After three Supermen, five Batmen and fifteen MCU films with more stars called Chris than women in the lead, the undisputed Queen of Superheroes is at last given her own film. Patty Jenkins has also done what others couldn’t and delivered a good DC film.
Wonder Woman is not a great film, nor is it the feminist glass ceiling-smasher that many had hoped for. But after the offensively stupid Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman feels nothing short of revelatory. Thank Zeus for an uncomplicated, coherent plot: it’s 1918 and German commander Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is developing a weapon that could change the course of the Great War. The Amazon Princess Diana of Themyscira learns of his dastardly scheme from American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Convinced that Ludendorff is really the God of War, Ares, Diana rushes to confront him and end the war.
Taking Christopher Reeve’s Superman as a point of reference, Gadot’s natural charisma invests her Amazon warrior with a guileless ferocity. A wide-eyed innocent, Diana’s unwavering sense of right and wrong cuts through the adolescent, pre-packaged grumbling of other DC films with bright notes, derring-do and gosh-almighty acts of heroism. Yes, here is a comic book movie you can bring your kids to without fear of giving them nightmares. For the most part, Wonder Woman looks great, too. Cinematographer Matthew Jensen’s cinematic canvas leaves many of Marvel’s offerings looking like they belong on TV, while largely avoiding the hideous, colour-corrected-to-death drabness of Snyder’s DC entries.
The World War One setting perfectly fits the film’s pulpy, Saturday-matinee sensibility, with Chris Pine’s plucky American spy, Steve Trevor, recalling both The Rocketeer and Indiana Jones. His heroic self-image takes a swift reality check up against Diana’s godlike feats, and a witty watch-based joke in an early unguarded moment -“Whats’s that?” – raises a cheeky laugh. The film’s refreshing sense of humour is propped up by Gadot’s disarming comedy chops, whether she’s giving Pine the cold shoulder or contending with London’s stuffy department stores and the lascivious gazes of men.
Quizzing a vulnerable Pine while roundly ignoring his clumsy, boyish flirting gives primacy to Diana’s perspective, but, the film just can’t help periodically reminding us of her beauty – whether through the creepy stares of men, clunky dialogue, or a cliched dancing scene that emphasises Steve’s gaze over Diana’s. Indeed, his frequent insistence that Diana wait for his permission to rush off into battle is grating, redeemed only by Diana’s steadfast refusal to do any such thing. Elsewhere, Danny Huston is serviceable as the moustache-twirling Ludendorff, but more interesting is Elena Anaya, whose Phantom-like German chemist Dr. Maru would have benefited from more screen time.
In another context, Wonder Woman might pass little muster – a solidly entertaining and witty blockbuster about on par with the first Thor film. It will probably be remembered for breaking a catastrophic streak for DC and Warner Brothers, but its real legacy is as the first superhero movie that puts a woman front and centre with all the pageantry, gravitas, and reverence that have been afforded her male colleagues for decades.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell