This one’s worth checking out.

Guitar riff intensifies.

I am just as astounded as you by all the praise directed towards Wonder Woman. I suppose it makes some sense, since the bar for DC Cinematic Universe installments has been set so impossibly low by Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, and the bar for female-led superhero films even lower by the likes of Elektra and Catwoman. Now we have a movie that (A) does well in both categories, (B) is the first proper movie exclusively about Wonder Woman, and (C) finally puts DC one step ahead of Marvel Studios in letting the ladies take the spotlight of a solo adventure.

Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in ‘Wonder Woman’.

In many ways, this is a film of triumph. It has given us hope that DC may yet have a chance to turn this ship away from the maelstrom, it has made female fans feel unusually satisfied (there was even a “women only” screening, which I would be far more miffed at if there didn’t exist “no girls allowed” screenings of Logan), and it had a chance to opt for a more Xena-esque tone before it was too late and the only way out would have been tactless re-edits and randomly inserted pop songs.

Directed by Patty Jenkins and screenplay penned by Allen Heinberg (who recently worked on an unfinished Wonder Woman TV pilot), the film mainly takes place during World War I. Our heroine Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazonian demigoddess and the child of Zeus and Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), saves an undercover US Air Service pilot named Steve (Chris Pine) who crashes near the hidden island where Diana’s kin reigns – she hasn’t met a man before, it turns out. The island is my favorite design of the film; it is a pity we don’t get to stay long.

As the Amazons learns of the Great War, as it was called, Diana realizes that war has returned to mankind and that she, despite warnings from her mother, must do that which her kind was sent by the gods to do – restore peace. This bit of backstory is told earlier in the film to a young Diana, in a series of animated images that resemble moving Renaissance paintings.

We meet more characters. David Thewlis plays a benevolent Imperial War Cabinet speaker, Elena Anaya plays the Germans’ aptly nicknamed head chemist “Dr. Poison”, Robin Wright is an Amazon warrior who tutors Diana, Lucy Davies provides a bit of comic relief I could have easily done without, and Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, and Ewen Bremner make up the band of misfits that join Steve and Diana when the British military refuse to help.

The film does still have dark moments, both in terms of imagery and themes, but it works better here as Wonder Woman makes an optimistic drop of color in a grey world. It is fitting, perhaps even timely, that her enemy isn’t an evil alien or scheming billionaire, but a personification of war itself in the form of the Greek god Ares – thought to be in the human form of Germany’s General Ludendorff (Danny Huston). She is the hero the DC Universe needed, and was denied when Superman was turned mopey and aggressive.

To be sure, Zack Snyder was still involved with the story but Heinberg evidently fine-tuned it to the point comprehensibility and, dare I say, good quality. The film does feature some of Snyder’s usual traits, such as the overused slow-motion and the brown-ish balls of fire that never look real, but I attribute this to the fact that Patty Jenkins still had to make the film fit it into the DC Extended Universe in some way.

I had other problems. There is a certain twist near the end (which seemed less out-of-the-blue to me than to my theater companions, but I did know it before hand) that at first seems to give the film a challenging ending but ultimately goes for a more black-and-white conclusion. Also, as genuine as Wonder Woman is in simply giving female fans (in particular) the exhilarating comic-book action film they’ve craved, there are some less than subtle moments that could have been cut for time at the expense of nothing but a few easy “amirite” jokes. I can assure those in doubt: a scene where a superhero single-handedly obliterates an army of soldiers isn’t “pandering” just because a woman is doing it.

But the film is still very much that; an exhilarating action movie with pleasant visuals, and characters you enjoy, admire, and root for. Gal Gadot plays her role much better than she did in Dawn of Justice and she certainly looks the part, even if some aficionados may wish she was taller and burlier. Chris Pine does well as a coward in badass’ clothing and both leads are fun in their respective fish-out-of-water situations where they try to comprehend each other’s cultures, even if much of it’s been done.

I can absolutely see why women, including those “of color”, would feel encouraged by the fact that an Israeli lead, a female director, an age-old role model, and a genuinely good, non-pandering script would take the summer movie season by such storm. It succeeds at being a crowd-pleasing comic-book adventure that nevertheless has a beautiful vision precisely because that vision is not supplied by Zack Snyder or edited beyond coherence, and it succeeds at being a progressive victory precisely because it’s not a Sony film and the plot isn’t “what if Superman was a girl?”

3.5/5 whatever

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