Wonder Woman’s success is an odd thing. It isn’t really a surprise, all the trailers looked solid, it had a bunch of talented people working on it, and Gal Gadot was like, literally the only good thing in Batman v Superman. But, at the same time, it comes from the gibbering clown factory that is the DC Extended Universe, and while there are still a few signs of the taint that the WB/DC Alliance exudes like a black, ichor-esque smog, Wonder Woman manages to emerge as a pretty damn fine movie in its own right, if one somewhat over-hyped due to the aforementioned taint-escaping and it’s not to be underestimated position as the first movie centered on a female hero in the current era of superhero dominance.
And that is something worth talking about. Because of its importance as a cultural milestone, partly as the first widely praised thing to come from DC’s until now disastrous Extended Universe experiment, but mostly because of its being a landmark pioneer of female-led movies and a genuine step forward in the issue of women’s representation on screen, Wonder Woman is being hailed by many as a masterpiece of superhero cinema. And it really isn’t. It’s good, and I feel I need to stress that, it’s really good, but it’s not amazing. (Wonder Woman’s fantastic approach to portraying women in film has already been covered here, better than I ever could, so I’ll get down to talking about the movie itself.)
The plot is centered around Gal Gadot’s Diana, the titular Wonder Woman, reminiscing about her past. From growing up as the Princess of the Amazons on the lost island of Themiscyra, to meeting the first outsider ever to arrive on the island, Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor, to travelling with Steve to help him bring an end to the First World War, and put a stop to the machinations of the sinister General Ludendorf, and his crazed chemist Dr. Maru, who seek to snatch German victory from the jaws of defeat. Diana, believing Ludendorf to be Ares, the God of War whom the Amazons were created to defeat, in disguise, also seeks to destroy the deity once and for all, thus freeing Mankind from his corrupting influence.
It is not a movie without flaws, I’ll just say that up front. The screenplay is fairly sub-standard, dotted with the standard superhero clichés, and often just missing the point on some of its big sweeping emotional moments. But, frankly, outside of Guardians of the Galaxy, basically every Superhero movie ever made has suffered from clunky dialogue, and it certainly never gets near the unfathomable direness of Suicide Squad, and is more or less on par with stuff like Thor 2. Besides, it’s largely redeemed by some pretty excellently executed fish-out-of-water humour when Diana and Trevor are getting to know one another, and when Diana arrives in London for the first time.
The action is all stuff we’ve seen before, the first act stuff is basically Immortals without the gore, (Seriously, if you haven’t seen Immortals, go see Immortals, it’s a freakin’ trip.) The second act is pretty much borrowed wholesale from Captain America: The First Avenger, up to and including Diana’s use of a shield, and the Third Act is pretty standard superhero action stuff, really. But it’s all so fantastically presented that you don’t really mind.
Patty Jenkins’ direction is the thread that holds Wonder Woman together. Even at the film’s rare slow points, each shot is so fantastically composed, each fight, each sweeping landscape shot, be it of Themyscira’s Elysian hills, or the muddy hell of the Western Front, is so expertly presented that you are only too willing to forgive what flaws the film has. That this is Jenkins’ first time directing not just large scale action, but any kind of blockbuster cinema whatsoever, makes it all the more impressive that she so soundly knocks it out of the park.
The acting is another stellar feather in Wonder Woman’s Cap. Gal Gadot brings buckets of Charisma to Diana, and Chris Pine can basically do the ‘Comic Relief/Love Interest’ bit in his sleep by now, but there also some real standouts among the supporting cast, too. Said Taghmaoui’s lovable rogue Samir is thoroughly enjoyable, and Ewen Bremmer of Trainspotting fame brings some real depth to what initially seems to be a rather stereotypical ‘Mad Scotsman’ routine. As far as the Bad Guys are concerned, Danny Huston provides a menacing performance as General Ludendorf, his homicidal fervour perhaps understandable when one remembers that human beings made him act in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Elena Anaya is fantastic as the preposterously named ‘Dr Poison’, basically acting like a G.I. Joe Villain in the midst of an otherwise serious superhero movie, and helping to provide perhaps the funniest scene in the movie when Steve Trevor attempts, briefly with horrifying success, to flirt with her.
And therein lies the secret to why Wonder Woman is good, and why it breaks away from the dismal standard set by its DCEU compatriots. It’s actually willing to have a little fun with itself. Rather than hamstring the entire movie with the same boring grim and gritty aesthetic that has ruined every single DC film since The Dark Knight, (which, along with Batman Begins, remains one of the few examples of that bit working) Wonder Woman is actually able to have a bit of fun with itself, embracing the wild and crazy notion that an audience who came to see a movie about an immortal Greek goddess in a leotard violently bludgeoning hordes of crazed Prussians might actually be expecting to enjoy themselves. It is a little tragic that ‘innovating’ for DC basically just means ‘catching up to Marvel’, but nonetheless, Wonder Woman’s more light-hearted tone is a huge part of what makes it a success where previous DCEU films have failed.
Ultimately, Wonder Woman is a good superhero film, about on the level of the assembly line products that Marvel has been churning out in between its bigger releases. Professional, slick, and thoroughly enjoyable, as a film, it’s nothing special, but in the wider world of cinema as a whole, it is made more important due to its meta status as a pioneering example of the wider role women can and should play not just in films, but the making of them too.