After suffering through three DC outings (well, to be fair, Suicide Squad wasn’t terrible – just very messy), there was no way I was going to waste another 2 and a bit hours in the cinema until I could be more confident that I wouldn’t have wasted more of my life on rubbish, especially when there are so many quality films I regretted not finding time to see on the screen. So, I made a vow to wait until home release before delving into this one. The trailers did nothing for me, so I didn’t feel I was missing out. Reports from pretty much everyone was that it was “better than the other films” – but that’s not much of a statement when you break it down, so it still didn’t sell it. So, now I have finally had chance to see the film for myself, I can report that it is… well… alright really. Just alright though. I know some people champion it as the best thing to happen to movies for women ever – but if that’s the case, then it is more a sign of how poorly represented women are in films, and a discussion for another day. I’m not getting embroiled in all the ‘girl-power’ hysteria that seems to surround the film. Nope, I’m simply taking the approach of, “This is a comic book movie…let’s review it!”
Wonder Woman is a flashback tale, showing the origins of the character that we glimpsed so briefly in Batman v Superman. Gal Gadot plays Diana, Princess of Themyscria, a hidden island home to the Amazonian race of female warriors. Growing up, Diana heard the tales of how Zeus created the Amazonians to protect mankind from Ares, and how once he was defeated the women were left a weapon named “Godkiller” to use if Ares returned, bringing the end-war to the world. Move forward to 1918, and a pilot spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes onto the island, pursued by German soldiers. After the Amazonians dispatch of the foes, Steve reveals that a great war is taking place, a war to end all wars. Diana believes it to be the return of Ares, and so steals some relic items and armour, wishing to seek Ares and destroy him. So she enters the world of man, and right into World War 1. Believing Ares to be in the guise of German General Erich Ludenhorff, who is using the skills of the chemist Isabel Maru to create a deadly gas, Steve and Diana set about recruiting a team of soldiers to help them cross enemy lines and stop the war.
As origin tales go, this is certainly one of the strongest, and better structured ones out there. The World War setting does, at first glance, seem a little too familiar to the Captain America origin film (albeit a different world war), especially with the focus being on one mad general and his scientist, but thankfully that’s where the similarity ends. Wonder Woman takes a different approach to that film, with a focus on how Diana is affected by the suffering she sees around her. Whilst her tribe have been languishing for centuries on their paradise island, the world they were sworn to protect has fallen.
At least, that’s what we are supposed to see – how she is changed and saddened by the world she enters. Unfortunately, Gadot’s acting range is very limited, and were it not for lines of dialogue explaining how distressing everything is, you wouldn’t have a clue. Instead she strikes a lot of poses, walking across battlegrounds with shoulders back, and chest out just like a model on a catwalk, and fighting German soldiers in fluid slow-motion beauty. Serious slow-motion. No, really…if they played all the scenes at normal speed the film would probably be 40 minutes shorter as a result. But Gadot herself, well she seems to have two facial expressions – confused pouty-face, and focussed pouty-face. I’m genuinely not convinced by her as an actress, and as the lead role she struggles.
However, the cast around her generally lift it up, even if one or two are superfluous to the actual plot (Ewan Bremner, Said Taghmaoui and Eugene Brave Rock play a trio of stereotypes that are recruited for no reason other than to occasionally tell Diana that she can’t help people). Chris Pine is in full-on Kirk mode, and that’s not a bad thing, as Steve Trevor. Through him we see Diana’s frustrations as he reflects it back at her. David Thewlis is always a pleasure to see on screen, and he gets to impact on the film in his own small way in the scattering of scenes he is in here. Elena Anaya, sporting a partial facial mask, as Doctor Poison/Isabel Maru does so much with facial expressions, even partially hidden ones, thankfully balancing out Danny Huston’s overacting as General Ludendorff. However, perhaps Lucy Davis playing Etta Candy could have been dropped entirely from the film. She’s a truly dreadful addition, and an annoyance whenever she snivels onto screen.
Action wise, as mentioned previously, there are a lot of uses of slo-mo. Maybe too much, as it does become a bit tiring after a while. You have to wonder if Zack Snyder (who co-wrote the film) actually had notes for where the technique would be used, the film echoes the stop-start action of 300 so well. Had this film come out back then, well, all that slo-mo would have thrilled. However, the technique is so overused these days, that it populating pretty much the whole film gets tiresome quite fast. That’s not to say it doesn’t look great – all the action is so gorgeous to watch – but it is too often utilised, multiple times in each action scene.
The biggest problem with the action, however, is that the standout moments, the ones that should make you sit up and fist-pump the air in excitement, were all in the marketing. The epic walk across No-Mans Land, a moment that should have had huge impact was all over the trailers, meaning when it happens we aren’t as thrilled as we should have been. That’s not a fault with the film, but a fault with the manner in which films are marketed these days, so I won’t dwell on the matter.
Overall Wonder Woman manages to tread the line between ‘grounded reality’ that the DC films have started as, and ‘comic fantasy’ where they seem to be heading in future outings. It isn’t a brilliant film, and it has flaws, but it is definitely a damn sight better than the garbled collections of scenes that the previous 3 films have given us. This is a film with a definite structure, a coherency throughout, and a story that makes some sort of sense emotionally as well as mentally. I may not be sold on Gadot as Wonder Woman yet, but I am starting to buy into the future of the DC movie franchise… although I’ll wait until after Justice League before venturing to the cinema to see any more films.