Parts of the internet exploded with outrage at a “women-only” screening of Wonder Woman, the latest entrant into the DC Extended Universe.
Equally, there have already been calls to hail this two-and-a-half-hour film as one of the best of the DC big screeners, thanks to its all-woman pairing of Monster director Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot’s Amazonian Princess.
After Suicide Squad (complete with leering camera lingering uncomfortably on Margot Robbie’s behind as Harley Quinn overtook the screen) and the all-boys fight club of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice with its pomposity and nonsensical plot, the DC Comics world had some way to go to catch up with the levity of the Marvel films.
By necessity an origins story (yet again), Wonder Woman, stripped of the campery of the original Lynda Carter stars-and-stripes TV show, manages to bring to life a slice of wish fulfillment as the United States, by way of Chris Pine’s spy and Wonder Woman’s patented red, white and blue garb, manages to save the day in the dying moments of World War I. (And 2000AD fans will notice similarities to Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s superhero vs Nazis Zenith stories of 1987)
Though while DC’s universe and track record of films within isn’t exactly great, thanks to the assured directorial eye of Jenkins (whose Monster revitalised Charlize Theron), this is one comic book origins story that gets the bigger picture right – and also goes some way to satiating the furore that women are under-represented on film and in certain genres.
Starting on the mystical island of Themyscira where nobody but teutonic athletic Amazons train in perpetual slow-mo, Gal Gadot’s early Diana years centre on her world being uprooted when plucky spy Steve Trevor (an earnest, likeable and restrained Pine) literally falls out of the sky and onto the island.
Once Diana learns of the world beyond her shores from her dude-in-distress Trevor and believes there is the very real possibility that Amazon-banished god Ares, the god of War is at work in the wider world, she teams up with Steve to do her sworn duty and save the world from destruction.
Bookended by two different action sequences (one is a rote obligatory superhero CGI-heavy clash of the titans, the other an athletic and graceful balletic sequence that showcases the fighting skills complete with slow-mo), the film feels like a mesh of war-time adventure and expected conventions.
Playing up the comic naivety in the real world schtick, made popular by Chris Hemsworth’s culture-clash Thor in the Marvel films, Gadot and Pine form an easy bond early on, and imbue their burgeoning relationship with a heart and earnestness that makes for easy watching.
(Though, in fairness, Diana’s naivety begins to grate because of a continuing number of speeches on the horrors of war as she navigates the world).
Demonstrating that comedy and humour are the best way to create heart makes for an easy bedfellow as the drama gets underway, and it helps that Pine underplays to a terrific degree, ensuring that his Steve Trevor is seen as a genuine good-guy in all of this.
Gal Gadot also impresses, even if so many of her close-ups seem to fall straight from the shooting of a pouting lip-gloss commercial.
Wisely eschewing the lecherous cameras that plagued Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad and any female in a Michael Bay Transformers movie, Jenkins and Gadot manage to bring to life an icon that’s as empowering as she is important.
There’s no denying that in a patriarchal hegemony, Diana, the Queen of the Amazons breaks through, but she manages to do it in such a way that it’ll be hard for future films to belittle or sideline female leads.
It helps that Gadot manages to deliver a turn that strips away some of the woodenness of her prior roles (see Keeping Up With the Joneses) and parts of the wooden script.
This is a heroine for our times, and while there’s a nagging feeling that Diana becomes slightly rote in the messy third act, there’s no denying that Gadot’s turn here is going to inspire many.
Diana breaks through in such a way that it’ll be hard for future films to belittle or sideline female leads.
But if plenty of effort’s been poured into Gadot’s Diana and Pine’s Trevor, it’s clear that other parts of Wonder Woman are sadly left wanting.
Danny Huston’s German villain and Dr Poison (aka The Skin I Live In‘s Elena Anaya, once again wearing Phantom of the Opera-style facials) are bereft of anything other than a once-over villain stereotyping, a charge often laid at both Marvel and DC’s door. In fact at times, the maniacal duo are reminiscent of Rocky and Bullwinkle‘s Natasha and Boris in their cartoon villainy and machinations.
Equally, the rest of Trevor’s squad, selected for a suicide mission in France’s trenches, are fairly rote, given a few scenes of enforced bonding and ultimately add little to proceedings, other than comedy.
While former The Office star Lucy Davis proffers some comedy chops as Trevor’s secretary and Diana’s guide to women-in-wartime, there’s a distinct feeling that bit players in this piece could have been handed more.
A good 30 minutes of the 150 minute run time could have been chopped in the edit suite, and Wonder Woman would have been a testament to oestrogen-fuelled film-making. As it is, and thanks largely to Gadot’s work, and Jenkins’ smart handling of re-jigged source material, there’s little denying Wonder Woman has given very real life to the DC Extended Universe.
Here’s hoping the future films continue to build on this development and this beacon of superhero light is the start of better things to come within the genre.
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robyn Wright, Lucy Davis
Director: Patty Jenkins
Running time: 141 minutes