Some issues aside this is a decent, and by far the best, effort from the DCEU. I’m finding it hard not to discuss this without going into some specifics, but seeing as nearly everyone has seen this already…… SPOILERS!
Wonder Woman tells the story of Diana Prince, one of the legendary Amazon race of women, hidden away from the world by the god Zeus after his son Ares wiped out all the rest of the gods. When all round good guy Steve Trevor crashes his plane into the sea surrounding the island, Diana rescues him and the myth of the outside world, and men, becomes a reality to this youngest of Amazons. Unfortunately hot on the heels of Steve the spy are the no good Germans, instigating a battle on the shores of the island during which Diana’s aunt and combat trainer, the legendary warrior Antiope, sacrifices her life to save Diana from one of those newfangled bullet things. From here Diana is set on going out beyond her island paradise to stop this War (World War I), as she believes it is the rogue god Ares, God of War, that is causing this. And so begins her adventures into the real world……
And the split between mythology and realism is that stark, one moment we are on Themyscira, the next we are in London. Diana tries her best to hold onto her beliefs (mainly that Ares is the cause and destroying him will be the solution to the War). Once you get your head around the gods and mythology that are rampant on Themyscira, you can start to enjoy the film. But even after this understanding it is still a strange mix of realism, superhero and mythology. Because of this mix it never reaches the heights that it possibly could, rather than choosing one of those themes and running with it. I did enjoy the action sequences involving Wonder Woman, particularly No Mans Land and the Veld town attack but a lot of the rest of the film left me wondering what could have been. Also, I couldn’t get behind the love story between Diana and Steve, I felt that it was unnecessary and it is exacerbated by the fact that Diana doesn’t really show her full powers until she has lost her love, as if it is all down to the effect of a man on her. Now this is totally out of sync with the ethos of the film and Wonder Woman in general. When Diana arrives in London she doesn’t give two shits about all the men in lofty positions and their hierarchies, she speaks her mind and is obviously the most able/clever/driven but yet she becomes more and more subservient to Steve as the film progresses? Really?
And the whole film is about her pursuit of Ares in the belief that destroying him is going to end the war, but at the same time Steve is preaching that Men are inherently evil and maybe it has nothing to do with Ares but the fact that mankind is fallible. Great we get the dichotomy, but then to flip everything back on itself, Diana kills Ares and everyone is happy and friendly instantly, men once fighting each other are now hugging and relieved that the fighting is over. No messages of peace or treaties being signed, no time lag just instantaneous gratification. Confused messages much? To further emphasise this we have the question of whether Diana is a strong independent woman as she is on the island and into London, confident in her ability and proud to stand up for herself or, as the film progresses, if she is dependent on the love of a man? It is a real conflict and I can only feel that it comes from weak writing.
I am in no way begrudging having a female superhero, or even a female directed superhero film. It is great to finally have such a different viewpoint on a fundamental level and different thoughts on how a superhero film should be, but I think all of this is let down by the writing. Patty Jenkins’ direction is really well done but Zach Synder’s influence (see Batman vs Superman, 300/300:Rise of an Empire) is all over this. unfortunately dragging this back into the male realm when it should be standing proud by itself. Scriptwriter Allen Heinberg has written for some pretty decent, female-centric TV shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) but between them they have managed to take a powerful woman and allow her to be corrupted, made her dependent on a lesser male counterpart. Thinking about it, those aforementioned shows may have strong leading women but they all have a weakness for the men in their lives and the same is apparent in this film, which is a shame.
On the plus side, Gal Gadot is absolutely superb as Diana, embodying the power and poise of an Amazonian warrior. She had it as the standout performance in the woeful Batman vs Superman and it is evident here again. Chris Pine plays his role well (always seems to be the hero does our Chris), Danny Huston is slightly over the top as the embodiment of the “enemy” General Erich Ludendorff. David Thewlis, where to start? He is a really good actor, albeit in mostly similar roles from the films that I have seen, knowledgable yet inherently weak in some way and this role is no different. Maybe it is that obvious contradiction that appealed when they decided that he should be the God of War. It is a strange choice but he comes across well to begin with but the ending is where it really lets the film down. He isn’t believable as Ares to me, the final fight was so out of place with the rest of the film it was almost comedic watching it unfold on the screen, and I’m sure that wasn’t the desired effect that they were going for. I had the feeling that he was a far more dangerous opponent when he was playing elusive and conniving, untouchable. How do you fight that even with all the best training in the world?
All in all, it is the best film from the recent DCEU stable but it isn’t perfect. A fresh look and some fresh ideas (instead of just transplanting the ideas from one film into another) would give this franchise (and it will be a franchise, which I am very happy about) a real shot at becoming something special. I believe that there are enough writers out there who would be able to give Wonder Woman the sort of story that would inspire young girls to be proud of who they are and believe that they can do anything that they want to, without the need to be subservient to men, or systematically defer to them. As the father of a daughter I don’t want her to only be able to watch films that show her that, even in this film with the strongest of women, she is not able to succeed without the input and assistance of some male counterpart. That to me isn’t who Wonder Woman is.