Hebe Hamilton reviews Patty Jenkins’ long-awaited big-screen take on the most celebrated female superhero.
WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.
In the latest offering from the DC Extended Universe, the Ancient Greek myths meet World War I and Gal Gadot’s Diana of Themyscira realises her destiny as the eponymous heroine…
The DC movie universe has been in desperate need of a change of supervision after last year’s disappointing offerings of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Recent films have boasted high levels of CGI-induced battle sequences with little, if any, plot at all. Would Wonder Woman suffer the same fate? After all, it has taken years of frustrated efforts to get the all-clear for a standalone Wonder Woman movie. Step forward director Patty Jenkins, and the results so far have been more than promising. The film has a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far, from nearly 200 reviews, making it safe to assume that Jenkins and her crew are taking the franchise in the right direction compared to its predecessors.
The film starts off in a style very similar to Marvel’s Thor. We are introduced to Diana’s (Gal Gadot) home world of Themyscira, a Grecian paradise hidden from the rest of the human world and home to the Amazons, warrior women of the Ancient Greek legends. Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (played effortlessly by Connie Nielsen), introduces a tale of Ares’ (the God of War) destructive influence on the human race, foreshadowing Diana’s destiny. Cue the arrival of Steve Trevor (played by classic leading man Chris Pine), and the chain of events by which Diana leaves the safety of Themyscira to aid Steve and his comrades on the Western Front of the First World War, and face Ares himself…
The film certainly has its strengths. The costumes and special effects are delightful, and special mention must go to the epic battle scenes; CGI here gives us an impressive interpretation of the Western Front battlefield and Diana’s super-human abilities, and manages not to feel coarse or overdone. Similarly, the effects used to create Themyscira, combined with real life footage from Palinuro and Camerota in southern Italy, make for a beautiful setting for Diana’s home world, and a perfect contrast to the darkness and chaos shown on the battlefield.
As for the costumes, the outfits seen in the London scenes and the Western Front are accurate and believable interpretations of World War I and early 20th-century fashion, whilst Diana’s iconic red and blue attire (complete with the indestructible bracelets and boomerang tiara) is as iconic and exciting as promised. The eventual reveal, during a brilliantly-choreographed battle scene in No Man’s Land, is delivered at just the right turning point in the film, which is the highlight of Allan Heinberg’s script.
There is notable acting from Chris Pine, who plays a dynamic leading man, yet one that does not overshadow the focus on Gadot’s Diana. Nor is there an overblown love story involved to diminish their characterisations. Another significant performance is Robin Wright in a short-lived role as Diana’s aunt and mentor, General Antiope. Wright’s performance, alongside those of the other actresses portraying the Amazons, brings a refreshing stance to an otherwise male-dominated genre, as Antiope leads the Amazons in their training and wields weapons better than their male rivals are shown to be capable of. But then again, these are mythical female warriors facing mere humans, so what else could we expect?
Finally, stand-out comedic performances that deserve to be mentioned are Lucy Davis’ Etta Candy, and Ewen Bremner’s Charlie. Candy – Trevor’s assistant – provides a series of witty one-liners nearly every time she is onscreen, battlefield ally Charlie’s heavy drinking and wise-cracking ways provide much-needed comic relief during the heavier scenes.
Wonder Woman is not without its weaknesses. Not only is the World War setting too reminiscent to Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger, but Heinberg’s plot seems to lose track around the halfway point. In fact, prior to Diana’s epic reveal scene, the pace of the story almost feels like it is grinding to a halt, to the extent that it is easy to forget that the focus is ‘Wonder Woman’ at all. Similarly, the World War I setting seems out of touch with the attempts to combine it with a (highly modified) version of Greek Mythology. Despite being an ‘origins’ story, these attempts to combine the two are futile, although Heinberg certainly makes a valiant effort.
As for Gadot’s title character, who is never addressed as ‘Wonder Woman’ during the film, the actress breathes a lively and vivacious personality into the part. It doesn’t hurt that Gadot is visually ideal for the role, with her glossy dark hair and natural beauty. However, there were several instances where her acting was not quite believable, especially during the more emotional scenes, where her performance was wooden and did not convey the pain and loss she was supposed to be feeling.
Nevertheless, Patty Jenkins can be proud that her efforts have taken the DC universe down a more meaningful and, dare I say it, feminist path. No longer do these films need to rely on plots riddled with overly ambitious battle scenes in order to attempt to highlight the superheroes’ strengths. If anything, Wonder Woman raises questions about human nature. War is certainly shown to bring out the best and the worst in people during the film, and the plot manages to use a circular structure, featuring Diana in the present day looking at a picture of her team, to ponder upon the complexity of humanity and what it means to be human.
What Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor makes clear to Diana is that no one is all good, nor all bad, which dispels the shallow interpretation of former superhero films, with an ‘all good’ superhero facing off against an ‘all evil’ super villain. Instead, the nature of team work is addressed and its ability to give strength to the protagonists. Hopefully the example set by Wonder Woman will help the DC Extended Universe on its way to establishing a more sincere series of superhero themed movies. But, with the release of Justice League later this year, only time will tell.
Wonder Woman is out now in UK cinemas. See the final trailer below: