Directed by Patty Jenkins
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright
Wonder Woman may not be the first female comic book hero to be brought to the silver screen (seriously, comic adaptations are almost as old as cinema, but for some with at least a little modern resonance try Little Orphan Annie, 1932, Blondie, 1939, or even Barbarella, 1968). Nor is it even the first DC female hero to head her own film (Supergirl 1984). It’s not even the first adaptation of the character, with the popular TV series starring Lynda Carter screening in 1975. However, Wonder Woman does have some importance, as it comes at an interesting time for comic book films.
With Marvel dominating the world of superhero films, DC has often been on the back foot in its attempt to create a shared cinematic universe. The results have been critically lambasted, although the box-office has not always reflected that. Surprisingly though, DC gets the first female based superhero film out of the current shared universe comic-book age, with perhaps one of the most recognisable super heroines in the world. With frequent reports of the DC extended universe (DCEU) being in trouble, a lot may rest on the Maid of Might’s shoulders, even before you factor in whatever danger the film introduces.
For this outing, director Patty Jenkins (Monster, 2003) doesn’t deviate too far from Wonder Woman‘s traditional origin story (although there are rather a few to choose from, as the film explores). Diana (Gal Gadot) is a princess of the Amazons, growing up and training to be a warrior on the magically hidden island of Themyscira. Her people were a creation of the Greek gods, and have been separated from the world of man in preparation for the coming conflict against the God of War, Ares. When a lone airman, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), penetrates the mystical barrier surrounding the secluded island, he brings with him tales of an outside world caught up in endless war. Viewing this as the work of Ares, Diana sets forth with Steve in an attempt to find the rogue god, and to end the war. What she finds is a world of man, that is alien and strange to her, but one she views as her duty to defend.
This is a step forward in terms of quality for the DCEU, rather than the superhuman leap we were perhaps hoping for. Tonally Wonder Woman is a lot more balanced than the previous outings in this universe, as despite the setting and subject matter, it doesn’t revel in an almost operatic sense of melodramatic darkness. It is closer in spirit to Donner’s Superman (1978), than Snyder’s Man Of Steel (2013), in it’s telling of Diana’s origin story and call to arms.
It also benefits from the temporal shift in setting, from Wonder Woman‘s traditional origin point in World War 2 (not a surprise given her 1941 debut date) to 1918 and the end days of The Great War. Not only does it lessen the comparisons to Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), to which there are more than a few passing similarities, but it also helps strengthen the underlying theme of Ares corrupting men’s hearts with the call to war. It is an age where technology and tactics are dehumanising the process into casualty lists, theatres of operations, acceptable civilian casualties, and an arms race. It is something that the naturally honourable, reluctant, and heroic warrior that Wonder Woman represents, rallies against. Hence the trench setting provides two of the best action set pieces of the film, as the Amazonian unleashes on the front line.
The issue with Wonder Woman comes with the languid pace it sets itself in the 2 hours 21 minutes it takes to get to its climactic battle. For the most part this seems a gentle pace, that allows for some amusing interplay between Gadot and Pine (not to mention a scene stealing performance by Lucy Davis as Diana’s side-kick Eta Candy), as they both share their very different worlds with each other. However at times it can drag, especially in the drawn out climactic confrontation.
There is also the disappointment of that final confrontation. With Jenkins having done so much right up to this point, the final battle is a let down. It degenerates into actors posing in front of obvious green screen work and waving their arms about, in a way that would even leave Xmen: Age of Apocalypse (2016) or Last Stand (2006) vaguely embarrassed. A strangely sour note to leave things on, but one that the goodwill generated previously in the film can mostly plaster over.
All of which leaves Wonder Woman as a win for DC. This may not be a giant killer, but is at least solid cinema from a line-up that has mostly been sub par.