Saturday, 3 June 2017

Film Review: Wonder Woman


Wonder Woman finally gets her first solo outing on the silver screen - but can director Patty Jenkins stem the tide of DC disappointment?

DC's interconnected cinematic universe hasn't gotten off to the best start; three films headlined by some of the biggest characters imaginable have struggled from a critical standpoint, with the double whammy of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad in 2016 testing the patience of ardent fans, myself included.

As such, a lot rests on Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, a film that casts Gal Gadot's Diana Prince back to her origins for a period film centred on the Great War. Thankfully Wonder Woman is both a sharp course correct for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and an all-round fantastic superhero movie in its own right.

Wonder Wonder kicks off with an extended prologue set in Diana's idyllic island paradise of Themyscira. A lush Ancient Greece-inspired nation populated by strong warrior women called the Amazons, Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), whose pacifist ideology contrasts with that of her sister Antiope (Robin Wright), a fierce commander who pushes for rigorous training and preparedness.

After a mysterious American spy called Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his biplane into the calm waters the surround the island, the Amazons and Diana learn of the brutal war that is raging across the world and killing millions. Diana, forbidden from joining the fray by her mother, sets off with Steve regardless, determined to seek out and destroy Ares, the God of War who she believes to be the root cause of the war.

Look! A DC film with actual colour!

The brilliance of Jenkins' film stems from its clearly defined three act structure and character arcs. We begin in the warm embrace of Themyscira and learn of the myths and history behind the Amazons before being thrust into a much bleaker and muddier world when Diana arrives in London and later the Western Front. We witness her growth from childhood right through to her first moments as a hero and beyond, with Allan Heinberg's screenplay not missing a single important beat or moment along the way.

This means the film feels rather long, stretching out to nearly two-and-a-half hours in fact. But I honestly can't think of anything that could be cut or trimmed; one the best elements of this film is that it frequently takes a moment to pause and focus more on its characters than the action. Some of the best scenes are the quieter dialogue-driven scenes, such as when Diana and Steve share a drink and slow dance with the townspeople of a liberated French village. A lengthy scene where Diana and Steve banter back and forth about 'biology' is also a highlight.

When the time for action does come, it soars because we've come to know and care about the characters. The sequence where Diana steps out into No Man's Land is destined to attain iconic status already, up there with some of the best superhero action beats put to film. It's a moving and compelling moment on both a narrative and an emotional level.

This emotionality works because the performances work too; Gadot is charming and radiant as Diana, and the relationship Heinberg's script forges with Steve works because of both the writing and the onscreen charisma and rapport with Pine. They positively buzz with energy and sell even the silliest of fish-out-of-water moments, like when Diana is blown away by how good an ice-cream tastes and tells the vendor he "should be very proud".

Jenkins' most obvious touchstone for this film is Richard Donner's original Superman film, not just in themes and tone (like Superman, this Wonder Woman film is bereft of cynicism and brooding), but also some direct homages, such as one moment where Diana is challenged with walking through a revolving door.

Rupert Gregson-Williams' soundtrack tingles with urgency and energy too, weaving Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's riff from Dawn of Justice into the aural soundscape through tribal drum beats as well as offering something more uplifting and hopeful.

My only gripes are minor. Like most superhero films, the villain (or in this case, villains) are undercooked. Danny Huston and Elena Anaya don't really pack a punch like you would hope and some of the specifics of their plan are poorly explored or just plain cartoonish.


The Verdict: 8.5/10


Leave it to a woman to clean up the mess left behind by the men. Wonder Woman is the film DC fans have been hoping for and its a triumphant and long overdue first at-bat for one of the most iconic superheroes of all time. Gadot is terrific, Pine a fantastic squeeze and Jenkins dishes out emotion and action in equal measure.

Wonder Woman is in cinemas across Australia now.

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