To be good is not to be boring, a concept that has baffled many a superhero film in the past. And yet, here we are with Patty Jenkins’s directed Wonder Woman and it’s a film without an inch of cynicism, that relies solely on the notions that hope and love can and will save the day, and that sometimes the winning ingredient to a man-made war is a woman’s touch. Of course, that touch is one that can take on a full battalion and send an army tank careering into a nearby building without a flinch.
To say Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air would be an understatement to this purely joyful and vibrant ride of a story. It is what we needed. Superhero fan or not, Jenkins’s take on the Amazon princess turned superhero is an inspiring message of perseverance and hope that settles itself on the shoulders of women, understanding that that image is one that will become lasting.
We meet this iteration of Diana (played alluringly by Gal Gadot) as a young girl, who believes she was built from clay from her loving mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) on the hidden-away island of Themyscira. In the early 20th century, US military pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine giving his all in old school charm) breaks up that serene peace when he washes ashore. With enemies at his tail, Diana learns about the ongoing misery of World War I and decides to leave her home for London to hopefully rid the world of war.
Written by Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, the film gleans much of its strongest back and forth in these beginning moments when we see Diana try to adapt to this new world she knows so little about. There’s charm in her openly sweet nature in how fundamentally bizarre she finds everything, sure, but even greater, hidden depths in her belief that all of this war is just at the hands of Ares, the God of war. Her understanding of human nature is little and she can’t comprehend a world that would willingly tear itself to parts, sacrifice young men while older men sit in stuffy offices and claim “that’s the job”, or once where civilian casualties is an accepted evil. Her naivete is one of the character’s greatest assets because as written it allows us to see the purity in her.
There’s no addressing Wonder Woman without mentioning the baggage that is the rest of the DC lore of late. There have been quite a number of complaints about films such as Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad for the often “grim” and “gritty” atmospheres. However, there is no innate problem with being gritty, there’s simply a time and a place and a means to balance that tone that isn’t humorless or hopeless, especially in a movie about caped crusaders who save the world and hide from scrutiny behind a pair of glasses. What Wonder Woman understands far greater than its brethren is that it can be serious without giving way to self-seriousness, it can have stakes while still being funny and can present a message without being cloying or trite. It’s a nuanced story, with a script that’s deft enough to understand the duality of Diana’s role here. She’s both playing the Amazon and the fish out of water. There are two versions of the character that Gadot, the script and the atmosphere blissfully understand from the get go.
The technical aspects are all superb, with the cinematography of Matthew Jensen being a highlight. The first battle sequence of the film is superb, shot in broad daylight as Amazon warriors pour down cliffs and onto the beach to stop the invasion of their home. The clash of arrows and bullets is mighty in its cinematic impact as we see these worlds brutally collide. Similarly, any time Diana is shown in her full Wonder Woman regalia, set as a true and good God-like figure set to the backdrop of grays and mists of poisonous gas, there’s a moment of wonder involved. It’s seeing this iconic imagery come to life fully on the big screen. Jensen and Jenkins both understand just how Diana should be shot in order to hint at her immense power before showing it in gleefully choreographed fight sequences.
All is not perfect, of course. The slow motion action scenes still hang on – barely – and there are some questionable shot moments of CGI early in the film. And yes, there’s a little sense of “what could have been” with an ending that nearly sidesteps superhero convention before falling into the familiar. However, despite some lukewarm villains Wonder Woman is euphoric success.
Perhaps after the initial glow and that sense of “new” this film, and the excitement it brought me, will ebb and flow in terms of the overall quality. Perhaps it won’t and my affection for it will grow wider than the feeling of necessity that it granted me, in seeing a woman stare down a ring of machine guns, growing fierce and stronger with each powerful step forwards and onwards. There’s a lot of perhaps to this – it’s what makes repeat viewings so useful. Perhaps for now though, I’ll think back to the scene on the beach where an army of Amazonian women came crashing down in a haze of glory to take on the men, the “other”, as badass as any man before them; or perhaps I’ll think about Diana, smirk in place, standing as the lone female figure on a piece of land that has loomed large and daunting to an army of men; perhaps I’ll think about the warmth of the will they, won’t they chemistry between Pine and Gadot, more than a little reminiscent of Hayley Atwell and Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger. Most of all, perhaps I’ll just ease into the warm embrace that is the thought of all the little girls who are going to enter this movie and see a young Diana reach to be something great, something good and something heroic, and aspire to do the same.