“Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.”
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya and Lucy Davis
On the isolated, paradisaical island of Themyscira, Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons (Nielsen) is the only child on an island of women. Trained in combat by her aunt Antiope (Wright), Diana (who grows up into Gadot) is fascinated by the origin story of her people and their prophesied battle to destroy Ares, last of the Olympians and bringer of all wars.
When a downed plane brings Allied agent Steve Trevor (Pine) and a literal boatload of Germans to Themyscira, Diana chooses to defy her mother, steal a ‘godkiller’ sword, and travel with Trevor to seek out Ares at the heart of ‘the war to end all wars.’ On the eve of armistice and with the support of peace-seeking Cabinet minister Sir Patrick Morgan (Thewlis) and Trevor’s suffragist secretary Etta Candy (Davis), Trevor and Diana recruit a ragtag band of dubious characters to thwart the efforts of General Ludendorff (Huston) and his diabolical chemist Dr Maru (Anaya) to avert the German surrender and prolong the conflict using their advanced chemical weapons.
As the team attempt to reach Ludendorff, Diana’s idealism becomes a beacon of hope, not just to the squaddies in the trenches, but to the flawed and jaded members of Trevor’s squad. At last, tragedy drives her to confront Ludendorff, only to discover that Ares hand in the war is more subtle and insidious than she could have suspected, and her own role far more pivotal.
What’s wrong with it?
There is a danger inherent in superhero movies set in times of real war, in that the need for a supervillain risks reducing a real, tragic conflict to the machinations of some supreme evil. While Wonder Woman handles this, if anything, better than Captain America: The First Avenger, the presence of a boss fight does weaken its essential message.
Hippolyta’s Amazon history bedtime story feels a touch vague.
Wondie’s battle skirt is way too short.
Etta Candy has far too little to do. I kind of wanted the villain to have a flunky, just so she could batter him.
The finale of the film is confusing. Diana appears to hear some shit going down and leaps off the roof of the Louvre to deal with… I don’t know what. The best I can estimate is that she’s going to get Bronze Age on a party ship on the Seine for being too noisy.
Ares appears to hold up Dr Poison’s physical scarring as proof of her unworthiness to live, and that sort of body shaming is a bit harsh even for a supervillain.
What’s right with it?
Despite the shortness of the battle skirt and the prevalence of lightly clad women in the opening sections of the film, the camera never ogles.
This incarnation of Diana almost perfectly embodies the empathic, protecting strength envisaged by her original creators. She is a ferocious fighter, but fights to achieve a greater end and throughout the film visible beats down her opponents with fist, feet and shield, using her blade only in extremis or to cut through the weapons of her foes. This, incidentally, is a superb piece of visual communication that the tangled and verbose mess of Batman vs Superman or Suicide Squad could learn a lot from, and provides a stark contrast for when Diana flips out in the late movie and starts swording folks left and centre.
Ex-model Gadot may not be the most nuanced actress in the world, but with the support of good framing and composition, she communicates a lot without talking.
The action scenes use a lot of slow mo, but nonetheless have a coherence and clarity missing from a lot of modern action movies. The action of this movie means something, rather than being a series of set pieces each intended purely for spectacle.
While some reviewers have criticised the film for having Wondie end WWI, the truth is that she doesn’t. It is in fact the point of the film that, although Ares is real, he is not the cause of wars. He feeds the human desire for conflict, but the desire and the motives are human. Ultimately, it is her acceptance of that and the fact that she understands it better than Ares that is Diana’s triumph, more than any bolt of lightning.
But wot about the menz? Well, the menz are pretty good in this. I did not want to slap Steve Trevor, and that’s no small achievement, because previous incarnations have left the character with a lingering air of slappability. He and his team – traumatised sharpshooter Charlie (Ewan Bremner), smooth-talking conman Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) and Native American smuggler Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) – rapidly accept Diana on her merits, and are inspired by her example as she charges across no man’s land to save a village.
I really respect the movie for having Diana and Steve have a thing, which moves and inspires her, but does not dominate her development and which neither alters their relative status nor results in any slut shaming.
Also, props for nodding to the now-established sapphic culture of Themyscira.
When push comes to shove, Wonder Woman is what Superman never really got to be in Man of Steel: A figure of hope; an inspiration. Snyder has the world worship Superman, but they don’t change their behaviour because of him. Superman is looked to for salvation; Diana inspires both men and women to be stronger, to do better, to try harder. In the end, isn’t this what a superhero is supposed to do?
How bad is it really?
I’ll be honest, I’ve got Wondie’s fight song stuck in my head still. This is at last a DC tentpole movie worth the tent, combining effective visual spectacle, darker introspection and inspirational superheroics to excellent effect. With a decent lead and strong support from the squad and the sadly underused Lucy Davis, the story has heart and the characters are compelling beyond the sum of their surface traits.
To date, I’ve been a die hard MCU man. Yes, it has its problems, but its told better stories and got its characters better than the DCEU. Wonder Woman springs from the grimdark mire of Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman in a dazzle of sparking bracers to prove that DC can match Marvel for action and at the very least beat its average for storytelling. It also puts most of Marvel’s female characters – Jessica Jones and Peggy Carter are probably the only leads that measure up, although a lot of the supporting women in the Netflix shows and Agent Carter are also very well done – and in particular the studio’s failure to produce even a single female-led movie to shame.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Diana’s solo charge into no man’s land in the face of German machine gun and mortar fire is iconic by design and a cinematic tour de force. Extra points for showing bullets glancing off her greaves as she shelters her head and torso behind her shield, just to head off anyone asking why the Germans don’t aim for her feet.
What’s up with…?
- Dr Poison? The whole Phantom of the Opera thing she’s got going on has unfortunate overtones of physical imperfection = evil, especially when directly juxtaposed with Diana (indeed, she shrugs off Trevor’s spy moves because she sees him getting distracted by Diana in a dress.) On the other hand, ultimately her scars elicit more sympathy than hatred from Diana once they are revealed.
- Eric Ludendorff? That’s a real guy, who died in 1937. It’s like The Legend of Tarzan‘s weird appropriation of Leon Rom.
Production values – As lavish as Batman vs. Superman, but with an actual colour palette. The only weakness is the Lasso of Hestia, which looks a little out of place in its shining, golden glory. 2
Dialogue and performances – A few bits of dialogue are a little on the nose, and Ludendorff and Maru remain largely ciphers, but overall a very strong cast deliver a decent script with aplomb. 4
Plot and execution – Despite the pitfalls of placing a superhero and their adversaries in a real and terrible conflict, the film does well in conveying the reality of the fight outside the four-colour punch-up. 6
Randomness – Eric Ludendorff? 3
Waste of potential – Hollywood has conventionally been, how can I say this, unbelievably shit at producing decent, female-led superhero movies. Wonder Woman is not just a good female-led superhero movie, it is probably one of the best superhero movies of the last few years of any kind. 0