Director: Patty Jenkins
Screenplay: Allan Heinberg
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Robin Wright
Runtime: 141 Minutes
In the current movement of the superhero genre in the blockbuster landscape, it seems astonishing that it has taken this long for a female-led and mounted production to emerge in the age of progressive and forward thinking genre pictures. Wonder Woman being the single most widely recognised and significant character to receive such attention, it’s beyond fitting that she be the first the grace our screens in the current climate. What’s more astonishing is that from the bowels of the corporate machine of Warner Bros. and the mournful DCEU has emerged a triumphant, glorious and hopeful picture that marks their best feature to date.
Wonder Woman being as good as it is comes down to a firm perspective when approaching the material; hitting the mythology and character hard and throwing all of their celebrated elements and themes at the screen without a sense of irony or distance. This is about as earnest and honouring a treatment as the character deserves, evoking all the wonder and emotion that prevailed in the classics of the genre – from Richard Donner’s Superman to Sam Rami’s Spider-Man.
For all the supposed divergence from the ruling genre slates, it shares an awful lot in common with the earlier works of the MCU (in particular Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) in both impression and structure – which come across for better or worse as a winning combination for tackling such admittedly goofy material. This is an origin story that charts the growth of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) into Wonder Woman from her origins on the matriarchal island of Themyscira to the trenches of the blood-soaked Great War.
The emergence of her character is formed slowly and strategically; as we see her desire to do good in a world torn apart challenge her perceptions of people, as the black and whites she has been raised to understand in mythological tales take on the depressing greys of one of the worlds messiest and most tragic conflicts. There’s an odd contradiction to be had of the plot dwelling on the moral murkiness of the war and no clearly defined good or evil, only to have the plot boil the true nature of the conflict down to the actions and will of specific villainous individuals. But it works on a narrative and thematic level which informs Diana’s story arc rather well, as does much of the character work for Diana and the surprisingly tender complexities of her relationship with the equally likable Capt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine).
Besides its narrative strengths, the resonant commentary regarding feminist ideals emerging in a world on the cusp of social change but still engrained with older customs is well handled to both a sincere and humorous effect. The progression of the ancient matriarchy rousing and rattling the cages of the establishment in the manner of presentation and words as well as action is just inspiring. The sheer amount of viscerally divergent imagery on display – such as armoured women on horseback charging into suited gunfire – is some of the most stirring and original imagery the genre has ever produced, and the cinematography compliments it beautifully without ever objectifying its figures.
Patty Jenkins' direction and control over the entire production must be applauded in this respect as well as others. It’s a striking and colourful looking picture of narrative and character drive, but her work in the action sequences is exceptional at laying out picturesque landscapes and highly choreographed segments of powerful intent and physicality that’s in keeping with the DCEU’s primary focus on motion, as well as the dynamic of gods and men.
Gal Gadot might not have given us a chance to fully appreciate her take on the role in Batman v Superman, but she absolutely owns the movie with enough grace, precision and charm to fill the movie's heart. Her chemistry with a surprisingly well-cast Chris Pine feels fond and believable, though he shares the movies comedic touches with Lucy Davis as Secretary Etta Candy. The motley crew of soldiers who accompany them into battle are equally well-sourced presences of varying depths. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright rock their Amazonian warriors with bellowing strength, and Danny Huston and Elena Anaya have fun with their admittedly unappreciated villains.
It’s a shame that the final stretch and a late reveal allow the film to devolve from its almost transcendent state into something all too uncomfortably familiar; the climax delivers a heavily digitised dirty showcase of explosions and noise, against a fairly uninvolving antagonist and a lack of great weight to its action or reveals beyond its cutting between the more satisfying emotional beats. It still works overall and is never a deal breaker for the first two genuinely fantastic acts, but it’s a formulaic baggage that sometimes even the best of the genre is incapable of fully shaking off.
When Wonder Woman works it’s a soaring victory. Not just for DC or the genre, but for an audience of young girls for whom this may become a beacon of hope and aspiration. The sight of a young Diana (Emily Carey) playfully imitating the fighting stances of the women around her is enough to bring tears to the eyes with a magnificent sense of feat and will. This is the one we’ve been waiting for, and our patience has been greatly rewarded.