After 75 years Diana of Themyscira aka Wonder Woman has finally made it on to the big screen.
Whilst there have been 9 Batman films and 9 Superman films to date, if you wanted to see a superhero film based on a DC character that isn’t a guy, well then you’re stuck with Catwoman and Supergirl (if you’re a Marvel fan well then you’re stuck with Elektra). That a Wonder Woman films exists at all is reason to rejoice in itself but that it’s been directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, is a big deal in an industry still rife with sexism.
This latest film in the DC Universe works so well because aside from scenes that book end the film this is removed from everything that’s gone before, which is good, because everything that’s gone before was overwrought, flawed and underwhelming at best.
After several divisive films mainly featuring characters seen numerous times before it’s not exaggerating to say that Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (amongst others) have pretty much just saved the entire DC cinematic universe with this film. Saying DC and Warner Bros were pretty desperate for a film with a real buzz about it, along with being a critical and financial success, is probably an understatement. They’ve been playing catch up with Marvel Studios ever since the lacklustre Man of Steel.
The hidden paradise island of Themyscira is where young Diana Prince (Lilly Aspell ) lives among the Amazons with her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). Flash forward and Diana (Gal Gadot) has grown into a fearsome warrior in her own right. Diana’s world and the paradise of Themyscira is soon thrown into disarray by the arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American soldier whose plane crashes just offshore of Themyscira.
The most immediate thing is Themyscira looks amazing and leaves you wanting to spend more time in the world of the Amazons, even the background characters look amazing. The Amazons were made up from a selection of real life athletes.
After her brief but stark introduction to mankind Diana decides to help Steve Trevor on his mission to help the war effort, she’s also got her own motive. Diana thinks Ares, the god of war and the mythical enemy of the Amazons, is responsible for the war and ventures out from Themyscira to vanquish him. So whilst Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) might be the antagonists, there’s actually two stories playing out simultaneously, Trevor and Diana tackling the Germans for the war effort, and Diana trying to track down Ares.
For all the chatter about Gal Gadot’s casting as Diana being a bad move, there’s one thing that becomes immediately clear, Gal Gadot is great as Wonder Woman. Really great. Great in a Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman will undoubtedly be to girls what Christopher Reeves’ Superman was to boys kind of way.
Wonder Woman is undeniably a box office smash and is currently at 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, compare that to the 27% that Dawn of Justice has, or the 25% that Suicide Squad has, or Man of Steel at a somewhat better 55% .
It’s impossible to talk about Wonder Woman without talking about the context the film finds itself in though. One cinema’s ‘women only’ screenings proved incredibly popular ,selling out, but also provoking a backlash from those that thought it was somehow an affront to them. Wonder Woman is for the girls and the women out there who have been waiting, for decades in some cases, for this film. Disregarding the importance of this film ‘because girls have loads of historical figures as role models’ is seriously underestimating the power and influence of pop culture and representations within pop culture. Things don’t happen in a vacuum.
One of the early impressive scenes shows to great effect how efficient the Amazons are as warriors as Themyscira finds itself under attack by soldiers that have tracked Steve Trevor. This is action executed in a visceral, engaging and visually impressive manner. Importantly though it’s Diana’s first introduction to the reality of war after many years of training just hearing stories. People get hurt, people die. This really highlights what makes Wonder Woman work where many other superhero films really haven’t, there’s a real sense of stakes to everything that happens. Things matter.
Wonder Woman utilises one of the most horrific times in recent human history, World War 1, to really give a sense of grounding and purpose to Diana. This isn’t a film where casualties are rendered in the abstract or where things are happening in conveniently evacuated or abandoned areas. The human cost of the war is there to see and for Diana, who grew up in a sheltered paradise, it’s a profound shock.
The BIG SCENE of Wonder Woman which is already the subject of much deserved praise is when upon arriving at the trenches of No Mans Land with Steve Trevor and his ragtag group of soldiers ,who are basically DC’s take on the Howling Commandos, Diana becomes determined to help a woman whose village has been overrun at the other side of No Mans Land. Ignoring Trevor’s protests she climbs from the trench and walks out into No Mans Land drawing the enemy fire and enabling the troops to rush the Germans. It’s incredibly powerful stuff. This whole scene could easily be a sequence of panels from a Wonder Woman comic come to life, it really sells the idea of what being superhero is about in a way that even Marvel Studios has struggled to do.
The depiction and use of Diana’s powers and abilities is handled really well too, with a less is more approach that still makes Diana seem worthy of the title of Wonder Woman.
A film which is aimed at a young audience but has a story which centres around the horror of war and mankind’s inhumanity to each other is a pretty bold move, but even with this in mind it still comes across as a far lighter, more enjoyable and less oppressively grim film than Dawn of Justice for example.
Wonder Woman is definitely a superhero film, and definitely one of the better ones, it’s also the story of Steve Trevor and Diana Prince. One of the other things that this film highlights is how poorly relationships fare in other superhero films where girlfriends generally exist to be put in peril as a motivation for their superhero partners. Whilst a big part of the film’s narrative is building the relationship between Steve Trevor ,the soldier, and Diana Prince, the Amazonian, it gives both characters plenty to do. Both characters have their own arcs and nothing ever seems cheap or unearned.
There’s some great humour too, especially a scene with the pair on a boat headed to London and with Diana being perplexed at Steve’s gentlemanly decision to not sleep next to her.
Whilst Wonder Woman is definitely the best offering in the DC cinematic universe by far, like most superhero films it stumbles a little in its third act. This contrast is made more prominent by everything that went before being so good. Things aren’t as bad as the messy third acts of the previous DC films but there’s definitely an awkward contrast between fighting German soldiers to save people and the fight with Ares at the end.