Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis
Released: 2nd June 2017 (UK)
Reviewer: Van Connor
The First Lady of comic books finally reaches the big screen as Wonder Woman finally receives the cinematic outing fans have been crying out for ever since they made to believe a man could fly in 1978. By virtue of having full-fledged characterisation and a coherent fleshed-out storyline, it’s far and away the best DCEU outing yet. And though that may sound like damning praise, it really isn’t; as Wonder Woman just so happens to be the single best female-driven superhero movie the genre has literally ever produced.
Reprising her third-tier role from last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Israeli actress Gal Godot is the eponymous princess of the Amazons in this wartime comic-book roll that effectively sits on the conceptual and tonal halfway point between Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Behind this wondrous woman though stands an even better woman in the form of Monster helmer Patty Jenkins, and – while David Ayer and Zack Snyder might have buried their respective DCEU instalments under a staggering volume of macho posturing – this lady’s not taking her (all too rare) blockbuster opportunity for granted, and indeed kicks the crap out of both as regards spectacle, character work, and outright technical proficiency.
Her silver screen debut sees Princess Diana leave the idyllic (and female-only) island of Themyscira following the arrival of downed pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Carrying key information that could help turn the tide of “the war to end all wars”, Diana decides that it is her duty to swap her paradise-like land without men for the literal No Man’s Land – departing with Steve to aid him in his mission, and to seek out the evil god Ares, whom she believes is behind the darkness engulfing humanity.
Assembled with a surprisingly quirky tone by screenwriter Allan Heinberg, proceedings are anchored by a startlingly top-of-her-game Godot, who carries both herself and Heinberg’s screenplay with a previously unseen charm and a wry wit. Selling the heck out of the fish-out-of-water elements without ever playing it too dumb, Godot nevertheless excels in the more revelatory moments which see her Diana faced with – what, from her perspective, is shocking – humanity’s ability to be darker than the evil she’s only been told of in stories. Godot’s always been a serviceable performer with a pretty face before, Wonder Woman sees her absolutely worthy of the star billing.
Pine too gets the chance to exude a level of charisma denied him in previous blockbuster efforts by other more extraneous character traits – the arrogant streak of his Captain Kirk, for example, the chauvinism of his This Means War role, the dullness of The Finest Hours, to name but a few – but here, sharing some captivating chemistry with Godot, Pine finally looks somewhat like the star he’s always been unduly marketed as being. His supporting troupe of pseudo-Howling Commandoes too – Ewan Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Saïd Taghmaoui – a treat, though underserved by far too little screen time. If there’s a weak link in the bunch (excluding a certain piece of casting that outright screams an eventual reveal far too long in advance), it’s Office star Lucy Davis, whose comic-relief character not only serves so little a function as to be completely irrelevant to the film as a whole, but also plays as if it’s been lifted straight from a Richard Curtis comedy and feels so jarring as to be a straight distraction.
Also hindering matters is the continuation of the DCEU’s unwielding love affair with pre-impact CGI slow-downs and grim dark aesthetics. The former quickly grows tiresome, and continually weakens the strength of Jenkins’ otherwise gloriously staged combat sequences – take note, this is a film in which violence has genuine heft – while the latter comes on the heels of a first act that truly shows off the glorious visuals of Chronicle cinematographer Matthew Jensen, and feels nothing short of a tremendous letdown in an otherwise shockingly good time. Yes, a good time – this is the first entry in the DCEU canon that will elicit an actual smile from its audience and allows its characters to enjoy the kind of cutesy moments Marvel fans have long taken for granted. You’ll laugh with this one, not yawn at it; and that it’s got such interesting characters – all of whom are allowed genuine on-screen growth – is a big part of that.
Sure, Wonder Woman’s a tad overlong at two hours and twenty minutes – and could easily have been a tidy two hours had someone thought to excise Davis’ almost embarrassing character and a wholly unnecessary Affleckless “but we know Batman!” bookending mechanism – but it’s a superhero film that knows its limitations and nonchalantly kicks them to the kerb anyway. It’s the single best superhero movie ever to sport a female lead – c’mon Marvel, get Black Widow ready now – as well as a solid, robust, and rompingly enjoyable period piece fantasy flick. It took four goes to get it right, but the DCEU finally made one stick – proving once and for all that you shouldn’t send the men to do a lady’s job.