Three strikes and the DCEU may be out – but thank the gods Wonder Woman doesn’t know the rules of baseball.
Wonder Woman (2017) is a DCEU action/fantasy/superhero origin story written by Allan Heinberg and directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster). It stars Gal Gadot as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, warrior Amazon and inquisitive young woman. But when her world is view is shattered by British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash landing on the hidden island, she decides to embark into a world caught in the grips of World War 1 in order to earn the name of Wonder Woman.
(Mostly) Wondrous Origins
Finally! It happened! The DCEU has found its saviour in its final member of the Trinity (oh and Patty Jenkins too) and praise Zeus because its been four movies coming. While Wonder Woman isn’t perfect, and basically boils down to a really solid-but-standard superhero origin story, just that level of quality is goddamn revolutionary for DC right now. There’s colour! Humour! ACTUAL HEROICS! What ground-breaking stuff.
Let’s get into it. This story may be the typical heroes journey of predictability that any casual superhero fan will have seen a thousand times over, but Jenkin’s has managed to do just a solid job bringing this story to the big screen. While the beginning suffers from some seriously forced exposition mumbo-jumbo, once the film gets going it settles into a really good rhythm of action, heart and heroics. Keeping the story straightforward and grounded in the realities of the time period is a smart move in avoiding the over-complicated plodding of Batman v Superman and it pays off in dividends in a solid plot that keeps things flowing and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I’ve never been happier to say there’s no need for an extended edition here.
That being said, borrowing from the classic origin-story playbook means a few of the usual weaknesses have made their way into the mix too. These gripes include, but are not limited to, underdeveloped villains, a messy overly CGI third act, comic relief that doesn’t work and a number of cliches that involve spoilers. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve noted these in comic book movies, and sadly a lot rear their heads yet again to complicate matters.
But now lets get back to the good things. First off, Gal Gadot has staked her claim over the role of Wonder Woman in the best way possible. To many generations going forward, this is going to be the Wonder Woman and while she isn’t quite at the Downey-level yet, this is far removed from the brooding cardboard cutouts of the other DCEU heroes. While she doesn’t quite have the dramatic chops to pull off a few emotional moments, Gadot manages to nail every other aspect of the character. From the physicality to a likeable charm that I did not expect, to the (ahem) wonder she inspires, she remains the centre of the movie and manages to pull it off a solid 90% of the time.
Not only that, but the character of Diana Prince goes through a surprisingly satisfying and compelling arc that carries her from wide-eyed optimist to fearless warrior. From fish-out-of-water to slow-motion badass, Jenkins has created a fully realised and effective portrayal of one of comics’ most iconic characters – and for her first solo film (and hopefully first successful female-led superhero movie) that is not a feat that should be underestimated. Unlike any of the characters DC currently has under its roster, this is a Hero with a capital H, someone to aspire towards and something that the DCEU sorely needs. There’s no brooding, metropolis destroying or branding in sight here.
While Gal Gadot is definitely the focus, the rest of the cast tends to fare quite well also. Chris Pine is fantastically cast as Steve Trevor, who manages to steal scenes with his sorely underrated comedic timing and genuine charm and chemistry with Gadot. Connie Nelson is fine as Diana’s mother Hippolyta as well, even if the more impressive Amazonian is the legendary (if sorely underused) Robin Wright as Antiope, Diana’s trainer. The weakest links in the cast lie in the dual villains of Ludendorff and Doctor Poison, played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya respectively. They turn in acceptable performances but their screentime is so lax that its impossible for them to make an sort of impression. Special mention also goes to Lucy Davis as the most throwaway and forgettable comic relief in quite a while.
As the action in Wonder Woman goes, its a mixed bag. On one hand we have a nice flair of style with a mixture of clever camera angles and well-used slo-mo. On the other, we have the same quick-cutting crap that manages to suck the life out of any well-meaning action scene. This means that for every thrill there’s also a frustration which is a real disappointment considering the grace and power Wonder Woman’s choreography is instilled with here.
It also isn’t helped by the fact that the CGI surprisingly isn’t quite up to the standard one would expect for a film of this scale. While Themyscira itself is quite a pleasant CGI’d sight, some of the other green screen doesn’t hold up quite as well. Particularly in the previously mentioned messy CGI third-act, it starts to look a little too much like the finale for Batman V Superman than I would like to admit. Too much darkness, particle effects and CGI characters does not maketh a satisfying finale which is a real shame considering how much more of the film is so solid.
Female heroics in the future?
While I may have my gripes with Wonder Woman, overall its a genuinely solid, rather entertaining classic origin romp for one of comics’ most iconic characters. The success and reception for this film is not only important to the DCEU, but also to female-led (both character and director) superhero movies in general. And even if I have my gripes, more than anything I still want this movie to succeed so we can see some diversity – and actually good DC movies – going forward.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Recommended
True Believers (DC): Highly Recommended