Wonder Woman (Cert 12A)
US (2017) Dir. Patty Jenkins
76 years after William Moulton Marston’s creation first appeared in print, Wonder Woman finally gets the big screen treatment (Batman vs. Superman aside) and helmed by an award winning female director no less! I never read the Wonder Woman comics so my only exposure to the character is the 1970’s TV with Lynda Carter in the title role.
Anyone else falling into this category should be warned that this film shares no similarities with the TV show – Diana is never referred by her alias, she doesn’t spin around to change, there is no cheesy theme song, no hot pants and cleavage boosting tops and no invisible airplane!
Bookended by a direct follow on from the end of Batman vs. Superman, a photograph taken in 1918 delivered to Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) by Bruce Wayne a hundred years later prompts a flashback explaining the story behind it. In begins at the ancient isolated island of Themyscira, inhabited by the Amazons, powerful female warriors, including Diana, daughter of Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen).
When a warplane crashes in the sea, Diana rescues the pilot US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Steve explains that World War I is in progress and has an important book in his possession belonging to General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya) who is developing a dangerous gas. Believing Ludendorff is the reincarnated war god Ares is involved, Diana accompanies Steve to London to hunt Ares down and destroy him.
Despite some levity, courtesy of Diana’s fish-out-of-water naivety in the modern world and Steve’s rent-a-quip secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), this is a less camp and decidedly darker affair than the TV show, looking at the human cost of war as a key theme. Diana vows to use her special abilities for good, allowing her heart to rule her head, clashing with Steve whose view is based on the vicious realities exposed to him.
As you might expect the topic of sexism is also inherent in the script, and what better time to expose it than in 1918 Britain where women only just got the right to vote! Diana brazenly walks into a war meeting to the absolute outrage of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, so she fires back with a few well-chosen words of defiance, coming from a world where women were free, strong and valued.
Her only supporter, aside from Steve, is Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis, channelling his inner Ian McKellan), defying the PMs orders to help Steve and Diana get to Germany. Diana is also not immune to being an object of lust by some of the supporting male cast but this isn’t dwelled upon as a major issue nor does she take it as flattery, since it is an alien concept to someone who grew up solely with women.
The first time the true Wonder Woman persona is given full flight is en route to Ludendorff’s hideout in Belgium. They cross an occupied Belgian town where Diana is so appalled at the treatment of the civilians that she leaps into action, stepping into No Man’s Land (the irony is deliberate) and whips some German butt big time, even throwing a tank!
You’ll have seen many clips of the fights in this segment in the trailers but the piece as a whole is quite spectacular, if a little CGI/Matrix-esque slow-mo heavy for its own good – a regular complaint to be held against this film, but CGI excess is now an intrinsic facet of comic book blockbusters let’s take it as read and move on. Unfortunately a lot of the CGI and green screen work is iffy, but I doubt most people will care.
Action is rather sparse during the first hour to allow the story a chance to breath and the dynamic between Diana and Steve’s clash of philosophies to be established. In between the initial burst of girl-on-girl sparring courtesy of Diana’s illicit training by her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright) and a homage to 1978’s Superman The Movie it is a while before the energy picks up again but it is worth the wait.
Patty Jenkins’ gender proves irrelevant as the film’s director, showing as much lust for eye-popping bombast and intense fight scenes as her male peers, while the story is written by three men (including Zack Snyder), so any feminist agenda is not laid at Jenkins’ feet. She may have given Diana an air of sex appeal through her confidence but it is Chris Pine is given the eye candy treatment in a sly piece of role reversal.
Gal Gadot is a curious entity here. In places she is bland and charisma free but for the most part she knocks it out the park as a kick-ass fighter with pure motives. This is the most interesting thing about Diana – she is the first pure superhero in a while whose grey area only evolves due to the experiences in this tale. Gadot is given time to explore this development, helping flesh the character out very well.
Pine’s Steve Trevor is given a lot more than the male sidekick role, sadly leaving the supporting cast to encourage interest in them but to be giving the chance to expand on this, including the villains. Elena Anaya, unrecognisable with half her face hidden behind a mask, is underutilised, ditto Lucy Davis’s Etta Candy who deserves her own spin off, while the villains besides Dr. Maru are rather generic.
It’s 2017 yet lingering signs of chauvinism in Hollywood both in front of and behind the camera are abound. The action film genre remains the property of the male but yet it is deliciously ironic that the crumbling DC film universe headed by BatMAN and SuperMAN might have just been saved by a (wonder) woman!
Strike one for the girls! Your move Marvel!
Rating – ****
Man In Black