A few disclaimers before we start:
* Much like Ghostbusters last year, Wonder Woman has triggered a disturbing number of reactions against it because it features a female lead. This is not worth discussing and won’t be part of the review. How insecure can someone be that the idea of a woman superhero feels threatening? Or that the notion of an all-women screening is somehow an assault on men’s rights? This is toxic masculinity at its purest.
* I have nothing against DC Comics (or Marvel for that matter). My approach to review comic book-based movies is to focus exclusively on the film itself. I don’t have a “team”, at least until Haneke or Von Trier make a superhero movie.
Wonder Woman, the fourth film in the DC Comics cinematic universe (DCCU) is, without a doubt, the best one so far. It solves the most glaring flaws of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad while anchored in the same universe.
It’s not difficult to explain the enthusiasm for Wonder Woman: DC fans are hungry for a film to be proud of and females have gotten the short shift in the subgenre for decades. But the idea this adaptation solves all the franchise’s shortcomings is wishful thinking. The plotting remains shaky and those pervasive conclusion problems persist. Thankfully director Patty Jenkins (Monster) is savvy enough to identify and solve the biggest issue plaguing the DCCU: Character development.
We reencounter the titular character at the Louvre, as she reminisces over a picture of her surrounded by a ragtag group of soldiers. Cut to her childhood as Princess Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira (Connie Nielsen). Against her mother’s wishes, Diana is trained by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) as a warrior. She seems to be more powerful than her fellow Amazonian for mysterious reasons (for the uninitiated).
Hippolyta and Antiope conflicting views over Diana’s future come to a halt with the fortuitous arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a pilot pursued by Kaiser’s forces during the waning days of WWI. The idea of mankind at war and the likelihood the Amazonians’ sworn enemy Ares is behind it all inspires Diana to follow Steve to London.
Discovering humanity doesn’t require the God of War’s involvement to behave badly stumps Diana, but doesn’t deter her heroic disposition.
Casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman may have been Zack Snyder’s smartest decision spearheading the DCCU. The athletic, stunning Gadot doesn’t have the widest acting range, but commits to the character in ways Ben Affleck and especially Henry Cavill can’t begin to imagine.
Wonder Woman also benefits from being a truly self-contained story. No shoehorned tie-ins or distracting cameos. The plot may be basic at best, but I’ll take it over whatever the heck Batman v Superman was. Some other basic issues are solved: The editing makes sense and the action scenes are competently staged. Some are even gorgeous to watch.
Director Patty Jenkins excels at composing characters and her skill goes beyond Wonder Woman. Chris Pine doesn’t play the damsel in distress or Diana’s equal. His Steve Trevor is a hero in his own right who happens to cross paths with the Princess of Themyscira. The rest of the cast is somewhat underserved, but this is Diana and Steve’s story after all.
Wonder Woman is frontloaded. The world-building at Themyscira is impeccable and Robin Wright excels in an all-too-brief role. Jenkins creates an image-positive environment in which women are physical and lithe (it’s a striking sight). The goodwill generated is put to the test in the third act. The movie falls pray of the genre’s worst instincts and becomes a fireworks spectacle. The main villain -Ares- is poorly defined through the film and the payoff is underwhelming.
At least, finally the DCCU seems willing to learn from its mistakes and improve over previous entries. I remain skeptic of Justice League, but maybe Aquaman will build on Wonder Woman’s back-to-basics approach. In fact, I would rather get more Diana Prince than surly Clark Kent and pissy Bruce Wayne any day of the week. 3/5 prairie dogs.
Wonder Woman is playing everywhere.