So the DCEU finally has a hit, and we have a solo female superhero film. Whoever didn’t believe women couldn’t direct or lead huge blockbuster action films better take a look.
The film details the origins of the world’s most famous female superhero. Beginning on secret island of Themyscira, we see Diana (Gal Gadot) grow up from a young girl to a fierce warrior, trained by her fellow Amazons in scenes joyously unlike anything we have seen before (in terms of women in action). Following the arrival of Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor in a plane crash (where the woman saves the man, a welcome change), Diana is drawn into World War I as she strives to find and kill the God of war Ares, and end the suffering and fighting.
What follows is a brilliantly executed (and expertly balanced) blend of action, romance and comedy. The comedy primarily comes from Diana’s fish-out-of-water experience which results in some hilarious sequences, amusingly disguised conversations relating to men and ‘reproductive biology’, and also some (sadly still relevant) observations about the patriarchal nature of society outside of Themyscira. Having been raised entirely by women, Diana’s perspective causes the sexism, she encounters, however subtle, to stand starkly out. Throughout this, the film also manages to avoid the trappings of the makeover montage, with some satirical jokes about the tropes we’ve seen all too often (primarily involving glasses). Occasionally, however, within this, her naivety is passed off as a little ditsy.
The film’s many action sequences are brilliantly done, ramping up the tension and exhilaration, and fully engaging the audience (all of which is also elevated by Rupert Gregson-Williams’ fantastic score and evocative theme). As aforementioned, they also offer something new (which really shouldn’t be a novelty, but unfortunately is) in scenes dominated by women warriors, as well as those others of Wonder Woman defeating innumerable bad guys. Certain scenes out in the war zones feel truly epic. The time setting also makes the film different and a little more interesting as the film’s overarching themes and questions of morality and humanity are both timely, but timeless – just as applicable today (especially in light of recent events) as they were a hundred years ago. This not only means the film goes deeper than most of its contemporaries, but have a different type of villain, one whose existence is even in question throughout the film, making it less predictable and more engaging.
The other main compenent of the film is its central romance between Diana and Steve. The romantic moments are done with a beautiful tenderness, that, even when occurring straight after battle sequences, Jenkins manages to ensures slots together with the rest of the film, balanced so well to create cohesion. This emotional thread is handled in a way that makes it believable, helped along by the great chemistry between Gadot and Pine. Here is also another place where perhaps other films could learn from Wonder Woman. Whilst Steve is the protagonist’s love interest, he is still a fully formed character in himself. This shows the film not to be a kind of ‘gender swap revenge’, but shows how films and their romantic relationships should be handled (regardless of what gender occupies which role) – the love interest should be a character, not merely a plot device. Wonder Woman does well with this with its other supporting characters; each is developed beyond face or caricature, a hurdle many films stumble at.
The film is by no means perfect. Its final act becomes almost a convoluted CGI overload, especially in its contrast to what has come before. Similarly, it may be a little long. There is also likely to be some controversy over the film’s depiction of war and its choice to set battle sequences in true events. The exposition also feels slightly heavy-handed at times, and the modern-day framing device seemingly only existing to make sure you know this is set in an extended universe. One of the main, and perhaps unfair, gripes audiences may have with the film are its little plot holes, mostly relating to Diana’s outfit changes which you simply have to ignore, despite it being unfortunately distracting. In the modern, more grounded superhero films, we are not used to encountering these practicality issues of her suddenly appearing in full Wonder Woman garb, despite wearing an outfit in the previous scene it would not have fit under. Especially as it happens off screen, its almost akin to the spinning-around-into-costume method of the other films. But really this is a bit of a pedantic criticism.
Overall, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a triumph of a film and represents something much bigger than the film itself in terms of gender representation. With its rousing score, epic action, and human themes, it’s hard not to feel exhilarated by the adventures on screen, as well as the great accomplishment of the film itself.
Hopefully this will spur progress to pick up its pace.