Wonder Woman (2017)
Dir: Patty Jenkins
A couple of months ago I wrote about how after so many DC disappointments, I’d decided I would no longer be going to see DCEU movies at the earliest possible chances, especially at opening midnight screenings. I stuck to that… sort of…
Raised on Themyscira as a skilled Amazon warrior, Diana (Gal Gadot) ventures into the wider world to find her purpose and try to stop the first world war, accompanied by an American spy (Chris Pine). Though topped and tailed in the present day, it’s a concise origin story, condensing Diana’s childhood and training, then focusing on about a week as she adapts quickly, taking on her responsibilities and transforming into a determined heroine, though never (to my notice) given her superhero name.
With the overwhelmingly positive reviews that flooded in as the film was released, I found myself, very much against my inclinations, getting swept up in the enthusiasm building around this film and surprisingly a sense of optimism grew. So, I went, not at the earliest possible chance, but just a few days later, sceptical but with enough hope to give the film a fair shot at impressing me, and it tried its hardest to do exactly that!
Despite the early incandescent reviews you may have heard, it’s not perfect, in fact, it’s far from perfection. What it is however, is much closer to the tone and quality these characters in the DC Universe deserve and thrive upon. I criticised ‘Man of Steel‘ and ‘BvS‘ for not having any genuine lightness either in their cinematography or tone, with sparse attempts at humour feeling forced and falling flat. ‘Wonder Woman’ thankfully gets that right at almost every point, with vibrancy, many moments of humour (huge nod to Lucy Davis as Etta here) that feel much more natural and well-judged and even a convincing and justifiable romance.
Gal Gadot is given the space to shine in the lead, quickly asserting herself in the role and sweeping aside the early concerns that she didn’t look like the traditionally defined build of Diana. While not ‘muscular’ she’s without a doubt ‘athletic’ and her modest strength is second to her clear speed and agility that befits the character and the way she’s depicted in this film very well.
Gadot also does well to convey a fine line between naiveté and wonderment. There’s a balance that’s important between her discovering the outside world, while not being treated as naïve or ignorant, including one with ice cream that nicely reminded me of Buddy the Elf and the ‘world’s best cup of coffee’ which I could have watched a lot more of as she’s brilliant at getting those moments right. This matter gets complicated though when considering the gender politics of a film that is consciously working overtime to make sure Diana is the hero of her own story rather than any men being in control of her or her life. In all honestly it’s not a completely clear line, there are moments I think the film could do without as they come close to falling into old habits, possibly due to much of the producing and writing being male-heavy (screenplay and story by men, the latter by Snyder).
Though some scenes between Diana and Steve Trevor tread a coy line of flirtation, at least there’s a genuine sense of romance that’s developed, so it’s not making mature jokes and references just for the sake of it, therefore when the characters inevitably fall in love we can actually understand why and willingly go with it. The preceding friendship between them is nice to watch, Chris Pine’s character has been well written to make him likeable and honourable, with ancillary characters speaking highly of him just in case the rest hadn’t convinced us that he’s good enough for Diana. One of my big criticisms with ‘Man of Steel’ was that I was shown nothing that explained how or why Lois and Clark went from acquaintances to the loves of each other’s lives and worth risking everything for, which I consider to be a fundamental pillar of telling any story with a romantic element. Thankfully the writers here understood that and it makes the rest of their relationship and what they go through together feel like it’s built on a solid base.
There are some moments that don’t work, mainly single shots, many in slow motion when Diana is in full-action mode, a few of these are jarring in the way it shows up the CGI when it’s switching from scenes achieved as a practical effect with stunt performers and rigging, to those just programmed in a computer. For example, the much-hailed scene in no man’s land, where the very first shot looks terribly green screened, yet the rest of the scene is so much better which makes it a shame that it starts on the wrong foot. There are also some brief extreme close-ups that I feel don’t work either as they focus too much on how impressive Diana looks rather than how impressive what she’s doing is. End fight goes too heavy on the CGI and feels a shocking amount closer to Zack Snyder’s ‘300’ (funny that) than the rest of the movie, slightly justified by the underlying origin and recurring mythology, though there are moments in the finale where it almost entirely loses grip with the reality it has worked pretty well to sell for so long and ultimately doesn’t have the grounded payoff that I think would have helped it excel.
In particular, the ubiquitous end conflict goes far too heavy on the CGI and feels a shocking amount closer to Zack Snyder’s ‘300’ (funny that) than the rest of the movie. This is slightly justified by the underlying and recurring mythology, though there are moments in the finale where it almost entirely loses grip with the reality it has worked hard to sell for so long and ultimately doesn’t have the solidly grounded payoff that I think would have helped make it more lastingly satisfying.
Though I don’t think it’s quite the huge triumph others have hailed it as, there’s no doubt this is the most tonally balanced, visually appealing and nicely paced of the DCEU movies, damning proof that they can do better. If it’s truly a turning point in fixing this franchise then maybe I’ll look on this with even more fondness in the future, until then I’m happy it at least gives me a little hope for ‘Justice League’ later in the year.