Wonder Woman truly soars, but it’s been a long and troublesome journey to get here.
After Christopher Nolan’s excellent Dark Knight trilogy took audiences and critics by storm, the ride through the joyless Phantom Zone of Warner Brothers’ DC film adaptations has been turbulent to say the least. Throughout our cinematic journey, we have encountered swirling, apocalyptic, blue beams of mediocrity and we’ve been swallowed up by CGI space bugs of pure, Hard Light excrement. But now, a brief history lesson. The trend of DC films being sub-standard began in 2011 when Warner Bros. made their disastrous first attempt at starting a shared DC cinematic universe with their infamous box-office bomb Green Lantern. As a result of this film’s failure, Warner Bros. scrapped Ryan Reynold’s hopeless franchise and went back to the drawing board. By the time their next attempt, Man of Steel, was released in 2013, DC’s chief competitor Marvel, had already released seven successful films in their interconnected cinematic universe, including the record-breaking team-up blockbuster that was The Avengers. Also, Fox’s X-Men franchise was back on track too with its aptly named ‘First Class’ prequel. And yet, Warner Bros. were still struggling to get out of the starting blocks.
So the pressure was on Zack Snyder’s Superman adaptation to finally kick the DCEU off with a bang. Unfortunately, despite the fact that there was no shortage of explosions in Man of Steel, Snyder’s Kryptonian spaceship didn’t really take off with the critics and it was greeted with less of a ‘bang’ and more of a resounding ‘meh’. Primarily, the reaction was so mixed because of its lack of character development – especially for its main protagonist, Superman himself. This of course carried over to Henry Cavill’s second outing as the character in 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, where Superman continued to exude all the charisma of a rich tea biscuit and the Warner Bros. executives behind the film were so eager to catch up with Marvel, that they crammed in as many of their big characters as possible at the expense of telling a coherent narrative. Then, last year we had Suicide Squad. Again, I was not particularly impressed – especially when it came to their depiction of The Joker. However, despite my own disappointment at the first three DCEU films, these opinions were by no means shared by everyone. In fact, there were huge differences between the critics’ and the audience’s responses to these films – with the fans tending to enjoy them much more than the reviewers. So, the question is, does Wonder Woman finally bring peace to these warring factions of filmgoers? Well, in short, yes. At least it would appear so as the film currently stands on a stunning 93% critic score and 92% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Surprisingly, Wonder Woman may have just convinced me, too.
In terms of the characters, whilst many of them are still the basic archetypes that we are used to seeing in superhero movies: the fish out of water deity (as seen in Thor), the suave American spy, the evil German scientist, the humorous side characters and the big CGI final boss fight, the likability of the main characters is where the film truly shines. Director Patty Jenkins’ decision to spend a lot of time on quieter, character-defining moments heightened the emotional investment that I felt in the big set-pieces and action scenes. To me, this was a huge relief as it seemed that the DCEU had finally learned from their mistakes. In Man of Steel for example, when rich tea biscuit man fought General Michael Shannon, I could not have been more bored as I was not invested in either of the CGI action figures that were slamming into each other. Conversely, because of the onscreen chemistry between Gal Gadot’s Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and the balanced, well-rounded script, I actually cared about these characters when they were put in danger. Whilst Pine is his ever-likeable self, Gadot asserts herself here as a strong emotional and physical presence on-screen – never feeling out of place in action scenes, comedic scenes or romantic scenes.
Many have compared Jenkins’ film to Richard Donner’s Superman due to its joyous tone and faultless casting. However, the similarities do not end here as there are many visual allusions to Donner’s classic which demonstrate that the campy, 1978 Superman was a key influence on the film. This sets Wonder Woman apart from the earnest and grim mood of Man of Steel and Batman V Superman and the cringe inducing wackiness of Suicide Squad, which makes a refreshing change. In fact, I would like to see more DC movies take on such an optimistic, colourful worldview. Furthermore, in terms of setting, the interesting mash-up between the world of Greek Gods and the horrors of the First World War also makes Wonder Woman feel unique amongst the other DC films. Additionally, this finally proves that DC does not need to rely on Batman or Superman to create successful, entertaining films and that a female hero can easily carry her own movie. As a result of this film being so progressive, it actually draws attention to the shortcomings of the DCEU’s competitor, the MCU, which has yet to release a female led movie in its 15-title history. Adding insult to injury is just how well Jenkins and co. execute Wonder Woman’s cinematic solo debut which makes it unclear how Marvel will respond.
Whilst nothing is perfect, it is actually hard to find anything wrong with this film. Wonder Woman is great for what it is: a solid comic book movie with enough character moments for you to care and enough ‘Go Wonder Woman! Punch the bad guys in the face!’ moments to keep you on the edge of your seat. If I had one criticism of the film, it would be that it is quite quite conventional in its narrative structure and thus, it can feel rather predictable as a result. Also, I wish that the writers had found some way around the CGI boss battle trope for the final act of the film, like last year’s Doctor Strange with its cataclysmic, super epic, universe-shattering ‘bargaining’. However, in this case, the battle is not as unnecessary as some because there are valid stakes in this super-powered clash. To conclude though, Wonder Woman is the first DCEU movie that truly understands why people go to see blockbusters. To have a fun, enjoyable time! If Justice League is anything as good as Wonder Woman, then this could be the beginning of the DC age of movies. *Sighs* I’m not holding my breath…
4.3 star-studded tiaras out of 5