There is hope for DC and The Justice League yet.
Gol Gadot returns as DC’s Wonder Woman following nobody’s favourite superhero mash-up Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, with a stellar cast including David Thewlis, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, the now three-time comic book movie villain Danny Huston (see X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 30 Days of Night) and Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting‘s own Spud) in tow.
On the secluded island of Themyscira, Diana Prince strongly desires to become an Amazonian warrior, much to the disapproval of her queen and mother. When pilot and Allied spy Steve Trevor crashes through the illusory bubble that protects her gynocentric home, Diana leaves with Steve in her quest to destroy Ares, the god of war.
A much more coherent origin story than Man of Steel, Wonder Woman makes up for the glaring problems and heavy criticism following both Suicide Squad and Batman Vs. Superman, especially in regards to the technical and narrative issues that these earlier, universe-building movies exhibit. Plotting is much more consistent and far less contrived than the previous films, with this outing not reliant on an abundance of popular songs to drive much of the film as with Suicide Squad, arguably an incoherent montage of scenes and contrastingtones that probably sounded better and cooler on paper.
Spectacle and action are, of course, at the heart of the superhero movie, an essence that drives general audiences and comic book fans into seats without fail, regardless of heavy criticism from previews and early reviews. While this is the case, there is a point where this can be too much; there are only so many sky battles that Marvel can conclude their films with (though it seems like they have got the picture) and there are only so many generic, unexplained colourful light/lightening/laser/magic beams crossing that audiences can take. Wonder Woman‘s action sequences are stunningly composed and capably executed, backed by the rocky leitmotif of our heroine and dyed with a mixture of drab WWI greys complimented by the deep red and gold of Diana’s costume.
Wonder Woman, though slightly guilty of the latter during the final climatic sequence, strikes the right chord, somewhere between providing a clear, chronological and interesting origin story and demonstrating infrequent yet spectacular action sequences, wherein stunts and CG meld into wondrously awesome moments. Controlled cinematography and composed editing result in explosive segments that audiences can actually comprehend as events play out on-screen, as opposed to a blur of colour and obscene jump cuts, masking inefficiency and disguising ineptitude.
Without our leading lady to take command, this of course means very little. Gal Gadot fit the mantle well the first time around, and cements her position as the seminal super woman as we dive off the a cliff on Themyscira and wade through Wonder Woman’s backstory as she shares her past with new ally, Bruce Wayne. Gadot excels and then some in both action, stunts and choreography and in the more dialogue-driven, emotional and touching scenes, with amusement deriving from her journey through a world outside of her own.
Supporting characters are also given enough time to make them worthwhile. We realise their motives and sympathise with their plight as backed by The Great War, with Chris Pine putting forth a touching performance as the reverse-damsel of sorts, counter-balancing the driven main character with light-hearted human-humor audiences can recognise. As such, the pair work well to create a believable relationship that doesn’t feel tacked on for the sake of including yet another bore of a romantic subplot
The Word War I time-frame, setting and aesthetic boosts the overall uniqueness of the film in question, adding layers to an already intriguing story in a similar way that World War II adds to Captain America: The First Avenger‘s plot. This is, generally speaking, a hybridisation of genres, melting the superhero and the war film together in perfect harmony. It would appear that, as superhero movies continue to be churned out in an almost cookie-cutter fashion, it might do well to utilise this hybridisation technique within the more character-specific titles, especially considering the successes of superhero/neo-western Logan and superhero/comedy Deadpool, both of which are of course not even in the Marvel Comics Cinematic Universe.
There are only a few minor criticisms almost barely worth mentioning; exposition can get a little heavy towards the start of the film and elsewhere, but is pleasing kept engaging through, for example, a stunningly visual chapter that retells stories embedded in Greek mythology, instead of opting to exclusively bore us with dialogue alone. One may also see the major villain identity reveal coming from a few clicks away, but when is this ever not the case in the superhero genre? If you’re coming in for impressive plot twists and daring narratives, you are going to the wrong screen.
Subjectively, there is a level (and possibly quite controversially) in that the film is being overly applauded. Yes, it is indeed the best DC films and one of the better superhero movies to date, but in the current cinematic political landscape, with a large focus on women and minorities in film (which is fair and well) a superhero movie, any superhero, landing a 93% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes seems a little off. It feels as if there is some extent to which critics are over-compensating for certain dilemmas and issues currently facing the film industry.
This is not my donning of a cinematic tinfoil hat, as this is genuinely a good poporn movie as well as the fact that I, as a cinephile (I hate that title…), would contest any superhero film rated so disingenuously high. Perhaps, any DC movie without Zach Snyder helming at this point should be rated 10 anyway, just because ‘Martha!‘ This too could be down to mob mentality, as although Suicide Squad and Batman Vs. Superman are fairly poor films, they are perhaps not quite so deserving as such low a rating, suggesting that a domino effect after previews can hyperbolise the final score of a film, as I would argue has slightly occured here, only in reverse. This does not take away from the critical and commercial success of this refreshing, actually-good DC movie, it is a mere subjective observation.
Judged on its own merit, Patty Jenkin’s superhero movie is a wonderful rarity of A super-themed blockbuster. Judged against the DCEU films that have become before, Wonder Woman is the current Godfather (Godmother?) of the DC film franchise, the first step in the right direction to a more coherent, technically competent Justice League. Let’s hope that DC and Warner Bro’s capitilise on the success of this film, rather than using it as a respite, sandwiched between subpar superhero silver screen showings.
The Film Fanatic