Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017) 3 out of 4 stars.
There is much to recommend in Wonder Woman, the latest (but hardly the last) entry in the DC Comics cineverse. Given the recent dismal output from this particular franchise – descending both in chronology and quality from Man of Steel to Batman v Superman to Suicide Squad – it would be damning with faint praise to call this new film the best DC movie since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. That qualifier aside, Wonder Woman is genuinely good fun, mostly well scripted and acted, and a welcome breath of feminist fresh air in this all-too-frequently-male-dominated genre. That it is imperfect and subject to some of the same sins that beset many a Hollywood blockbuster seems immaterial, since it knows what it wants to be and performs its function well. Hallelujah, hooray and huzzah: may it make a killing at the box office and once and for all dispel the notion that female-centered action pictures are a risky venture.Let’s start with the good. Director Patty Jenkins (Monster) has assembled quite an impressive cast, beyond her extremely appealing lead actress, Gal Gadot (Keeping Up with the Joneses), including Connie Nielsen (All Relative), Robin Wright (Netflix’s House of Cards), David Thewlis (Regression), Danny Huston (Frankenstein) and male eye-candy/love interest Chris Pine (Hell or High Water). Together they surmount the majority of what screenplay flaws exist to offer an exciting mix of wit and adventure that rarely fails to entertain. And though Gadot is unable to elevate her opening and closing expositional voiceover beyond the pedestrian, it is doubtful that anyone could. Otherwise, she is a delightful screen presence, physically able and dramatically competent, easily shouldering the narrative weight of the titular character and propelling the story towards its satisfying conclusion.
What works less well are certain plot details that are best left unexamined if one wants to enjoy the show, and some of the special effects that feel surprisingly cheap – or at least under-designed – particularly at the start of the film, where the computer-generated images reveal themselves in all their glaring unreality on the island of Themyscira, home to the Amazon tribe of all-female warriors. The obvious artificiality of the landscape grated on my optic nerves, as did the embrace of the by-now-far-too-conventional use of speed ramping to emphasize certain moments in action sequences. Still, this is hardly the only film to do so, and one sadly gets used to it, whether one likes it or not. Far more annoying is the script decision to set the movie during World War I and then raise the stakes of the final battle so high that, when it is won with the destruction of the force that has ostensibly led humans into conflict since the dawn of time, begs the question, “What about World War II?” Also, just for the record, the Germans of the First World War were not Nazis, even if they were subsequently demonized as the main aggressors. So to portray them as somehow similar in intent to their future counterparts is another unnecessary irritation.
But on to more of the good stuff. Beyond the aforementioned issues, this is an impeccably structured tale of empowerment and derring-do, in which Diana of the Amazons discovers her true purpose and comes out as the super-powerful Wonder Woman (though that name is never used). As the film begins, she is but a child, though the daughter of the queen, and we watch her grow into Gal Gadot and undergo extensive military training before the world of these female guardians is invaded by German soldiers chasing an American spy, Steve Trevor (Pine). Soon, Diana leaves with Trevor – the first man she has ever seen – to defeat Ares, the Greek god of war, whom we learn, in an opening montage of the Amazon mythology, is this tribe’s main antagonist. Diana believes he is responsible for the current mayhem, and though Trevor thinks she’s a bit loopy, he can’t deny what he’s seen on the island, nor her obvious powers. And so he takes her to the front, where he, she and a ragtag band of international co-conspirators – Saïd Taghmaoui (American Hustle), Ewen Bremner (T2 Trainspotting) and relative newcomer Eugene Brave Rock – attempt to stop the Germans from developing a superweapon … and maybe kill Ares, too.
We know that all ends well for our heroine, as the movie begins in the present day, with her looking back (we’ve also seen her in Batman v Superman, also set in our time), but the movie does hold some welcome surprises when it comes to who lives and who dies, and how the plot unfolds. Despite its setting in the trenches of a terrible conflict, the film also manages a certain lightness of touch that was sorely missing from the two recent films starring the son of Krypton (both directed by Zack Snyder, who here serves merely as one of the producers). Credit Jenkins (and Gadot and Pine, among others) for making all this go down so pleasantly. Whatever problems I have enumerated above, Wonder Woman is a solid piece of work, well worth watching, and hopefully a harbinger of better things to come from DC in the near future. Go team Amazon!