Go Gal! DC films lift off at last!
Thanks to Gal Gadot’s personal charisma Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman was about the only good thing in the otherwise clunky Batman Vs Superman so expectations for her own film were high and pleasingly the result exceeds those hopes. This is a terrific movie perfectly handled by director Patty Jenkins to kick start the DC movie universe properly. It is the equal of most of the Marvel films with which it shares a storytelling and action dynamic that keeps the audience involved from beginning to end.
Spoilers past this point…
There are three ways a film like this could go. The producers and writers could utilise a female lead who has to behave like a man to achieve her aims. Or they could have a female lead whose attractiveness alone is used to give the film appeal. Or what has actually happened is that they have a female lead character whos uses her feminity and gender to become something different to the well established superhero archetype. Wonder Woman is a great film because and shows what can be achieved in a genre that remains male dominated in terms of thinking and casting. Even Marvel have not got round to giving Black Widow her own film yet.
Wonder Woman shares the period setting, more or less standalone story and idealistic main character that made the first Captain America film work so well. Diana Price’s background though is somewhat different. The film opens with a mythical air on the island of Themyscira delightfully reproduced in a Sun drenched white walled kingdom. Here live a tribe of warrior Amazons created by the Gods but Diana is the only child here. Her origins are obscure- she’s been told her mother Queen Hippolyta moulded her from clay though clearly she has a larger destiny, which some wish to protect her from. However she is secretly training and showing uncanny fighting skills.
This idyllic world is interrupted with the crash landing of Captain Steve Trevor, an undercover American posing as a German pilot whose presence soon brings pursuing Germans and a dramatically staged beach battle. Now she is aware of the `war to end all wars.` and having been brought up with tales of Ares the lost god of war Diana is convinced he is responsible for the conflict and it is her mission to go back with Steve and sort it out.
While such naivity could be mis- played, in the capable hands of Allen Heighberg’s screenplay it becomes a principled stand that reaches out to the best qualities in people. This may come from the stories of Gods yet in these times it feels like an appropriate tone for a film like this to take. Somehow flawed heroes with shades of grey don’t seem quite so appealing right now; it is a time for heroes. I imagine that in the depths of World War One people thought similarly.
The result of this journey is a thrilling mission that plays with familiar WW1 motifs in a fresh way. Diana’s belief that even the Germans are essentially good and have been corrupted by Ares does not stop her wading into the action literally at times. In the film’s signature scene she goes over the top of the trenches onto the battlefield to take out a German gun post and it just looks like the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. Throughout the look and feel of the film is so well achieved, with Patty Jenkins utilising unusual angles to emphasis the power of the weapons we see. The direction is handled with vigour using some excellent slow motion moments to accentuate Diana’s powers.
Yet for all the flash and bang the film never neglects its characters. Gal Godot brilliantly carries matters strongly, her mix of innocence and strength plays out the narrative’s focus on her nurturing quality. Diana’s virtuous approach is never at the expense of her intelligence though as she is seen to adapt to this new world. She is written and portrayed as a strong woman rather than as a woman behaving like a man. Diana’s faith in humanity gives her a more nuanced character than most other movie superheroes and this reflects in other aspects of the film.
The sinister German chemist Doctor Maru for example may seem like something of a cartoon villain with her half mask yet twice during the film we see something of the person rather than just her deeds, a strong performance from Elena Anaya. Likewise the brief sketches we have of the characters who accompany Diana and Steve on the mission are given just enough space for us to know them a little better. Even Danny Huston’s General Lindenhof, the nearest the film comes to a more one dimensional German antagonist, has an interesting device that makes him stronger. Gal Gadot’s on screen rapport with Chris Pine’s Captain Trevor is excellent and often comedic; he is a lot more fun than his Captain Kirk. Even the eventual romance is lightly played with some great lines.
The plot takes a scaled down look at the war focussing on a village and thus puts a more personal angle on the conflict. The climax at an airfield is superbly constructed and manages to mix together awesome explosions, tension and more character related issues together with a bittersweet ending plus it manages to be spectacular without affecting established real history. Wonder Woman is a triumph in every respect and a standard for DC to maintain going forward.