There’s a sigh of relief that’s felt when it comes to Wonder Woman. After the aimed backlash towards Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, it’s fair to say there was anticipation and expectation towards this film. Considering that majority of the cinematic releases are unquestionably male-orientated, gamble is simply not the right word to summarise this. Long overdue is more accurate.
It’s not simply because this is a live action comic book film to feature a female lead and a female director, but it was the hope that DCEU (Detective Comics Extended Universe) would finally deliver on a potential that was clearly there in their previous efforts but their executions were tonally inconsistent and convoluted.
With a few missteps here and there, Wonder Woman positively excels. It rises above the harsh learning curves and faults of DC’s previous films, injecting a balance between the light and the dark, a humour that’s charming, a compassion that’s heartfelt but most importantly, remind you why you love comic book heroes in the first place.
Wonder Woman is easily the DCEU’s best film so far.
“You have been my greatest love. Be careful, Diana. They do not deserve you.” – Queen Hippolyta
If I were to rank Wonder Woman amongst the greatest comic book films ever made, then this is no The Dark Knight. But that’s also a good thing. Yes it follows the conventional comic book origin tropes that we’ve come to expect but Wonder Woman is comfortable in its own identity, not trying to emulate what’s gone on before but sets (in Hollywood terms) its own ground-breaking standard. It’s largely because of that near empty void – the lack of female centric comic book films. It was attempted before – the Razzie award-winning Catwoman starring Halle Berry and Jennifer Gardner’s Elektra were uninspired efforts. They failed to capture the imagination by reducing its concept to simplistic clichés. The scripts were underwhelming by treating the source material with a high disregard. Wonder Woman however is the opposite. It embraces that void and grabs the mantle with both hands.
Director Patty Jenkins alongside Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs and Zack Snyder’s screenplay don’t treat Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as a glamorized object that is desired by the opposite sex, something that some Hollywood films tend to do when female characters are on-screen. Building on the success of her cameo in Batman v Superman, they collectively deliver a story that’s both transformative and defiant on overcoming labels and obstacles.
On a comparison scale, Wonder Woman is old-fashioned. It’s the modern-day, fish out of water scenario like Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor but executed with a Raiders of the Lost Ark bravado for adventure and the enjoyable fun of Richard Donner’s Superman (Clark Kent glasses and all). For a film that grasps a fantastical element in its explorations on Gods, Wonder Woman also represents a more grounded affair, something that Suicide Squad would have largely benefited from had it gone down that route. Set during the First World War, a real life event is juxtaposed against Themyscira and Diana’s upbringing and understanding of the world. Because of the balanced transitions between these elements, it makes a far more believable film that you can get behind and root for.
The positivity doesn’t stop there. Because of its sole focus on the character, Wonder Woman doesn’t feel like a grand set-up. This self-contained adventure has a consistent beginning, middle and end in terms of story and tone. The dynamic chemistry between Diana and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) are based on a humorous and definitive equality, naturally building into their likeable characters instead of something forced, one-dimensional or facetiously shallow. Whilst sadly it’s not immune from the CGI heavy third act and a lack of a strong, convincing villain (an issue that seems to plague recent Hollywood blockbuster films), there’s enough about Wonder Woman that won’t disrupt your enjoyment.
This all sounds so trivial and easy to say given the DCEU’s track record but Wonder Woman does the basics very well.
“It is our sacred duty to defend the world. And it is what I am going to do.” – Diana Prince
The greatest appeal about Wonder Woman is watching a hero come full circle. Through the eyes of Diana, she becomes our window to the world, looked upon with a childlike wonder, innocence and naivety yet responds with a graceful fierceness and defiance. Diana Prince is no damsel in distress nor is this a film just showcasing her capable skills. Wonder Woman adds a level of emotional substance and depth that provides enough justification to care about her.
It embodies a feminist empowerment that’s embraced rather than preached. It revels in progressive growth instead of stagnation and in Gal Gadot’s excellent performance, we see three transitioning phases that is beautifully realised.
Diana overcomes mental boundaries – the first phase. Living a sheltered life, protected endlessly by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), her desire to be a warrior is suppressed, legitimately designed to keep her safe from the world. Why become a warrior when we live in a peaceful paradise is the general sentiment. But it has a negative and detrimental effect. Despite training in secret by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), the feeling of keeping someone in their place, to be told “you can’t do this” rings true in this film and also in society when we’re capable of doing anything we set our minds to. It might be simplistic, based only on the stories she was told as a child but it’s Diana’s eagerness to overcome a conformity that leads her to be trained harder than any other Amazonian warrior. She is regularly pushed and tested, to push aside a self-consciousness of doubt in order to realise she’s better than what she imagines. This gets put into context when war comes to Themyscira. Steve Trevor’s crash landing, his subsequent rescue and the battle on the beach is the balanced reversal of the fish out of water experience. His knowledge of the outside world and its impending danger solidifies Diana’s reason to join the war.
The second phase is the underestimation of women. Now in the real world, Diana has to adjust to society where battles are not fought by swords and shields but on “principles”. Coming from an Amazonian society where everyone is equal, in the real world she’s treated as a second class citizen – scorned by men when she knows more than one language, labelled as a secretary which she compares to as slavery in a comedic exchange and her presence is not allowed in a male dominated conference room.
But it’s not until Diana visits No Man’s Land where the training wheels come off. A brutal stretch of land where no man dared cross it and yet Diana defies it, showcasing courage, power and bravery. Diana came into the world to help innocent people and to stop Ares, the Greek God of War who she believes is responsible for turning humanity against each other. It’s an overwhelming scenario. As Diana comes to terms with the devastating and indiscriminate impact of war and that the world is not as simple as her stories, this scene was all about putting her faithful words into action. Just like how Superman revealed himself by saving Lois Lane from a falling helicopter, Diana Prince announces herself to the world in the same tribute fashion. She runs across the open field, deflecting bullets in her path. She might be out of sync, but her principles remained the same with a self-realisation of her capabilities. Revelation is the third phase.
And that’s what makes Wonder Woman so good. It’s easy to criticise Batman v Superman as being dark for dark sakes but the film is merely a reflection of our world today. Our world has suddenly gotten darker with the future feeling more or less like a diminishing light. But if there’s something to take away from the end of that film is that hopeful return of optimism and our belief in heroes again.
Wonder Woman is that hope coming back full circle, expressed not as a gladiatorial PPV fight night but with an expression of love, empathy and compassion. Each exposure to the world helps Diana understand it. She adapts on her own terms to grow into the hero we need. As much as humanity can be prone to destructive elements, we are also capable of something better as well. That is brought to fruition through Steve, a journey symbolising the dual complexities of humanity and society but also the simplistic beauty and partnership that can be shared with one another. The film takes care in establishing that relationship and whether other characters played a minor or significant role, they contributed to that spiritual resolve in Diana. In that respect, Wonder Woman is a multi-layered lesson examining what it takes to be a hero but utilises a hopeful, optimistic wisdom that feels refreshing.
It brought a smile to my face.
Wonder Woman is a step in the right direction for the DCEU. It feels now more than ever more purposefully relevant on how we view superhero films. Wonder Woman deserves the success and praise not just because the film is about an empowering female superhero that will undoubtedly inspire the younger generation and women alike – it’s just a good film period.
Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot found that perspective and voice – a voice in a character that refused to compromise, battle against insecurities, overcoming challenges and obstacles whilst being charming and emotionally heartfelt in the process.
This is obviously the start and hopefully more voices and opportunities will materialize, sooner rather than later. When it does, long may that continue.