Wonder Woman ****
Dir: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Lucy Davis, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis
Marvel Studios have been raking in the big bucks with their winning formula for the big screen – charismatic heroes, (mostly) accessible storylines, slam-bam action, a little bit of romance, a reasonable amount of comedy, and great special effects. These ingredients have been enough to bring in long-time comic-book fans and the general public alike in big numbers to the movie theatres who also bought into the idea of all the heroes existing in the same universe (a concept with which comic-book fans have long been familiar).
Warner Bros./DC, on the other hand, have met with relatively less box-office and certainly less critical acclaim with their first three entries in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe, for the uninitiated). Taking a cue from Christopher Nolan’s terrific but moody and grim Dark Knight trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) but without truly understanding what made it work, and also hoping to emulate Marvel’s success, WB/DC launched its own shared universe of movies. The first entry in the DCEU was the complete misread of Superman as a character and his mythology, Man Of Steel. MoS was followed up by Suicide Squad and then Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. These movies (as well as the non-DCEU Green Lantern) have been dark and grim (often, it appears, purely for the sake of being dark and grim, because, you know, Nolan’s movies were sombre and audiences loved those, didn’t they?) with cheerless palettes (both figurative and literal), and featuring inward looking heroes of questionable morality. All wrapped up in convoluted and inscrutable plots that may have played better to the hard-core comic book fans but left the rest of the cine-going public confused and unenthused.
However, on their fourth attempt, it appears WB/DC may finally have figured out what it takes to make a great superhero movie. We need a hero to look up to, a hero to inspire, a hero who brings light into this world and beats back the forces of darkness and does it all with a smile on his/her face. A hero we actually like! And it’s absolutely terrific that it has taken a woman (or three) to show them the way with Wonder Woman. The three women in question are the director, Patty Jenkins (helming her first feature in almost 15 years since Monster won Charlize Theron her Oscar – which in itself tells you something), the movie’s star Gal Gadot and Wonder Woman (the character) herself.
Wonder Woman (as essayed by Gadot) was introduced in Batman V. Superman and was often cited as being the best thing in it. But this is her origin story and Jenkins and Gadot absolutely nail it. Set during World War I, the movie introduces us to the world of Themyscira, the island of the Amazons. Led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her sister, the general Antiope (Robin Wright), the Amazons have been tasked by Zeus to keep the threat of Ares, the god of War, at bay. When an American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island, Hippolyta’s daughter, Diana (Gadot) takes it upon herself to go to man’s world (as the Amazon’s call it) to fulfil that mission.
The first 3/4ths of the movie are a delight. The rom-com banter between Diana and Steve works beautifully as does the whole fish-out-of-water aspect of Diana’s entry into “man’s world” (her reaction on first espying London is a hoot). Writer Allan Heinberg and director Jenkins manage to land quite a few zingers on the way this misogynistic world works without beating you over the head with it. The action scenes are exciting (a key sequence on a Themysciran beach is a real humdinger) and Gadot IS Wonder Woman – effortlessly capturing her strength and her convictions without sacrificing either to the demands of “femininity” (whatever that means).
The final showdown with Ares is much more prosaic than the rest of the movie but by then Jenkins and Gadot have completely won us over. Wonder Woman is the hero we need.
Cut to chase: A great comic-book superhero movie
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Rating system: *Not on your life ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection