The DC Extended Universe films have had a rocky start. Man of Steel, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad each had massive problems. All of them ambitious to some degree, but underwhelming in execution for varying reason. However, the most common connection between them simply is a lacking development of character. Batman, Superman, Lex Luthor, Joker or any other number of characters weren’t given room to breathe amongst the muddled themes and intensely overstuffed world building. Unable to find the type of balance that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made effortless. With so many great characters in their roster, one would hope that DC could find a film that gets them back on track and gives these timeless heroes their time to shine. Luckily, Wonder Woman manages to crash through the piles of ash like an ember soaring into the sky and burning your cheek with a rush of excitement.
Wonder Woman was introduced in Batman V. Superman as an inconsequential yet welcome personality to spar with the male heroes. Here, we get a full-scale introduction to what made Princess Diana that badass. A full look into the varying tug and pull of her upbringing. Sometimes this can be a bit too exposition heavy, but director Patty Jenkins and main writer Allan Heinberg manage to alleviate the clumsiness by displaying Diana’s gumption and her mother’s fear in equal measure. With an island of female warriors wanting to train her for battle, Diana’s still suppressed by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wanting to save her from the wars of the world of men. It’s an understandable motivation, particularly as men eventually invade their shores and impede the peaceful existence they’ve had for centuries. The conflict is one based in a human connective tissue of not wanting to see those we love be harmed. A recurring theme that enriches Diana’s struggles as a protector further down the line.
There’s an earnestness in that idea that gives Wonder Woman such wonderful legs. Gal Gadot gives her a curiosity and audacious sense of righteousness that instantly endears us to the character. As she learns more about the disconnected bureaucracy of man in war, her lack of tolerance for such bully makes her a true hero fighting against something bigger than a giant villain. She wants to save everyone. Live up to her status of a massive warrior and stop all war from happening by living up to the stories she grew up on. Even when we do get big battle sequences, they’re still steeped deeply in Diana’s desire to save the humanity that both ignites a flame of endearment within her while constantly trying to destroy their own beauty with brutish force. Something that Man of Steel utterly fumbled on, while Wonder Woman does in an effortless fashion.
Wonder Woman truly is a superhero based in the concept of compassion. She has a love for the people around her that isn’t simply a feminine motherly instinct. It’s a compassion instilled into her by everyone from her mother who instill compassion to her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) who trains her in secret to defend herself to even Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) showing her the full scope of humanity’s strength and faults. Trevor in particular is fascinating character. Chris Pine’s charm is incredibly nuanced, having all the confidence of a human spy yet being confused and eventually humbled by Diana’s abilities. There’s an attraction between the two, but it isn’t a flat typical Hollywood romance. It’s based in mutual respect for their abilities, yet still allows for barbs and fish out of water humor that never feels too forced.
Wonder Woman‘s compassion continues to the other soldiers in her rag-tag battalion. The trio of Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) each give Diana further perspective on man’s world. One where mortals take from each other or lose confidence in themselves, but also try to hold up their own even when facing impossible odds. This crew manages to show how Wonder Woman manages to one up its Marvel competition, as this crew manages to be a far more improved version of The Howling Commandos from Captain America: The First Avenger. Some of them don’t get full closure, but their character moments with Diana gives us further insight into her struggles in dealing with humanity.
The conflicting motivations of man challenge Diana’s perceptions of humanity, allowing for a stronger conflict for when she starts to kick major ass. The villains Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) and General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) represent both the comic book supervillainy and the truly demented evil at hand. There’s a few comic book moments of destruction with them and the hints of Aries, but the ultimate form of evil in Wonder Woman is one that’s far more sinister and chilling than expected. One engrained in allowing the self-destructive nature of humanity to feed on itself. Something that Diana is tempted towards in a way that makes her relate to man’s plight. Especially as the story goes along with some genuinely surprising turns.
Patty Jenkins’ direction for Wonder Woman is a triumph over the previous entries in the DC Extended Universe. Sure, there’s some of producer/story writer Zack Snyder‘s speed-up slow mo style action, but it isn’t as navel gazing. There’s a purpose to the slow-mo, showing off Diana’s grace and direct line of sight as she clobbers those in her wake before brutally displaying her strength in regular motion. Admittedly, there are points where the CG is rather uneven. Sometimes it’s a gorgeous recreation of human features. Other times it’s about as uncanny valley as a Robert Zemeckis motion capture film. Though the lesser CG is more during the first half anyway, allowing the finale climax to have far more consistent graphics that don’t distract from the emotional stakes or action choreography.
Jenkins really shines during the more intimate moments. When Diana shares a conversation with Trevor, there’s a genuine charm and grace that’s displayed during the close ups. There’s a sort of Billy Wilder-esque inspiration to the use of close ups and the back-and-forth editing style during these scenes, allowing Wonder Woman the luxury of authentic human interaction that these DC movies have been missing. This is something Jenkins carries over from her previous feature Monster, though with less psychotic murder at play. With Wonder Woman, the admiration comes off in equal measure between Diana and her allies from Man’s World. The type of comradery that allows her to both respect their views and question them when someone like Trevor allows protocol to get in the way of people’s lives.
Sure, Wonder Woman is ultimately an origin story. Something the superhero genre has often played like a sour fiddle of a note. There’s not a huge amount of complexity to the narrative structure here, though it’s necessary to give Diana a full back story. Really, the complexity arrives in the emotional turmoil of her character. One who can kick ass, but can often feel helpless when the full potential of depravity with humanity hits her in the face. The murky waters of morality in this world confuse and frighten her, but they never break her spirit. They deconstruct her world view, but allow her to think on her feet and discover what matters more. That intriguing dimension instantly sets Wonder Woman apart as not only the best DC movie in years, but one of the best recent offerings for comic book films in general. It’s a crowd pleaser with intelligence and understanding as to its themes of war and human morality that don’t get bogged down in ethics. There’s color, fun and brain all working together here. Let’s hope Warner Bros can keep it up.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Impractical Battle Outfits
- Horror News Radio Ep 217: Hounds of Love – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
- Decades of Horror 1990s: Ed Wood (1994)