Wonder Woman Movie Review
The recent DC movies have been depressingly bleak. Arduous slogs that mistake darkness for maturity. They’ve felt embarrassed of their own characters, using increasingly labored reasoning for why they like to dress up in capes. The characters are not heroes. Their stories are not uplifting.
Well, look who’s come to save the day!
Patty Jenkins, known mostly for Monster, has brought us a DC superhero movie that is most definitely uplifting, and whose central character is undoubtedly heroic. Wonder Woman is the best DC movie in just shy of a decade.
The reason for that success is Diana of Themyscira herself. Director Patty Jenkins, and star Gal Gadot, understand what makes this woman a wonder. They understand that her unwavering belief that she can save every single person is not naivety, but the empathy of a pure heart. They understand that heart is Diana’s superpower. Not her strength, or speed, or invulnerability, but the love she feels for us all.
It is a film without cynicism, and that is one of the reasons it is speaking to so many people right now. Wonder Woman is going over big with both critics and audiences, and it is all because of the central character’s optimism. People don’t want mindless bombast surrounded by gloomy navel gazing. We want hope. Wonder Woman, the character and the movie, is full of hope, and we are willing to overlook the film’s obvious flaws because of it.
The first act of the film is primarily set on the island of Themyscira and follows little Diana as she sneaks away from her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) to train with Antiope (an impressively badass Robin Wright). These opening scenes dole out some clunky exposition and foreshadowing of Diana’s destiny. It’s fine, a serviceable first act, if a little reliant on telling instead of showing. It is not long before Diana is all grown up and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy, crash lands on the island.
Diana questions Steve and is told that the rest of the world is wrapped up in the First World War. Diana, believing the war to be the work of the fallen god Ares, leaves the island to help. Once she leaves the film improves ten fold. The chemistry between Gadot and Pine is palpable and immediate. There are some pleasant fish out of water hi-jinks, and plenty of men dismissing Diana simply because she’s a woman. Diana ignores their dismissal, speaks her mind, and then does what she wants anyway. They are small and have no power over her, and every time Wonder Woman ignores them, or shuts them down, the audience in my screening gave a little cheer.
The whole of the second act is strong. The themes are strong, the characters stronger. The central relationship is engaging and we quickly come to care for everyone involved. It is not long before Steve, Diana, and the small crew they’ve assembled reach the front lines of No Man’s Land. Steve wants to press on to complete the mission. These people can’t be saved, but there are others than can be he tells her. She ignores him, drops the coat that had been hiding her costume, and goes over the top alone.
It is the trailer moment for a reason. It’s instantly iconic. Clearly stating who this woman is. She is not willing to pass by those for whom hope is lost. She is hope. So she fights for them.
It is a shame that Wonder Woman was only given half the budget of Man of Steel, because at certain points it clearly shows. The CGI doesn’t always convince, most notably in the effects heavy final battle. But here, as Diana crosses No Man’s Land, it doesn’t matter. The character shines brighter than any computer generated effect. This is one of those sequences when you realise the character is bigger than the movie, and here she breaks out.
Once we finally get to the confrontation that all superhero movies have to climax with, the film unfortunately loses steam. There are some twists and reveals that muddy the message a little, and as previously stated, the CG which this sequence is so reliant on doesn’t quite cut it. But even here, during the weakest part of the movie, it still manages to squeeze in some character beats and genuine emotion. It also feeds into the theme of violence being self defeating which in today’s world is definitely something that needs repeating.
Wonder Woman is not without its flaws. But these don’t come close to overshadowing what it gets so very right. Gal Gadot, who many doubted, is excellent throughout. She not only looks the part, but plays the part. Selling the strength and empathy so fundamental to the character. There is always something going on just beneath the surface with her, an intelligence just behind the eyes as she works things through. Her delivery of “who will sing for us” to a dejected comrade who is considering leaving as he is unable to fight brought a lump to my throat. Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman.
Chris Pine is equally impressive. He brings a humour to the proceedings which DC movies so famously lack, and has an agency of his own without ever stealing the story away from Diana. Everyone does strong work.
Patty Jenkins clearly proves here that she should have been given more opportunities since Monster. Her direction is clear and crisp, with only the sub par CG being a minor issue. She juggles the tone expertly and has helped finally bring an icon to the silver screen. She broke free of DC’s suffocating bleakness to bring us something bright, warm, and uplifting.
She has given us a character to whom we should all aspire. That is what DC has seemingly forgotten about its own characters. We don’t need to deconstruct them, to break them down and question their reasoning. They are pure and absolute. They are bigger and better.
They are wonders.
And Wonder Woman has come to remind them.