By Jack Dignan
I have an admittedly strange relationship with the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU for short. As a big comic book enthusiast, I naturally get excited for all their upcoming properties, even with certain hesitations or uncertainties. The franchise kicked off with Man of Steel, a film I loved upon first viewing, but soon grew to like less. It remains, in my eyes, a good movie, but not a great one. Then came Batman V Superman, the much anticipated follow-up that tried to ambitiously take on more than it could handle in a desperate catch up to Marvel. It garnished mixed reactions from fans and critics alike, but personally, I think it's an excellent movie, the Ultimate Edition especially. Then there's Suicide Squad... I've talked about this film with so many different people that the thought of the movie quite literally exhausts me. Remember that time I gave it a glowing 5 star review? Hah. So do I. Oh, how caught up in the hype I was. And wrong. Very wrong.
Through all its many inconsistencies, I, and many other fans, remain cautiously optimistic for DC's upcoming slate of movies. DC is not only responsible for some of the most intriguing, powerful characters in comic book history, after all, but they have a pre-DCEU track record for making some of the greatest superhero movies of all time. Remembering the past keeps our slim glimmer of hope for the future alive. Their latest, Wonder Woman, had to be good. DC and Warner Bros. needed this film to work. If they were to disappoint for a fourth time in a row, especially with a character as iconic as Wonder Woman (who fans have been waiting to see on the big screen for decades), then all hope for this franchise's future would be lost. While Wonder Woman isn't without its flaws, this is a step in the right direction for the DCEU, and if it bodes well at the box office, which it most certainly will, this could definitely be their much-needed game changer. Welcome back, DC. You've been missed.
Superman is dead. A hero has fallen. But in his absence, new heroes have returned to the light, one of those being Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). While working in London, post-Batman V Superman, a gift arrived in Diana's office, sparking up memories of her first arrival in the country. Her journey is depicted as one, massive flashback, introduced and concluded by voice over from Diana herself. She was once a young girl, the only child in all of the faraway, well-protected and entirely female island of Themyscira. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nelson), is reluctant to have the young Diana trained, fearful of what she might become, but that doesn't stop the eager princess. Under the guidance of General Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana becomes the island's fiercest warrior, but her skills are put to the test when an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), washes up on her shores telling of a war to end all wars.
Having grown up listening to stories of gods, Diana believes this war to be the doing of Hades, the god of war. Hippolyta wishes not to get involved, banning Diana from travelling with Steve to put a stop to the fighting, but Diana disagrees. Innocents are dying. The world is in chaos. She can’t stand by as all the violence ensures. She needs to do something, and that’s exactly what she does. Breaking her mother’s orders, Diana ventures out from the safety of her always-sunny island and into the murky, overcrowded, war-ridden streets of London, readying for a fight against Hades, who nobody seems to believe actually exists. But while this is all going on, and while Diana is befriending Steve’s bouncy secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), the real villains are coming to power. General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) are in development of a gas that, if used effectively, could bring death to all their enemies, creating a swift victory for the German forces, if it doesn’t kill them, too.
With 75 years of comic book history behind her, and an already loyal fanbase, DC had a lot to draw from when creating Wonder Woman’s first live action movie, and they deliver in all the ways fans have been eagerly anticipating. The story is big and epic, appropriate for a character as iconic as this, but it does something unexpected with its material. It’s something refreshing, especially for a film that could just as easily have gone for a more formulaic superhero story. There are no swirling rings of trash in the sky, nor the typical end of the world scenario. It’s a small-scale approach to a big-scale plot. Wonder Woman is faced with endless challenges, set in a World War 1 environment, similar to that of 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. She’s tested in more ways than one, but the core villain aspect of the plot sheds slightly away from what we’ve come to expect in these multi-million dollar superhero epics.
Wonder Woman sees a personal story for Diana, more along the lines of The Dark Knight trilogy than more recent efforts such as Man of Steel. It’s a conflict of good and evil, as well as the corruption of mankind, but it’s delivered in a way that makes the main villains almost unnecessary, and thankfully so as they’re all drastically underdeveloped and clichéd. They’re not as important to the plot as, say, most of Marvel’s movies. They lay the groundwork for the story being told, and its messages of love and the pointlessness of war. There’s evil on both sides, something Diana refuses to believe as the horrors of war unfold around her. Her affection for Steve Trevor plays heavily into these, as he’s a solider who lies and manipulates on a daily basis. The Germans are portrayed as the bad guys, but it doesn’t necessarily make everyone else the good guys, either, and that’s why this a step above what audiences are prepared for.
This ideology, an accurate one at that, played heavily into last year’s mega blockbuster Rogue One, as well. It’s interesting to compare the two, as they are, in certain aspects and thematics, similar. At the same time, however, they’re two completely different movies, and Wonder Woman stands on its own not just in the world of comic book adaptations, but general movies. It’s not action sequence after action sequence, even with an absolutely chilling and kick-ass ‘No Man’s Land’ scene, instead taking its time in establishing these well-known characters. They allow you to care for them. Characters from Themyscira fail to invest, most of their scenes lengthy exposition followed by an animated montage, but it’s the people fighting in the war that we really care about. Diana is a powerful character, seeing the world through a naïve, fish out of water mindset. She wants the best for everyone, not yet understanding the cost of her actions in the real world. Throughout the course of the movie, she develops, more so than any recent superhero. By the time the film comes a close, she’s developed into the woman we first met her as in Batman v Superman.
As someone who’s read Wonder Woman comics before, I had a general idea of what was to go down in this movie. It’s an accurate adaptation of the wonderful, colourful source material, but even knowing the gist of what’s to come, the plot is still full of surprises. 2017 has been a year jam-packed with emotional comic book movies, whether it’s Logan, which left everyone in the theatre in tears, or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which was far more sentimental and moving than any MCU film before it. Wonder Woman is added to that list, and rightfully so. Due to its somber, quieter approach, it allows for a deep connection to these characters, especially the relationship between Steve and Diana, which resonated and affected me deeply. Gadot and Pine have great chemistry, most evident in a laugh-out-loud funny boat ride to London, where the two get to flex their comedic timing while reflecting on their own tormented pasts.
Patty Jenkins returns to the director’s seat for her second feature film, after guiding Charlize Theron to her first Oscar win in 2003’s Monster. Jenkins works the camera like magic, bringing a fierce intensity to the war sequences, as well as beautiful simplicity to the quieter moments. Shot on 70mm film and heightened by a noticeably elegant score, Wonder Woman is a gorgeous movie to look at, elevated through practical set pieces and a frequent orange glow, reflecting that of the movie’s stunning teaser posters. There’s an over abundance of slow motion, occasionally used even when not necessarily, and the odd visual effect here and there didn’t fit in with the surrounding environment, but even with its technical faults, Wonder Woman continues the trend of stylized DC movies. No matter what your opinions are on the DCEU thus far, there’s no denying that each film is moulded using a distinct visual style, differentiating itself from the movies that came before.
Wonder Woman isn’t necessarily my personal favourite DCEU movie, but it’s destined to be the best received. The screenplay is where this movie falters. For the majority of its runtime, which doesn’t feel nearly as long as it is, the screenplay works. The story being told and the characters involved are each distinct and wonderful, but the execution can occasionally fall flat. Humour is never forced in, which is a very good thing, but it’s used to varying degrees of quality. There are some genuinely hilarious moments, however a one-liner every so often fails to match the tone of the movie. “I’m both frightened and aroused,” says one of Steve Trevor’s loyal friends after seeing Wonder Woman take some men down in a bar with zero consequences, yet it’s one of the few lines that doesn’t fit. It’s not forced; it’s just not good. Also, I feel it should be noted that this marks the first time I think we’ve seen a penis gag in a DC movie, and it’s surprisingly handled well.
Keeping up the trend of the DCEU movies that came before it, Wonder Woman is far from perfect. Some of the effects and the writing could use some touching up, and while it does an admirable job at making this film less about good vs. evil than other superhero movies, it’s hard to avoid mentioning the over the top villains. But really, at its core, they’re not as important as they should be, especially in relation to the plot. This is the first live action Wonder Woman film, and for all its flaws, it’s an immensely entertaining and satisfying movie experience that should hopefully lay the groundwork for a more diverse future in the world of comic book movies.
3 1/2 Stars
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