In an ugly, grey and corrupted world, Wonder Woman impresses Owen Hughes to be one of the best comic book movies we’re likely to get this year. Read his full review below.
I am a 30 year old working class male from the heart of the Midlands in the UK. Wonder Woman is not designed to specifically meet to my already well-catered to needs and wants from a lavish blockbuster action movie.
However, I am absolutely fine with anything that breaks the hegemony that is stifling talented movie makers like director Patty Jenkins, simply because some Hollywood bozo perpetuates the fallacy that female led action movies, directed by women, do not sell or are otherwise unwanted. How can any unsubstantiated and inaccurate belief that prevents us (the audience) from receiving a good movie be in any way, shape or form a positive thing? You need the best person for the job, regardless of gender.
Although, the fact that Wonder Woman is directed by a woman is (unfortunately still) worthy of comment and praise, when it should barely even be a consideration. In that regard, Wonder Woman is both a direct address to this ridiculous inequality within the movie business; and a flagrant disregard for any such notions. Did Patty Jenkins set out with a bold vision for “girl power”, or did she just set out to make the best action movie that she possibly could, that would appeal to her, and others like her? I assume it is a pinch from column A, and a huge whopping great handful from column B.
Whilst the plot can be summed up relatively simply – set during the Great War, the Amazonian warrior, Diana (Gal Gadot), leaves her mythical island sanctuary of Themyscira to help a stranded spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), return to the front so that she can vanquish her greatest foe, Ares, the God of War, and thus save the World from his destructive influence – it’s more than just a story of “superhero batters evil-doers”.
This isn’t about a super soldier who wades into war for an altruistic good and comes up against a bunch of Nazis doing bad things because some bad guy with a red face likes being bad. It’s a story about a woman reaching a point in her life where she discovers the true nature of man, who leaves behind her innocence and enters the world of men, but who uses her shield and arm braces to repel any metaphorical bullets fired her way by a patriarchal society. It’s a world where women don’t yet have the right to vote, where they are subservient to the more important menfolk, and where life of any kind is not valued – and Diana slices through it all with the contempt it deserves. When she abandons her home, never to return, she sets out to do what no man has ever been capable of: Ending war, not with weapons, but with love.
Words such as “love” and “war” have recurring roles to play, of course, but perhaps none are more pivotal or meaningful than the word “no”. Whether it’s Diana’s mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), telling her that she cannot train as a warrior, or whether it’s Steve Trevor telling her not to run into no man’s land prior to one of the most gloriously triumphant scenes in the entire movie; the word “no” is a big red flag that suggests that actually, something is wrong, and if you can do something, you should. Whatever your gender, Diana is a strong and powerful character whose sense of justice for those less able than her is surely something we can all get behind. You can do nothing, or you can do something, as the dialogue chooses to put it.
One such instance of this defiance can be seen when Diana arrives in London (and is greeted by one of the film’s few light-hearted characters, Steve’s secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis)), where she’s told to dress discreetly and is immediately rejected by the top brass at a meeting to negotiate peace because of her gender. We know she’s more courageous, skilled and intelligent than any one in the room, but Field Marshall Haig (James Cosmo) still dismisses her based purely on the fact that she’s a woman. Despite Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) being more accommodating than his colleagues, it’s still preposterous to these characters that she should even think it’s allowable for her to even be in their presence.
This is where the film shines brightest. When these barriers are highlighted, considered, and duly batted away, that’s when Wonder Woman makes its boldest statements. Diana is told “no” by virtually every man she encounters, including the main villain – the gas-sniffing German captain Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his chemist sidekick, Dr Poison (Elena Anaya) – and in each instance, whether her actions are the right or wrong thing to do in that moment, it’s about standing up to those who consider themselves more superior. It’s about fighting your ground and for what you believe in.
In much the same way that in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ben Affleck made a lot of critics eat their own words by nailing his role as the Dark Knight (and even to some extent how Henry Cavill did the same with Man of Steel), Gal Gadot continues the trend of silencing the doubters. Many agreed that her minor supporting role in the second DC Extended Universe feature was one of its highlights. As we now get to spend more time learning about her character, as opposed to gawping at how cool she and that sparingly used Junkie XL/Hans Zimmer theme is, Gadot excels, carrying the film through large portions of sometimes drab plotting almost single handedly.
In an ugly, grey and dirty world, Diana (and, by extension, Gadot) is stunning. Jenkins worked with Welsh costume designer Lindy Hemming to create Amazonian costumes that accentuate certain aspects of these women to show them as beautiful as well as fierce warriors. They definitely succeed. Gadot’s costume is not as seedy or lecherous as it has been in previous incarnations of the comic – and there are zero up skirt shots, which is most definitely a good thing. Gadot looks great, her performance is convincing, and kudos to Jenkins et al for managing to show her as gorgeous without making it solely about that.
Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, Point Break), Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Red Riding Hood), Mimi Leder (Deep Impact, The Leftovers), Karyn Kusama (Æon Flux, Jennifer’s Body), Julie Taymor (Frida, Across the Universe) and even Angelina Jolie (Unbroken, By the Sea) were considered to direct Wonder Woman, despite Patty Jenkins throwing her hat into the ring as far back as 2005 during the heady days of female-led comic book adaptations, such as the truly diabolical Catwoman (2004) and equally guff Elektra (2005). With no feature films under her belt since the phenomenal biopic of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Monster (2003), it’s fair to say that Warner Bros. took a gamble that paid off by pairing Jenkins with writers Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs – and for allowing comic book writer Allan Heinberg (who has a long-standing association with the character but who had never written a feature film before) to write the screenplay.
An issue with the script that may upset a few people is the body count that Diana racks up. I wasn’t keeping a tally, but I’m sure it’s a figure that Rambo would be proud of. She leads assaults on German soldiers, despite not much earlier condemning the haphazard way that soldier’s lives are thrown away for unjust causes by powerful men. This seems to be a running concern through most of the DCEU. Although Batman is famous for not using guns – there’s even a “Batman grabs a gun” trope, for example – and more often than not uses brute force more to disarm rather than to murder in Batman v Superman, people patently died because of his actions. Wonder Woman has never been totally averse to killing people, as those who have read The OMAC Project can testify, but destruction, death and chaos, whether collateral (as in Man of Steel) or not, is an unsettling running theme of DC’s series. Put simply, Diana kills soldiers. Sometimes with her bare hands. She’s a warrior, she’s fighting a war against what she believes to be the forces of evil, so it’s inevitable that those on the opposing side will die, I suppose. Nevertheless, it’s still somewhat disconcerting.
Thematically and structurally, Wonder Woman is on point. Its message is clear yet retains a degree of subtlety. The pacing keeps up so that you’re never bored, although I would have killed for a few more “no man’s land” moments that made it exciting rather than just “not boring”.
I seem to be mostly alone in believing that Man of Steel is a great film, and that both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad are flawed by ultimately entertaining movies. My enthusiasm has never waned for the DCEU and Wonder Woman is a solid entry into the series. It stands out as unique amongst them while continuing to feel very much a part of the same world. All we need do now is to wait for the Trinity to be united with their other super-buddies for November’s Justice League. Bring it on, and make Wonder Woman front and central to it.