Film: Wonder Woman
Director: Patty Jenkins
Running Time: 141 Minutes
*This review contains spoilers*
Founded in 1934, only a year after the first ever comic was released and five years before Marvel were founded in 1939, DC were amongst the first to introduce the comic phenomenon to the world. Despite their chronological lead over their competitors, Detective Comics have fallen someway behind in the world of cinema, as nearly all films affiliated with the company have been on the receiving end of negative reviews – a fact to which Jim Carrey’s Riddler or Jared Leto’s Joker can attest. Struggling against the behemoth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC’s extended universe boasts only four films following the reboot of Superman with Man of Steel in 2013. Films such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016) promise to change the direction of the franchise, steering away from the extensive catalogue of Batman movies. The small number of films in the new DCEU, alongside the long list of films preparing to go into production suggest a real intention to develop and grow apart from their shaky beginnings. However, like all latecomers to the party, there is some awkwardness about their arrival; friends are happy they’ve arrived, acquaintances are unsure what they’re doing there, and there is an overwhelming sensation that all the fun has been had, all the nibbles have been reduced to crumbs in the bowl, and those that have been there the longest are ready to go home to bed.
Continuing the metaphor, Wonder Woman (2017) is a film that breathes new life into the party for DC; mixing up the play-list and opening up a few windows to let the second wind blow in. Jenkins’ direction offers strong female leads as a stark contrast to Ayer’s vicious sexualisation of female characters in Suicide Squad – No more are the female characters tokens for sexuality, no more is femininity exaggerated as a foil for the heroes’ masculinity, and no more do the viewers expect to be exposed to sexually awkward scenes of Margot Robbie undressing in a crowd of affection starved men. Instead, the Amazonian warriors of Themyscira demonstrate that women are capable farmers, warriors, mothers, daughters, and friends and can coexist harmoniously without wondering what Superman thinks about them.
Creating a link to the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Diana (Gadot) receives a letter from Bruce Wayne which includes an original photograph of her fighting alongside Captain Steve Trevor (Pine), The Chief (Brave Rock), Sameer (Taghmaoui), and Charlie (Bremner) in World War One. From here, the photograph enables an analepsis which retells the story of her origins in the idyllic Themyscira and cements her validity as a member of the Justice League independent of her counterparts.
Growing up amongst the Amazons, Diana trains to become a warrior and, unaware of her powers, idolizes the sword she believes is the Godkiller – a weapon bestowed on them by Zeus to defeat Ares should he ever return. However, when a sparring accident occurs that reveals the extent of her abilities, she is shunned by the other warriors and runs to the beach becoming increasingly aware that she does not belong amongst them.
Pursued by the German Navy, Steve pilots a crashing fighter past the protective shield masking Themyscira and crashes into the clear blue sea surrounding the island. When he washes ashore, he is briefly cared for by Diana until the fleet of Germans discover the ‘portal’ between their world and that of the Amazons. Whilst Steve recovers from his injuries sustained at the battle on the beach between the well-armed Germans and the Amazon, Hippolyta (Nielson) and her Amazons struggle to decide his fate. Jenkins’ takes this opportunity for a relationship between Steve and Diana to develop through creative repartee; casting Trevor’s manhood into doubt and demonstrating that the sheltered women of Themyscira might be unaware of the outside world but are far from ignorant.
When Steve tells the council, under the influence of the lasso, that he is a British spy reporting on the work of the chemical weapons developed by Dr. Maru (Anaya), Diana interprets ‘the war to end all wars’ as the influence of Ares and insists on leaving with Steve to defeat him. Arriving in London, Jenkins’ utilizes Diana’s confusion with the world outside her own to satirize the social restrictions placed on women in the turn of the century, especially the aesthetic-over-practicality approach to fashion.
There are moments, particularly during the war scenes, that Wonder Woman is overshadowed by her all-male counterparts and the film comes across as being about Trevor educating Diana and restraining her emotional responses rather than her quest to defeat Ares. It is during these same moments that the film fails to offer anything particularly new or original to the superhero genre and relies on hiding behind dates and times of the war to avoid action-intense trench warfare and competing with Captain America’s origin story. It is a well-known fact that soldiers spend a lot of time waiting for orders, waiting for enemy attacks, and waiting to be relieved by other battalions, but it seems that Diana’s arrival in the trenches coincides with these periods of waiting often enough for it to be disappointing, especially when Diana’s involvement in the war is viewed as central to her introduction in the photograph that Bruce finds of her.
When Ares is finally revealed, not to be General Ludendorff (Huston) as suspected, but Sir Patrick Morgan (Thewlis) of the British Military Intelligence, the pace of the film grinds to a halt. It is partially the misfortune of typecasting that Thewlis fails to be an effective villain, and partly because the ‘expect the unexpected’ factor was so great that not only did the viewer fail to suspect him as Ares but it was almost disappointing that it wasn’t Ludendorff or a German general or anyone other than Professor Lupin. Even when Ares dons his undeniably impressive suit of armour and Diana is revealed to be the Godkiller, the fight scene comes across as a little stagnant. Compared to the multitudinous examples of superhero showdowns, boss fights, and final battles the tussle between Ares and Diana is one that will be, ultimately, forgotten.
Overall, Wonder Woman (2017) – for all of its minor faults – should be considered as an overwhelming success for the DC Extended Universe and appears to be the first serious contender to the throne which Marvel has held uncontested since Iron Man (2008). The treatment of its female characters has improved drastically since Suicide Squad and has set a standard of expectation that the rest of the franchise should adhere to strictly, especially with Ayer behind the wheel with Gotham City Sirens. If Wonder Woman is anything to go by, Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins might well have restored a little faith that the Justice League can be more than a second-rate Avengers.