“Be careful in the world of men, Diana; they do not deserve you.”
It’s fair to say that the DC comics’ film franchise (or DCEU) has gotten off to a rough start. Conceived to challenge the success and dominance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DEUC builds on the story presented in Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. We have already seen Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the Suicide Squad movies, with the series building up to the first movie chronicling the adventures of the Justice League of America; a team which, in this iteration, will consist primarily of Batman, The Flash, Cyborg and Diana, Princess of Thymescira… also known as Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman stands out from this list as, following on from her appearance in Dawn of Justice; she’s the only character aside from Superman who is receiving a solo film within the DCEU before Justice League is released. Whether that will prove to be a mistake is yet to be seen; but what definitely was not a mistake is bringing us a solo Wonder Woman film, and the steps that led to its creation.
Wonder Woman is the origin story of the aforementioned Diana (Gal Gadot, Keeping Up With The Joneses), Princess of the island of Thymescira; the mystical, hidden home of a race of Amazon women, a paradise upon which no man has ever set foot. Diana becomes accidentally embroiled in the conflict of World War I because that changes, as American pilot and British secret service agent Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine; Star Trek) is washed up on the beach of Thymescira after being shot down by the German forces. Diana makes the choice to leave her paradise home and help Trevor to end the War To End All Wars and bring true peace to mankind; convinced that Aries, the God of War is behind the conflict.
For more context to that mind-boggling paragraph, I’m afraid you’ll have to go and see the film, for to discuss the plot in any greater detail would be to spoil it, and by now you should have all figured out that I don’t like doing that. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty to talk about without giving things away…
Director Patty Jenkins (Monster) makes a number of interesting choices that add a real authenticity to this story. Building on Gal Gadot’s Israeli background and natural accent, the Amazons are depicted without American accents; which adds weight both to the origin of their race and to their geographical location (which, given their proximity to the events of World War I, is likely to be somewhere in the Mediterranean). This choice doesn’t limit the depiction of diversity within Amazonian culture; as Jenkins loads the warrior race with women from all ethnic backgrounds, representing a broad range of athletic body types to create real depth to the Amazons. The same comes when we meet Trevor’s covert team later in the film; consisting of a Scot, a French-Morrocan and a Native American in the shapes of Ewen Bremner, Said Taghmaoui and Eugene Brave Rock respectively; Jenkins peppers her piece with fantastic actors a variety of backgrounds, and takes care to include people from all walks of life who fought in the First World War.
The locations used in Wonder Woman are beautifully realised. The island of Themyscira truly does look like an absolute paradise; but it is the depiction of war-torn Europe which is so remarkable. Jenkins manages to capture both the horror of war and the beauty of early 20th century Europe at the same time; the grey, industrialised cityscape of London offset with the striking colours from the Thames and the interiors of department stores; the greens and blacks of military equipment contrasted with the golden sands and ancient architecture of Turkey; or the golden sunlight splashing colour into a half-destroyed French town at dawn. This is but the half of it, as costume comes into play in the same way; the first reveal of Diana in her full Wonder Woman costume is tremendously timed and beautifully realised to laud her as a symbol of hope in the midst of an unceasing nightmare.
Wonder Woman herself is fantastically portrayed by Gal Gadot, wonderfully becoming the pillar of strength, intelligence and beauty that Diana represents. Refreshingly, she is also the primary source of comedy throughout the whole film, much of it relying on Diana’s unfamiliarity with the world outside of Themyscira; in particular, her lack of contact with men. Her chemistry with Chris Pine is palpable, with her natural charm and playful personality bouncing off Pine’s trademark dry wit and sarcasm in a fresh and engaging way, especially when the jokes are on the more cheeky side. Her physical and emotional range and strength shine through as well; as the young Princess deals with her sudden involvement in an international conflict resulting in some understandable emotional turmoil… and more than one physical conflict, of course (where it’s key to remember that Gadot prefers to do her own stunts). The variety which Gadot displays as Diana deals with each new situation is impressive for a relatively green actress, and her chemistry with Pine shines during the more serious moments as well.
Chris Pine once again proves that he deserves the title of Captain in Wonder Woman, and he’s a perfect fit for the role of Steve Trevor; wonderfully portraying the dichotomy between his sense of duty and his determination to do what’s right. His recent experiences in ensemble action/adventure films have set him up nicely to take a backseat to Gadot’s Diana, and while Trevor is essential for the direction of the story, Pine does well not to overpower Gadot with his performance – though that, as a concept, would be much more easily said that done.
The rest of the supporting cast works hard as well, and every actor helps build the story’s depth and complexity in a new direction. Connie Nielson (The Good Wife) is appropriately regal and powerful as Diana’s mother, Hippolyta; and Robin Wright (House of Cards) impresses as Antiope, the commander of the Themysciran army, and both play a key role in establishing a lot of Diana’s character and backstory in the opening sequences of Wonder Woman. The aforementioned Taghmaoui, Bremner and Brave Rock work well together to provide individual insights into how the conflict, and the modern world at large, have affected people from different backgrounds; again paying tribute to those who fought in the war and commenting on the impact. A special mention must go to Lucy Davis (Maron), whose brief appearance as Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy is the most endearing character in the whole film, who left the theatre in stitches within moments of her first appearance on screen. Her chemistry with both Gadot and Pine was incredible, and she will hopefully make a return in the role in the future – though given the time difference between Wonder Woman and Justice League, that may be a difficult hope to see realised.
Superhero fans and movie fans alike have been concerned in the build-up to this release. In case you’ve missed it; the previous DCEU properties have been generally considered to be rather disappointing, a conclusion reached by critics and audience alike. Synder’s vision of the DCEU has been un-apologetically dark, with very little in the way of levity or hope – two very important features in the world of superheroes. The backlash to Dawn of Justice resulted in hasty and widely reported reshoots of Suicide Squad to “add more jokes”; an effort which still didn’t save it from a similar response.
Wonder Woman, however, finally manages to break away from this trend and is, at its heart, a story about heart, hope and love. Patty Jenkins has done a wonderful job of splashing colour into the greyscape of the DCEU with a warm, engaging and genuinely funny film that still manages to bring a gritty and serious tone to the nature of conflict and war itself. As with all superhero movies, this is worth watching on the big screen; but it represents more than just another fun summer blockbuster. As the first feature film with a solo female superhero, it’s an important step for the genre; and for the struggling DCEU, it could represent the new direction that the series needs.
This review was originally written for Great Central.