I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Director, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman is one of the best superhero movies since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And as an unabashed ‘fanboy’ of those seminal masterpieces, I don’t make such a statement lightly. It’s not quite on their level, but it ain’t far off.
I also owe an apology to the titular star, Gal Gadot. When the casting was first announced, I was more than skeptical. An Israeli supermodel turned actress, who had been in a couple of Fast & Furious efforts ( I forget which of the 50 odd of those films it was) I wasn’t impressed and I was quick to judge. Well, shame on me, as Gadot is fantastic. Strong willed and determined; warm yet fierce; naively innocent yet imminently likeable. She easily embodies what the character should be. Gadot didn’t get enough screen time in her debut of the role in 2016’s Batman vs Superman to really make much of a fair assessment. But here, she’s front and center and gets the time to shine that she deserves.
The trend over the past decade or so has been to present superheroes as tortured and morally conflicted; this was the primary fuel of Nolan’s Dark Knight, as well as Wolverine from the X-Men, and billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark in Iron Man. In this regard, Wonder Woman is a refreshing change of pace because it presents us with a hero with a clear sense of both mission and morality, and even though she discovers that both are not nearly as clear-cut as she originally thought, she never lets darkness consume her. She is admirably steadfast in her beliefs and what constitutes right from wrong.
This being an origin story, following a brief prologue set in modern-day Paris, we’re taken all the way back to the very beginning of our heroine’s tale. The young Amazon princess, Diana is living a rather happy and sheltered life on the hidden island of Themyscira with her loving and protective mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Raised and trained by her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) Diana was always destined to become a warrior and she soon gets a chance to use her skills when, after crashing into Themyscira, an Allied American pilot and spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), comes into her life. After rescuing him from drowning and the pursuing German soldiers, Diana learns of the horrors of the ongoing World War I, and soon decides that it is her duty to put an end to the conflict – despite her mother’s protests – which, of course, she is convinced is caused by her archenemy, the God of War, Ares. It’s when Diana accompanies Steve to London and into the midst of The Great War that the film really ramps up.
It’s hard not to be swept up by the simple beauty of the story and its mesmerising, genuinely exciting visuals and vigorous action set pieces. And as the story takes place roughly a hundred years before any fellow DC Universe heroes make an appearance, it provides plenty of room for screenwriter, Allan Heinberg to explore Wonder Woman’s character and the world around her, rather than fitting her into an already exisiting world without any context (AKA Batman vs Superman). The action is compelling and seeing Diana’s Amazonian fighting skills on the WWI battlefield is truly exciting, her defiant march across No Mans Land under a hail of bullets is an especially rousing scene, whilst watching her make sense of the world and strange customs around her is the biggest contributing factor to the story’s welcome comedic side.
The chemistry between Gadot and Pine is palpable and adds real emotional heft to the tale. Channeling the charisma and likeability of his new generation Captain Kirk, Chris Pine is the perfect partner/love interest for our heroine. There are some nice supporting cast turns as well. Lucy Davis is on particularly fine comedic form as Steve’s plucky secretary, Robin Wright and Connie Neilson convincingly look and act the part of strong Amazonian warriors, while Danny Huston and Elena Anaya ham it up brilliantly as sadistic German evil doers.
Th only real slip up in the whole affair is a somewhat generic , CGI laden finale. The main villain of the piece, Ares himself, feels a bit under-cooked, with not enough time spent developing the character. It’s still entertaining, but with the wonderful two hours that preceded it, it just felt a little lackluster. However it’s a small complaint, and really the only one you’ll get from me.
Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air and has single handedly put the DC Universe series of films back on the right path, after shakey efforts Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman had the pitchfork wielding mobs on standby. Gal Gadot has deservedly cemented herself as a star with a brilliant central performance.
Sorry again for doubting you, Gal.