than I would have liked but I’m glad I got to experience it on the big screen. In addition, I know I sound like an old man reminiscing about simpler times but I can still remember when the concept of a Wonder Woman live-action feature was nothing but optimistic rumour. I always marvel (no pun intended) at just how far the genre has come.
Okay, basic plot: On the remote island of Themyscira live The Amazons – fierce warrior women created by the gods themselves to temper and protect mankind. Diana (Gal Gadot) – the youngest of The Amazons – is eager to join the fight to protect mankind but her mother forbids her training as an Amazon. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands on the island and describes the World War his nation and several others are involved in, Diana feels it is The Amazon’s duty to join the fight and protect mankind from Ares – the god of war who Diana believes is responsible for man’s corruption and the current war tearing it apart. Against her mother’s wishes she leaves Themyscira to join the war and become one of its greatest champions.
This is one of those films that I think will serve as a hallmark when looked back on in history. We’ve had powerful female driven blockbusters – from your Sarah Connors to your Ellen Ripleys to, most recently, your Furiousas. What we haven’t had is a superhero film with a female lead. And before you say Halle Berry’s Catwoman, I assure you, that film doesn’t count. Not only is there a female hero in the lead but also a woman sitting in the director’s chair. As my friend, Dell once wrote in a post highlighting the need for more female-led pieces in film, “girls need heroes too!” and Gal Gadot and director, Patty Jenkins have given all the girls out there something to aspire to.
At the risk of being overly corny, I have to say that Gal Gadot is an absolute wonder! I’ve never read a Wonder Woman comic but I’ve watched plenty of animated series and movies where the character is featured (usually her exploits with The Justice League) so I feel like I have a sense of what the character is meant to be. Strong, opinionated, honourable. Gal Gadot was all of these things and more. She perfectly embodies the character and brings a strength to the role that is astounding. Thought Diana is this powerful heroin with god-like abilities there’s a childlike innocence to her. She’s never experienced the world and, thus, is quite naive and views the mundane minutiae of life with curiousity and genuine astonishment. Gadot delivers beautifully on both aspects of the character; she both sculpts a powerful, fierce warrior but also imparts her with a youthful curiousity.
It’s interesting to think that Patty Jenkins is such an inexperienced director because the product she offers us is one of such refinement and class. I remember thinking to myself through the course of the film how I’d never quite seen a superhero movie like this. Yes, there are movies similar to this and you can draw comparisons here and there but this film has a distinct style to it. I think having a female director added a level of insight to the telling of this story that a male director just wouldn’t be able to achieve.
One of the places that Wonder Woman truly sets itself apart is in its action sequences. I liked the approach that the film took to its action – it’s not non-stop, all-you-can-eat but rather a five course meal where each course is better than the last. I remember hearing some hype about the ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence and particularly looking forward to that. It’s very rare nowadays for an action sequence to give me goosebumps. Everything is overly CGI’ed with millions of Michael-Bay-esque explosions but this sequence was just so powerful. I didn’t just experience it with my eyes, ears and brain; I literally had waves of pleasure and excitement pulsating through my body as I watched.
The sequence and, in fact, the majority of the action in this film is testament to the words, “true beauty lies in simplicity”. A lot of the action in the film consists of close-quarter combat. Wonder Woman fights with a sword and shield and even when she’s fighting people with machine guns and missiles, she gets up close and personal. This makes the fight scenes feel extremely intimate and, as a result, all the more real. She actually kicks so much ass you half start to wonder why she needed help taking down Doomsday in Dawn of Justice.
Unfortunately, this point-blank action isn’t sustained throughout the whole film. This film’s finale is where everything (both in terms of story and action) falls apart. The film does good work to set itself apart from everything we’ve seen before in the superhero genre and be a fresh product; but it’s last twenty or so minutes are a complete betrayal of all the hard work that preceded it. It reminded me a great deal of 2013’s The Wolverine, in that, the finale just falls into the worn-out and cliche rhythm of most superhero films. Our hero is faced with a forgettable villain whose powers are similar to their own and there’s no real excitement or sense of dread to their showdown.
Why is it so difficult for superhero films to have engaging, memorable villains? The film tries to do something interesting and give Diana a non-traditional villain. The villain isn’t so much a physical being or person but rather an her own beliefs. It’s an intriguing concept but it feels like the screenwriters didn’t have enough faith in their vision and end up giving us cliche villain #25 instead. It’s a real shame.
Furthermore, the film feels off-balance at times. We’re presented with interesting characters who’s backstory could really be a source of entertainment but instead of spending sufficient time exploring said backstories, the film decides it’s better to beat us over the head with the moral that its finale provides. I hate when films do this. We’re not idiots, we can pick up subtle pieces of storytelling, we don’t need to be spoon-fed or in the case of this film’s finale, force-fed.
Overall, Wonder Woman is a great film that feels fresh and innovative. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins do amazing work and this film could have them remembered as pioneers. There are men in this film and they do fine work, Chris Pine, in particular, is amazing but the focus needs to be on the ladies here. It’s worth watching and definitely the best movie the DC Extended Universe has served up. 8/10