Monday, 5 June 2017

Wonder Woman

(M) ★★★★

Director: Patty Jenkins.

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis.

The sword doubles as a backscratcher.

Finally, DC has got it right.

For the first time since it launched the DC Extended Universe, the comic book powerhouse has released a good film. Sorry - not just a good film, but a great film.

It's absolutely ridiculous to think filmmakers could dish up three bad films in a franchise before getting one right. It used to be the other way around. Take for example, Transformers and Pirates Of The Caribbean - two series that have pretty much sucked aside for film #1. But no, this is the movie-watching world we live in now. Man Of Steel, Batman Vs Superman, and Suicide Squad made enough money and weathered the critical storm well enough to avoid sinking the DCEU before it got around to launching a decent movie.

As stated, Wonder Woman is more than just a decent movie. This is a character that has long deserved her day in the sun and now that the sun is out, it shines very brightly.

Gadot stars as Diana AKA the eponymous superhero - a princess of the Amazons, a race of demi-gods meant to protect mankind from the wrath of Ares, God of War. But with Ares long gone and humanity proving to be incorrigible, the Amazons have existed in solitude, quietly hiding from the real world.

But the arrival of a soldier (Pine) and the discovery that WWI is raging beyond her island home's idyllic waters awakens a desire inside Diana to do good and be a warrior like her people were intended to be, whether humanity deserves it or not.

This central theme - whether humanity deserves to be saved or, indeed, whether it can be saved from itself - is key to Wonder Woman's success. Man Of Steel swung for a deep thematic level and missed by dumbing itself down too far (and Batman Vs Superman just whacked itself in the head with the bat), but Wonder Woman hits a home run. Its themes are central to who Diana is, and who Pine's Steve Trevor is, and how they both fit into each other's world.

It makes both characters interesting and well-rounded. Diana's naivety and almost childlike examination of war, mankind and its idiocies make her a fascinatingly flawed and charmingly hilarious character, offsetting the indestructibility and infallibility that makes Superman such a bore in Man Of Steel. Trevor is equally intriguing, with Diana's presence giving him his own naivety as he realises the complexities of the war-torn world make no sense. Add to this the fact Gadot and Pine are great and have wonderful chemistry.

But it's this understanding of theme and character that make this the first DCEU success. On top of this, the dialogue is naturalistic and fits the characters, the movie doesn't talk down to its audience too much, and it sets about telling a good story in a strong, straight-forward manner. For some reason, this approach has eluded DC's brains trust until now.

Credit must go to Allan Heinberg's intelligent and traditional script, and Jenkins' solid yet powerful direction. The latter takes some of Zack Snyder's directorial tics but keeps them watchable, particularly in the fight sequences, which are masterfully done. Combining stellar stuntwork and some excellent CG, Jenkins delivers action scenes that never lose the audience or get lost in the edit.

The film is not perfect. There are some laboured moments, including the drawn-out conclusion, and some silliness that doesn't quite fly, although the script does do a pretty good job of making Wonder Woman's stranger elements (like the lasso of truth) work. Thankfully there is no sign of the invisible jet (or is there and I just didn't see it because it was invisible?).

There are also hints of what has come before. Its demi-god-among-men set-up is reminiscent of Thor, and its ragtag racially diverse wartime Dirty Half Dozen is very similar to Captain America's Howling Commandos. There's also something a bit Hellboy-ish about its German adversaries, particularly Dr Maru (Anaya).

But by and large Wonder Woman is its own thing. It feels fresh in an overcrowded market. In its own DCEU market, it boasts a better sense of humour than its predecessors but fits into the tone of the franchise. In fact, it sets the bar for the franchise in terms of tone, as well as pretty much everything else.

There are many great side effects of Wonder Woman being an awesome film. It means the DCEU might finally find its feet, and we can have some hope that Justice League and Aquaman will be good.

But best of all is the idea Hollywood may realise a female-led actioner or superhero movie can be a good thing. After Elektra and Catwoman, it felt like no one had the courage to try again, and if Wonder Woman had failed, it would have been curious to see if Marvel persevered with its upcoming Captain Marvel. Now that Wonder Woman is awesome, maybe we'll finally get a Black Widow film, or a She-Hulk film, or perhaps Harley Quinn could hold her own movie without having to be part of a team.

Set these broader issues aside though and one thing shines through - Wonder Woman is a damned good superhero movie, because it remembers to just be a damned good movie.

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