The plot synopsis “An Amazon princess, Diana, (Gal Gadot) finds her idyllic life on an island occupied only by female warriors interrupted when a pilot (Chris Pine) crash-lands nearby. After rescuing him, she learns that World War I is engulfing the planet, and vows to use her superpowers to restore peace.”
A note on this review
Straight off the bat let me get this clear; this film gave me FEELINGS. So many complex feelings. So much so that I’m going to split this into a few sections for those of you who like Buzzfeed brevity, and also in an attempt to curtail my need to talk about this ALL DAY.
DC have not had a good time with their films of late. I will confess early on that I didn’t bother seeing either Batman vs Superman or Suicide Squad because of the terrible critical reception they both received, so I won’t comment on their quality. However, Wonder Woman had a lot riding on it for DC. They needed a critical hit to try and break them out of the “we make movies for the fans” model.
Add to this the fact that this film was about a female character, and was *dramatic pause* to be directed by a woman *gasps* and you have some additional obstacles. It shouldn’t be that this is a big gamble, but given the horrible reception that the reboot of Ghostbusters received, the Gamergaters and DC Dudebros were going to be armed and ready to expose any flaw in the film.
A lot of mileage has been made of the fact that Patty Jenkins hadn’t directed a film since her much-acclaimed 2006 debut Monster (although she had been directing for TV) so putting her at the helm was seen as a gamble in itself. As has been better articulated elsewhere however, that in itself is symptomatic of our male-dominated media view of the world, as this happens to male directors ALL THE TIME.
There was a continuing, ongoing backlash rumbling at the casting of Gal Gadot, who had been in the Israeli army and had been very open about her support for the IDF. Again, my views on this are summed up far more articulately than I could muster in this excellent piece ‘Gal Gadot isn’t Wonder Woman’. In essence, what this film represents is actually far bigger than a single cast member. Possibly a grand statement for a comic-book film, but hell, that’s where we are.
Then there was a lack of publicity. There had been a couple of trailers, but the DC publicity machine seemed terribly quiet. Potentially trying-to-cover-up-a-stinker-of-a-film quiet. The arrival of Wonder Woman looked too low key for this to be a film DC wanted to shout about. Did we have another superhero-turd-fest on our hands?
Then the early reviews came out and we all breathed a sigh of relief… But was this just hysteria after the bumpy birth of the film?
Thankfully- emphatically- no.
The film review part
Wonder Woman looks fantastic. The early scenes on the Amazon’s hidden island of Themyscira are just beautiful, and punch through the Bechdal Test in seconds (see, it’s THAT easy all-other-film-makers). The scenes in London are beautifully contrasted against these lush early scenes, with Diana’s early exclamation of “It’s hideous!” striking a chord with us all, transferring from a world full of women with agency to a land where women still don’t have the vote.
The design of Diana’s costume in particular is terrific, with just enough of a modern twist to make it seem exciting, while completely being faithful to the original.
The fight scenes are just gorgeous, somewhere between the technologically-enhanced glory of The Matrix and the wonderful choreography of The Raid. I’m someone who hates fight scenes done badly- who is that punching who?- so to have me inner air-punching at some of them (Robin Wright kicking ass on the beach was a thing of beauty) is quite a feat.
Some of the directorial touches are wonderful, and Jenkins tackles both moments of tenderness (dancing in the snow) and horror (No Man’s Land) with equal aplomb.
Gadot is terrific in the role of Diana, managing to balance the wide-eyed innocent abroad with the inner power she holds brilliantly. Her performance does call to mind Christopher Reeve in Superman with that blend of naivety and strength.
Chris Pine also provides a wonderful comic foil/love interest in Steve Trevor , straddling the line between Himbo and hero well, while not stepping too far on Diana’s toes. He and Gadot have real chemistry and spark. There is also a lot of light-hearted comedy between the two which is a highlight. An early scene on a boat sees Steve defending himself as ‘above average’ while Diana extols the virtues of a 12 volume book on Sapphic pleasures.
Honourable mention to Lucy Davis as Steve’s secretary Etta, who again brings some levity that has so desperately been missing from previous DC films.
Diana Prince: What’s a secretary?
Etta: I go where he tells me to go, I do what he tells me to do.
Diana Prince: Where we come from, that’s called slavery.
Etta: I like her!
The story-line is, by and large, interesting, although the lengthy running time does leave it feeling, much like myself, saggy around the middle. Notably the least interesting scenes are those firmly in the world of men. There is a slightly uncomfortable and jarring perspective shift towards the end, so while we have been firmly following Diana’s story suddenly we are thrust towards the perspective of her male entourage. This seems odd given the amount of agency Diana has and smells of ‘decision by committee’ rather than an artistic decision.
The big show-down at the end (I’m assuming this isn’t a spoiler as, again, comic book) is pretty over-blown, but doesn’t quite go full Zod. That said, this is where the script is at it’s weakest with the mantra of “Show it, don’t say it” being heartily ignored for a “say it, then show it, then say it again” approach.
The diversity of representation throughout is terrific (although yes, some characters are hugely one-dimensional, but this IS an adaptation of a 1940s comic book after all) with people of colour featuring not just on Themyscira but as Diana’s gang and also prominently as troops.
Overall the film remains hugely enjoyable, despite a few flaws and I’m really looking forward to the next installment regardless.
This is important.
Wonder Woman made me cry.
Not because of the plot, but because of representation. I found myself filled with joy shortly after the aforementioned scene with Robin Wright kicking ass on the beach, then immediately became angry and depressed. I was ecstatic that this film was just showing women as people, doing things that we see male characters doing all the time. They were talking to each other, they were making decisions, they were having awesome fights… then I became super sad that it has taken the resurrection of a character from the 1940’s to achieve this. Yes, we’re getting slightly better at diversity on screen, but the fact that Wonder Woman is such a novelty is just sad. Why can’t we have more women on screen JUST DOING THINGS and not having things done to them? Why can’t we have more women who make decisions for themselves and don’t just follow men about as plot foils? WHY IS THIS STILL A NOVELTY?
It makes me sad/angry that this is still even a talking point.
A testament to how oddly exciting the film actually is came as we exited the cinema. Three girls, who must have been 12 or 13, were leaving at the same time as us, giggling with joy and doing high-kicks. That’s what it’s all about.