Finally. ‘Finally’ is a word we imagine many have found themselves thinking and/or saying when it pertains to Wonder Woman. Finally the DCEU have a critical hit. Finally Wonder Woman makes her live-action big screen debut. Finally we have the first well-scripted female led hero caper. However the biggest usage of this climatic adverb surely must be that finally we have not only the first female directed superhero blockbuster but finally we have a film that remembers why we need a hero. In arriving on the big screen, Wonder Woman has gone through many changes, suggestions and clueless execs backing out due to the fact heroic lady movies Elektra and Catwoman - badly written superhero flicks - were cack (shocker). In Batman v. Superman Diana finally arrived onscreen but in this vastly superior in literally every respect origin movie, Patty Jenkins (Monster) forgoes universe building in favour of telling not only an entertaining story but a necessary one.
The film starts off with a young Diana being in awe of her fellow Amazonian warriors on the paradisal island of Themyscira, however her allure to their battle-ready way of life is cautioned by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). That is until, years later, the battles of mankind come to her home, as crashed WWI Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) tells tales of the state of the surrounding world. Unable to ignore the injustice, a now adult Diana (Gal Gadot) ventures into the world to end the conflict but in the process realises more about the world and herself than she ever prepared for. Wonder Woman, in its invigorating structural simplicity, evokes the days when superhero movies were coherent and uncluttered and, as such, reminds of the likes of Christopher Reeve’s classic Superman in its sense of pure morality and effective narrative approach.
However Heinberg’s streamlined screenplay should not be misinterpreted as light, far from it, because while this has been compared to the likes of Captain America: The First Avenger, its war setting is not just a backdrop it is a core, to which Jenkins’ generous and caring direction wraps a thematic lasso around. Working as much as a war movie as it does a superhero blockbuster, the film uses history to highlight the modern day issues of infectious hatred inspiring endless battle. Throughout the film, there are countless moments of compassion and love, which only serve to - in the most timely fashion - remind us of just how corruptible we can be in face of evil or how evil can be overcome by understanding (if not avoided completely). Serious sounding but done not at the expense of much charisma and comedy, the film is a tonally balanced and inspiring piece of work that feels like it comes from the heart of a filmmaker and not the cutting room of an interfering studio.
Drawing in its early moments on the splendid grandiosity of its comic book lore but never once shying away from it or embarrassingly tucking it behind po-faced gravitas, this is a treat for fans of this culturally iconic character. However, as a writer who knew next to nothing about the character’s history, this film is equally as accessible and loveable for newcomers. We all hoped for a fun ride but this Fury Road sized shock offers far more than surface thrills, it offers a chance for a multi-generational figure to speak to an audience and inspire them with messages of care and understanding. Our hero is not driven by revenge, nor her own gain, refreshingly her motivation is a desire to save and merely do the right thing because it is right. It is not being over the top to say that Wonder Woman is an important film, it is, its much-discussed boundaries of gender genre groundbreaking ensures that but it is not just all about its femininity (though this aspect must not be overlooked), it is as much about humanity as a whole. And this is the most acceptingly human big screen feature you will likely see all year.
Yes, we specifically are avoiding any spoillerific info but even as the film can’t resist an effects-filled action cap (in the increasing tradition of this genre) it is still laced with meaning, something a great many third act set pieces are missing. The action is spectacularly captured, with slow-mo used to keep it in-check with the established DCEU works but Jenkins’ sense of purpose elevates these scenes into often spine-tingling moments that engross and get the heart pumping or swelling (see the No Man’s Land sequence, the first Zimmer air guitar riff and the many scenes where Diana sees the gruesome results of a war-torn mankind). The visuals are stunning, using colour (yes colour!) to great effect and, alongside a game score by Rupert Gregson-Willaims, creating some movie moments worthy of ranking among the best super-powered cinema.
Gadot’s range as an actor has been brought into question but as the film moves forward her performance gets better and better, as she becomes this hero with all her being and with moments of anger, fear and hilarity, she brings Diana to life on the screen. If there is any justice this will be a career-making performance for Gadot, who is such a warm lead that she elevates the already impressive factors of the film ten-fold. While Chris Pine as Trevor makes an equally likeable supporting player, whose manly charisma is hilariously thrown off guard by the honest and baffled-by-the-human-world Diana and he is brilliant. There are also fantastic supporting performances from the likes of Ewan Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock and Lucy Davis as a cast of characters whose differing personalities recall the attractive crackling chemistry of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, a film Wonder Woman shares some similarities with in how it marries fantastic heroic storytelling with real historical events. While the villains of the film are very appropriate to the story, with Danny Huston’s General Erich Ludendorff and Elena Anaya’s Doctor Poison proving particularly violent and effective. While other brilliant turns are offered by the likes of David Thewlis and Connie Nielsen in this well cast and essential blockbuster.
Whatever your thoughts on the DCEU thus far, you must watch this incredible piece of entertainment. Wonder Woman not only empowers many viewers it enthrals them, with a neatly structured story that, under the care of such a talented auteur has fully delivered and then some. The acting is excellent, the entertainment is punch in the air effective and the morals are incredibly vital to a modern audience. It is hard to really pick major faults with a film that, like Guardians of the Galaxy, has taken risks and emerged as a piece of spectacular filmmaking that is comfortably at home being ranked in the same league as the likes of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Captain America: Civil War and some of the aforementioned films highlighted in this review. Upon leaving the screening, this writer witnessed a disabled lady in tears with her son, as both excitedly spoke of how inspiring and brilliant the film they had just seen was...this, dear readers, is why we go to the movies and why we need heroes. They inspire, they engage, they encourage.
A armoured shoe-in for the most pleasantly stunning feature of the summer (or year for that matter), Wonder Woman is everything you could have ever expected from a Wonder Woman movie, whether the guys will keep the ball rolling now is uncertain and, frankly, irrelevant, as this is more its own movie than franchise building fodder and it is just unexpectedly, heart-enlargingly, genre refreshingly, wonderful and more than that hopeful.
WONDER WOMAN / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: PATTY JENKINS / SCREENPLAY: ALLAN HEINBERG / STARRING: GAL GADOT, CHRIS PINE, DANNY HUSTON, CONNIE NIELSEN, ELENA ANAYA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 6/10