By Nathan Evans
Though I try to remain objective whenever I review films, I must admit that I went into Patty Jenkins’ latest entry in the DC Extended Universe, ‘Wonder Woman’, with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. After the disappointing ‘Man of Steel’, the utterly dreadful ‘Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice’, and the mostly bad mixed bag that was ‘Suicide Squad’, I didn’t think it was possible for Warner Bros. to pull off a successful film within their current shared cinematic universe. Thankfully, (yes, DCEU apologists, thankfully: I don’t want these films to be bad.) I was proven wrong. Despite a few pitfalls, the long awaited, first major female led superhero blockbuster, (let’s not talk about Halle Berry’s ‘Catwoman’ or Jennifer Garner’s ‘Elektra’) ‘Wonder Woman’, is a fun, action packed film with an adventure serial flair.
Model turned actress Gal Gadot portrays the titular character, reprising her role from that awful, awful film ‘BVS’ (sorry, sorry, it just makes me so angry. I’ll try not to bring it up too much.). After a prologue that ties into the film-that-shall-not-be-named, the movie flashbacks to the mystical land of Themyscira: an island nation inhabited solely by female warriors known as Amazonians. There we meet a young girl who will come to be known as Diana Prince, the daughter, molded from clay, of the island’s queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). The Amazonians, living in a time of peace, spend their days combat training in the event that their sworn enemy, Ares, the God of War, will return; following his defeat at the hands of their god, Zeus. Their fiercest of warriors, Antiope (‘Forrest Gump’/ ‘Princess Bride’s’ Robin Wright), takes it upon herself to train Diana in the ways of battle; despite Hippolyta’s objections. Under her aunt’s tutelage, Diana grows up to become the most powerful warrior on the island, though the source behind that power remains a mystery.
Things change for Diana when an American intelligence agent named Steve Trevor (‘Star Trek’s’ Chris Pine) crash lands on Themyscira following a mission behind enemy lines in World War 1 era Germany. Under the influence of Wonder Woman’s iconic ‘Lasso of Truth’, Steve brings news of the great war. Realizing such a conflict could only come to a head under the influence of the God of War, Diana leaves the island with Trevor on a mission to confront Ares and to stop his evil stranglehold on the hearts of men.
‘Wonder Woman’ is the first DCEU film to ditch producer/ director Zack Snyder’s dour, pessimistic tone, and it benefits greatly because of it. Though it still has something poignant to say about the nature of war and suffering, the movie is laced with a good helping of levity that keeps it from ever feeling like a dirge in the way the previous entries of the franchise did. A lot of that levity comes from the charming romantic relationship that forms between the film’s two impossibly beautiful leads Gadot and Pine. The pair obviously look great together onscreen, and their banter actually leads to some natural, legitimately funny commentary on gender roles, sexual identity/ practice, feminism, and even just plain manners. Despite a proclamation at the end of the film that feels a bit forced, the leads gel well together and serve as the main drive behind the film.
While Pine gets plenty to do, this is, after all, a film called ‘Wonder Woman’, and Gadot ably carries the movie on her shoulders. While her performance can be a bit stiff at times, she more than makes up for it with her aforementioned charm. She has a Dwayne Johnson-like charisma that will keep audiences engaged from her first appearance in the film to her last. In spite of the Internet’s accusations of a lack of physicality, Gadot is totally shredded in this film, and handily pulls off Wonder Woman’s iconic costume; a costume that looks leagues better than it did in ‘Batman V. Superman’ (sorry) thanks to Oscar winning costume design from Lindy Hemming, and the addition of primary color; something I’m pretty sure Zack Snyder is allergic to at this point (sorry).
Gadot doesn’t just pull off the fashion, though. ‘Wonder Woman’ features the best action sequences to make it into the DCEU to date. Taking a cue from the Greek myths that inspired the character, the director, Jenkins, stages the action sequences in such a way that has Diana literally gliding through battle, slamming into her opposition with the force of a freight train. Jenkins’ camera is fluid, and tapping into the slow motion fisticuffs producer Zack Snyder is partial to (one of the only things he does well), her images are striking and impactful in the same way a good comic book splash page should be. These action set pieces are so thrilling to watch (the No Man’s Land sequence in particular) that they even do much to soften some of the narrative stumbles that plague the film’s climax when Diana finally goes up against the God of War.
Speaking on the climax, Ares and his campaign against the human race is a vague threat from the off. The film’s primary villain literally doesn’t even make an appearance in the first half of the film, and is handled clumsily in the back half. There’s a revelation at the end of the movie that I won’t spoil, but it serves to only make matters worse regarding the character. Narrative issues aren’t the only concern either. The actor that realizes the character (again, no spoilers) is grievously miscast and eventually gives way to a monstrous CGI threat anyway; which makes one wonder why the producers of the film even bothered to cast a flesh and blood actor in the first place. With that said, the final confrontation is still visually appealing. This is the first DCEU film that doesn’t try to water down it’s comic book inspirations, or attempt to make you believe the fantasy you’re witnessing onscreen could take place in the real world.
Unfortunately, Ares isn’t the only sour note within the film. The aforementioned comic book earnestness serves as a double edged sword at times. There are a few points where the whiz bang action devolves into pure cheese. The movie is also bloated at a runtime of two hours and twenty-one minutes; while the banter between Diana and Steve is charming, there are a handful of scenes where it simply goes on too long. In addition to that, while Diana’s naivety at the world of men is successfully played for laughs through much of the film, Jenkins leans on the joke too hard at times to the point where you’ll find yourself wishing she’d just move on.
In spite of these flaws and its inherent connection to the other, awful films that populate the DCEU (thankfully these ties serve merely as bookends (sorry)), ‘Wonder Woman’ has the potential to right the ship that is Warner Bros.’ shared universe. If the films that follow it take a cue from Jenkins’ work, and realize that you can make a thoughtful action romp without presenting the material in an unnecessarily bleak fashion, then it is still possible to salvage this franchise’s boundless potential. Oh, and hopefully they’ll also take a cue from this film’s score. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s Wonder Woman theme also makes a return from ‘BVS’, this time within the confines of composer Rupert Gregson-Williams’ equally accomplished composition, and it’s everything a superhero theme should be. Nothing says badass warrior Amazon princess like wailing guitars and war-drums.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5
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