Review: Wonder Woman
It’s almost impossible to review Wonder Woman in a vacuum without mentioning the baffling hurdles it has had to jump in order to get here or comparing it to the execrable trash that has come before it in this cinematic universe; existing as it does in a world where it’s taken 76 years since her first appearance in DC Comics for her to grace the silver screen (sidenote: we’ve had 6 Batmen and 3 Supermen in that time) and also where the preceding two films have set the bar so low that saying Wonder Woman is better than them by simply being a solid – though hugely enjoyable – film elicits a ‘well, duh’ response.
When Steve Trevor crashes onto the shores of the mystical hidden island of Themyscira, bringing The Great War with him in the form of the German army, Diana (Gal Gadot) witnesses for the first time, the horrors of warfare, the thing she’s been secretly training herself to fight against for all of her life. Believing it to be the work of the fallen God of War, she travels with Steve to the heart of World War I against the wishes of her mother, the queen, to deliver vital intel on the advances in chemical warfare that proto-Nazis General Luddendorf and Dr Poison (not her real name) have made, and as such advance through German occupied Europe.
Diana of Themyscira (or Wonder Woman, a term never actually used in the film) is a glorious antidote to all the grimdark deconstructionist navel gazing witnessed thus far, and not just in this universe. A winning performance from Gal Gadot whose Wonder Woman is fierce, earnest, warm and written and directed by those with real affection for the character and what she represents. She wears her heart on its sleeve and the film is all the better for it. It leans hard into the inherent silliness of the concept while still maintaining reverence for the character and a level of respect for the time period in which it takes place and thanks to director Patty Jenkins’ assured direction and conviction never once teeters too far either way. Compare the sequence in No Man’s Land, which could easily have fallen into crass and disrespectful territory, yet somehow doesn’t, to last year’s similar moment in X-Men Apocalypse in which it absolutely did. In fact that sequence is easily the standout of the film, encompassing the themes of the character, the world in which she finds herself, the symbol around which to rally, not to mention it’s just a really kick ass moment in and of itself, and beautifully scored.
Though surrounded by men, this is 100% Gal Gadot’s film and she carries the bulk of it on her shoulders admirably, whether taking down Germans with ease or eating an ice cream for the first time she’s a joy to watch, channelling the charm and strength of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. Pine does good work as Diana’s introduction to our world and a trio of multicultural archetypes (Native American, guy with a fez, crazy Scot) do well to break free from them to provide a bit of extra colour and humour to proceedings. Special mention should go to both Connie Nielson and Robin Wright too for giving such gravitas to their roles as the leaders of the Amazons, it would have been very easy to stray into camp but the film never does, even when explaining daft things like the Lasso of Truth.
The villains are pantomime, though hilariously so in one scene, and perfunctory. Sometimes the naiveté/fish out of water nature that provides a good deal of the humour of the character threatens to go too far. Diana’s world view, though admirable, is very black and white which seems at odds with the morally murky grey area of WW1, and despite being proved correct at the end still feels odd. The final battle is another big CGI scrap in a dust cloud and that intrusive wailing Wonder Woman theme still irks somewhat. But those are minor niggles and nowhere near enough to derail the film as most are elements that are de rigeur in origin stories, which this essentially is so it gets a pass.
It’s almost a shame that, presumably, we won’t have another period set Wonder Woman film given that Justice League is next up. A trilogy of these before she joins the emo boy band would have been nice. Lightness of touch and a dash of hopefulness. Who knew?
It’s the first of these DC universe superhero movies where heroism isn’t something to be sneered but celebrated at and as such it sings, even if – character aside – there’s nothing we haven’t seen before on screen.
Thanks to Odyssey Cinemas