Wonder Woman is the awe-inspiring superhero we need right now, but the film suffers when it adheres to the tropes of DC’s other adaptations.
Director: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston
When Wonder Woman was introduced to the world in the 1940s, it was partly in response to the debilitation and devastation being wreaked upon humankind by World War II. Aggression and fear dominated, but creator William Moulton Marston’s new superhero was conceived as a fervent peace-lover in the face of turmoil.
No less a warrior, Wonder Woman fought not for personal gain, but for universal benefit. She represented a symbiotic synthesis of love and war: fierce, caring, self-reliant, sincere – and unabashedly, proudly female.
Although the fourth cinematic instalment in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) rewinds Wonder Woman’s origins back one World War to 1918, Wonder Woman stays passionately true to the spirit of her original incarnation. The eponymous character, generally known as Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), is a ferocious force for good, and easily the most compelling protagonist the somewhat underwhelming DCEU has produced so far.
The film primarily focuses on Diana’s journey through the world of men after she exits her paradisiac home of Themyscira, where her fellow Amazons dwell. Focused on ending the Great War by vanquishing the Amazons’ sworn foe, Ares the God of War, Diana unhesitatingly storms into the heart of the world’s battles.
This premise permits multifaceted development of Diana, both as a supernatural warrior discovering her own capabilities, and as a stranger thrown into a bizarre, unfamiliar realm. Wandering the streets of London, surveying impractical sartorial fashions and the constant subjugation of women, Diana’s consternation is sympathetic and amusing. As she braves No Man’s Land in a calm, collected manner, deflecting enemy fire with the literal flick of her wrist, it is hard not be awed and inspired.
Diana is embodied to perfection by Gal Gadot, whose physique, expressions and commanding contralto voice convey both Diana’s Amazonian vitality and her profoundly human vulnerabilities. Gadot’s subtle mannerisms and dignified demeanour render her every bit the relatable superhero.
Wonder Woman can also be commended for its confident subversion of general gender tropes – perhaps to be expected within the domain of Wonder Woman, but nevertheless handled expertly by Allan Heinberg’s screenplay. The typical role of “damsel in distress” is here portrayed by Chris Pine’s stranded pilot Steve Trevor. When he crashes into the seas surrounding Themyscira, he is hauled out by Diana. As their relationship develops, it is evident that Diana is the more confident, leading figure, while Trevor is more cautious.
At one point, the film even sees fit to let the audience ogle a near-naked Pine, and it’s refreshing to see a man in the blatant “eye candy” function usually reserved for women. While Diana’s warrior outfit could be deemed sexually provocative, her evident pragmatic comfort in her garbs means she is never rendered an object, but an active, participating subject.
It is to Wonder Woman’s benefit that it is helmed by Patty Jenkins. As the director who realised 2003’s Monster, Jenkins is especially adept at honing the female perspective, and so Wonder Woman is an effortlessly feminist production. The Amazonian women of Themyscira are utterly self-sufficient, and Diana’s propensities for duty and sentiment are never regarded as weaknesses, but as powerful aids. Despite Diana being thrown into the male-dominated world of the early 20th century, she does not submit to society’s demands that she be obedient or passive.
Diana’s motivations germinated far beyond the fragile egos of men; she is focused on the lives and deaths of gods, and only she has the capacity to make a real difference. The film shines as it presents Diana with shattering revelations, including the true origins of war, of evil, and of herself. Yet, even while her entire worldview is shaken, Diana does not give up.
Wonder Woman had the potential to be a truly game-changing film for the DCEU; where it discernibly stumbles is where it adheres to the established franchise’s tired tropes. Much like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman suffers from an unreasonably saturated runtime, incorporating numerous lingering scenes and shots which contribute little-to-nothing to the overall story.
Additionally, the DCEU has been chronically preoccupied with an arbitrary sense of “darkness” it seems intent to shoehorn into its productions, no matter the validity. The latest slew of DC films seem to revere misery ostensibly only for misery’s sake, and Wonder Woman falls prey to this, with many moody shots through blue-tinted filters, and dashes of carnage and warfare which seem to convey little beyond the message, “War is bad”.
Jenkins is also forced to model her fight scenes on previous films, meaning Wonder Woman incorporates a lot of routine slow-motion and rotating camera angles, even when the fights themselves are fairly rudimentary affairs. It all contributes to the unnecessarily inflated running time, and provokes an ebbing loss of audience investment.
Nevertheless, Wonder Woman is a superior film to its predecessors in three key ways. Firstly, it isn’t afraid to have a bit more light-hearted fun, with genuine humour found in Diana’s exploration of London, and also in some of the performances – both Danny Huston and David Thewlis are obviously having a wonderful time, emphasising their performances to delightful, aptly comic book-like degrees.
Secondly, Wonder Woman relies on emotional stakes which are much more carefully crafted than in previous DCEU features. Diana’s motivations are pure and relatable, and much better established than the confusing, seemingly arbitrary impulses of Batman and Superman before her.
For, in its final and most important improvement upon its predecessors, Wonder Woman has a brilliantly crafted superhero at its core. With a healthy commitment to Marston’s original creation, Diana is the first truly complex, likeable and awe-inspiring protagonist the franchise has yielded.
She is hopefully a herald of better things to come in future cinematic releases. Wonder Woman could have been the first great film of the DCEU, were it not so shackled by being part of the DCEU in the first place.