I’ve seen some good films so far this year – LEGO Batman, Beauty and the Beast, Logan – but none of them were really special. I certainly wasn’t expecting Wonder Woman to surpass them, especially considering the track record of the DC Extended Universe: Man of Steel was passable but bland; Batman v Superman was a muddled, depressing disaster; and Suicide Squad had some good performances which were overshadowed by bad creative decisions. Now, following a limited role in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman sets out to reverse that trend in her first ever solo movie – which even has a female director, Patty Jenkins. Long story short: this movie takes an unbelievable step up in quality compared to the DCEU’s previous efforts. It’s easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
The film takes us back to the formative years of Diana, princess of the immortal Amazons, living in an all-female society on the hidden island of Themyscira. Outside their sun-lit boundaries, World War I is raging – which the Amazons only discover when an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), inadvertently crosses into their kingdom. Upon learning about the war outside, Diana wants to go and help, convinced that Ares – the Greek god of war and mortal enemy of the Amazons – must be behind the conflict. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Diana sets out into the world alongside Steve, on a journey that will teach her much about the good and bad of humanity.
While this film could have ended up feeling too similar to Thor with its fish-out-of-water protagonist, or Captain America: The First Avenger with its wartime setting, it avoids this and instead has a fresh approach all of its own. Nor does it place too much emphasis on a pro-feminist message like the direct-to-DVD animated Wonder Woman movie; the nature of man’s morality, and the need to stand up for something even when the world is against you, get more focus as themes. Aside from Diana’s indignant responses to the casual sexism of the period, the film is content to let her actions speak for themselves without needing to wave a flag saying “GIRL POWER!” in the audience’s faces, and that feels very refreshing.
The two main characters, and the actors playing them, are great as well. Gal Gadot’s Diana goes through an interesting progression through the film, which is what helps to make it so compelling even though it’s set in the past and we needn’t worry about her getting killed. Her views on humanity start out as overly simplistic and optimistic, assuming that Ares is solely responsible for her corruption and killing him will automatically end the war; naturally, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, it would have been easy to portray Steve Trevor as the overly cocky, self-assured type – particularly as he’s played by Chris Pine – but instead he’s more modest and morally motivated.
As with the other DCEU films, the cinematography is quite faded and grim for most of the film; but given that it’s set in World War I, that actually works. Not to mention, it forms a stark and effective contrast with the colourful and sheltered Themyscira that Diana chooses to leave behind for the darker world of man. And unlike those other films, while Wonder Woman is appropriately serious most of the time, it delivers a dose of fun too. Scenes like Diana trying on contemporary clothing, and the team of misfits that Steve pulls together to accompany them to the front, make for good comic relief. Armed with her sword, shield, Lasso of Truth and bullet-deflecting bracelets, Wonder Woman provides some action scenes which are brilliant even when compared to the glut of superhero films we already have; the scene of her striding across No Man’s Land to the German trenches is especially awe-inspiring. Before that, her fellow Amazons get to take on some German soldiers on the beaches of Themyscira, pulling off fighting moves that would leave Legolas feeling inadequate. The music is really epic too, following on from the dramatic Wonder Woman theme that we got a taste of in Batman v Superman.
There’s very little to count against this movie. It did feel a bit long at 2 hours 21 minutes – Diana only leaves Themyscira about 40 minutes in – but it never becomes a chore. And there are still little hints of the DCEU’s bleaker approach to adaptation, such as the expository tale which reveals that all the Greek gods are dead except Ares, and the fact that once Diana leaves Themyscira, she can apparently never return. I don’t know much about the comics, but neither of these is the case in the animated movie.
So, the world finally has a good DCEU movie, and a good superhero movie with a female protagonist. But Wonder Woman is far more than that; managing to be entertaining, emotive and meaningful, it ranks among the best superhero movies ever, and you really should go and see it. Rating: 4.5/5.