The DC Universe movies of late have been a war of attrition for Superhero fans everywhere. The fairest way to describe the efforts so far would be “polarising”, but the reveal of the “Wonder Woman” gave hope for a change on the horizon. But can the tide really be turned?
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) starts out as Diana, a young girl living on the hidden island of Themyscira, unseen from their enemies and safe. Diana has the desire to become an Amazonian Warrior like her elders, and her opportunity arises when an American Soldier (Chris Pine) crash lands on the beach. His arrival, along with the unknown powers of Diana, lead her on a quest to seek out their feared enemy Aeries, amongst the terrors and brutality of the First World War. It is here that she becomes aware that mankind, who they have sworn to defend, are on the brink of annihilation.
It is surprising right from the start, just how different this feels from DC’s recent efforts. And the most obvious of those is how bright and well-crafted the design feels. The island is simply stunning, full of lovely little details and a sense of construction that makes it feel genuinely ancient. It is a refreshing jump from the traditional approach we have seen before, more similar to how unique Aasgard was in the first “Thor” movie. Making a movie brighter doesn’t automatically make it better, but being able to see the details is a hell of an improvement to everything being obscured by darkness.
If anything the original set up has some surprising traits to the opening to “Moana” – the hero taking on the adventure not because they simply run away or lose their home, but because they have to. Diana can’t rest knowing what may be going on beyond the island and so takes it into her hands despite everything she’ll leave behind. It helps too that this initial section to the opening Act gives us a good bit of time to understand who she is, why she feels the way she does, and why we back her in her goal. I mean sheesh, having a lead we can understand in their motivations was a breath of fresh air.
The second Act moves on to the friendship she develops with the soldier Steve and her first venture into the human world. I was genuinely worried the “fish out of water” sequences would get dull very fast, and yet I found parts genuinely funny, as well as very solid in developing the characters. Their conversation on the sailing boat has the awkward comedy that pays off rather than being slow and tedious, made especially better by how Diana isn’t simply being made the end of the joke for being who she is. It’s two VERY different people who rather quickly come to terms that each other exists. It is a bit laughable how well Steve just accepts the island of Warrior women, but hey, could have been done worse.
The second third focuses upon the Great War, which was a fantastic setting for Wonder Woman to be placed in. It may be lacking heavily in the accuracy department to the time, but it totally enough for you to go on board with the set up. There’s something about the style that manages to make you take on both the wartime and superhero elements sequentially, like what was done with ol’ Cap America. The slight twist makes the setting very enthralling. As you’d expect the trench warfare is shown off, leading to some rather excellent action sequences that are perfectly fine for what they are – a bit silly on the front, but still enjoyable.
The movie does have a bit of an Achilles Heel, and with most superhero movies sharing it, you would guess right if you said the final battle against the main bad guy. It’s the usual CG, the usual monologues, the usual final power that wins the day. And to be fair, because it is so similar to other releases, it is hard to truly call it out as “bad” when it was standard in relation to the competition. In light of the movie as a whole, it was a bit annoying to see happen, but mostly from how well I received the rest of the story.
Other small complaints would be aimed at the opening with young Diana, which felt like the script needed another run-through o strengthen it, as well as the second-last battle being done in a laughably bad location. It just looked dumb, simple as that.
And yet by the end I was left feeling two things – this was the best DCU movie by a fucking country mile, and this was the best female superhero we have every seen portrayed on screen. That is an impressive double-blow for this to deliver. Gal Gadot didn’t always look quite comfortable in the scenes, but ultimately she was fantastic. I love how the script barely ever threw the usual batch of sad camera angles, remarks, or emphasis that a woman was on screen that we see so damn often. She was the badass and the lead, and was shown off to be exactly those two things. And even better, the Snyder influence was quite low, meaning that everything was beautifully shot, composed, edited, and translated from concept to screen.
“Wonder Woman” was the one that I had the faith in to bring the DCU back to some form of enjoyability. But more than that, it was an outstanding success. Seeing a hero who people will follow, who actually succeeds in what they set out to do, and have an emotional arc that makes you care for them, kind of blew me away. Even if this doesn’t quite reach the top shelf in terms of overall quality and story, it will, and should, shake up the superhero franchise in a big way.
You know… over the weekend I saw posts on Facebook of Wonder Woman Day, little girls excited to see the movie, the $100 million revenue, female friends I know so thrilled with the film and thought, this was their movie, and also one that everyone will enjoy. Even with the flaws and silly plot points, I kind of loved it. I might go out and buy a Wonder Woman t-shirt now, not because it will be quirky, but because I want to. That kind of sums it up for me, To director Patty Jenkins I say, well done!
Thanks for reading!