Wonder Woman (2017) – Film Review
The first major female-led super-hero film for over a decade, Wonder Woman has a lot riding on it as the fourth instalment of the DC Extended Universe which includes Superman: Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad.
There’s been a mixed reception for all of these films as Warner Brothers hurriedly tried to set up a ‘universe’ to match the Marvel Cinematic Universe that started in 2008 with Iron Man.
Thankfully, Wonder Woman is a much brighter film than the preceding three DCEU films.
Comparisons with two Marvel films in particular – Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011) – will be unavoidable but there’s also a spiritual forebear in 1978’s Superman: The Movie, when you look at Wonder Woman.
Of course, people of a certain age will retain a fondness for the campy 1970s TV series starring Linda Carter but super hero films have become big box office in recent years so it’s hardly surprising that comic book properties are being heavily mined just now.
There have been previous efforts to drive a female centered comic-book super-hero movie but missteps in Elektra (2005, starring Jennifer Garner), and the execrable Catwoman (2004, starring Halle Berry) seems to have only strengthened film studio assumptions that this genre is for teenage boys (or boys at heart) who aren’t interested in women leading these films.
Starting from a position far behind the successful Marvel comics films Wonder Woman has a great cast including Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta (Diana’s mother) and Robin Wright as General Antiope (Diana’s aunt) with able support from Chris Pine, Lucy Davis, and David Thewlis.
It’s refreshing that there’s enough humour, emotion, and character depth in here to mark out Wonder Woman as an outstanding example of the superhero genre – the main reason behind this is the excellence of the script and the direction by Patty Jenkins – helming her first film since Monster (2003, starring an unrecognisable Charlize Theron who went on to win a Oscar).
What a stark contrast, then, to the first appearance as Wonder Woman – aka Diana Prince – for Gal Gadot, in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
After an extended cameo – the only bright part in Zack Snyder’s dark, nihilistic drudge of a film in my opinion – Wonder Woman is the female super-hero origin story that’s been long awaited on the big screen.
Set almost 100 years before the events leading up to the showdown between Batman and Superman in Snyder’s film, Wonder Woman shows how Diana left “Paradise Island”, as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Star Trek) calls it, crash lands on the home of the mythical Amazons (Themyscira) during the last few days of World War I.
It seems that Trevor was being pursued by Germans after stealing plans to launch a deadly counter attack that is sure to lengthen the war and cost more lives.
After a costly battle as the Amazons repel the German invaders, Trevor describes a terrible “war to end all wars” and a secret plan to create a deadly version of mustard gas which could result in millions more lives lost as a faction of the German army plots one last deadly strike even as an armistice is negotiated.
Horrified, and suspecting that the Amazons’ sworn enemy Ares (the God of War, no less) is behind the conflict, Diana – Hippolyta’s daughter – decides to return Steve Trevor to London and help end the war despite her mother’s protestations that “Mankind doesn’t deserve you”.
There’s bound to be some cynicism directed towards Diana’s initial ideas of “love, equality, truth, compassion and justice” as Gadot has put it in interviews but you don’t have to hope that this is a good film just because of the hype built up behind it.
Nor do you have to listen to the comments from certain elements of the fanboy community who will have their own opinions on Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is a very good film indeed – go and see it!
You can all relax now. But do please read the rest of the review first.
Diana has a fascinating story arc from innocent Princess of Themyscira to Wonder Woman (as she is never called in this film), leaving her Paradise home, a fish out of water in London (tangling with the fashion, sexism, and dogma of the time), before travelling to Europe where she witnesses the full horrors of war first hand before deciding to complete her mission to help to end it.
The extra running time is used wisely in fleshing out characters and the action, though assisted with computer graphics (cgi), most of the set pieces retain plenty of emotional heft thanks to some well judged setups and payoffs to flesh out scenes which would usually start to look like pointless computer games in other films.
One particular scene – you’ll have seen this in the trailer – impacts hard when seen in context in the film. And it’s not the only scene to hit you like that either.
Chris Pine is a very capable main sidekick for Diana. He’s given much more screen time than the likes of Lois Lane, Gwen Stacey, or Pepper Potts. He’s charismatic and funny, but he serves as far more than the love interest without overshadowing Gal Gadot.
Pine’s team of multi-cultural soldiers of fortune all get decent screen time and their characters are rounded out, from the actor who suffered racism to the marksman with post traumatic stress, and the stoic Native American tracker/trader whose people were decimated by Americans.
Despite the long running time, though there was precious little time spent with Danny Huston (as General Ludendorff) and Elena Anaya (as Doctor Maru – aka Doctor Poison). The plot demanded it but it seems a shame their talents were under-utilised.
Obviously, the finale has to pay respect to the well trodden super hero cgi-heavy battle trope which does at least have some emotional consequences for Wonder Woman but it’s hard to evade what becomes a video-game punch-up in Germany at the end plus a slightly awkward aftermath which for me was the only major misstep.
In the end, then, unlike so many other super hero movies recently, the silent coda shows that Diana has been changed forever after all she experienced and in part explains her philosophy in what will be more films in the DC Universe.
Plenty of little girls and boys will be looking to see this film, but parents should pay attention to the level of violence in this film, and perhaps a certain level of dialogue that younger children should not hear.
What we are looking at is a much needed successful entry into the DC Universe for Warner Brothers and Gadot will reprise her role later this year in the Justice League movie which will reunite her with Ben Affleck’s Batman alongside a host of other DC characters including The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman.
According to the Hollywood Reporter we can also expect a full sequel to Wonder Woman in the future, with Jenkins apparently confirmed to return as director along with Gadot although there’s no script yet. I can’t wait.
Wonder Woman (12A; moderate violence; 141 minutes)
Summary: WONDER WOMAN is a US fantasy action drama in which an Amazonian warrior leaves her home to bring an end to a war.
Rating: ***** (Slightly weak final act but overall an excellent super-hero film to kick off the summer)