Thursday, 1 June 2017

Wonder Woman - Movie Review

Before beginning this review I’d like to start by offering my condolences to Zack Snyder (late, I know, as it broke last week but this felt like the most appropriate places to say this) for the loss of his daughter Autumn, who committed suicide. Though I’ve railed on Snyder many a time for his films, especially in the DC Cinematic Universe – and my opinion of those films won’t change – I feel great sympathy for his tragedy and I respect and understand his decision to step down from directing the finishing stages of Justice League to cope with his loss – this is a situation that I wouldn’t wish upon my bitterest enemies. Finally, it seems obvious but it bears repeating – if you or somebody you know and love are feeling depressed don’t hesitate to talk to somebody and seek help, find a way to get yourself out of your bad place.

With the seriousness out of the way, let’s dive into this review…

A film adaptation of The First Lady of Comics has been wedged in development hell for quite some time. The earliest rumblings came in 1996 with a project that would have been directed by Ivan Reitman and later developments lead to the rumours of Sandra Bullock being the frontrunner for the part. After that went nowhere at all, Buffy and Firefly creator Joss Whedon was rumoured to write and direct a movie in the mid-2000s but he departed also before he could complete a script. Even my old arch-nemesis Paul Feig stepped into the ring, proposing making the film an action-comedy (thank Christ he didn’t do it, we likely would have seen Melissa McCarthy as Wonder Woman – which is a scary concept). The film started to become a bit more solid as Michelle MacLaren, director of many an episode of Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, was hired to direct, but creative differences led to her dropping out. Thankfully not long after that Monster’s Patty Jenkins stepped up to the directing plate and the film got a release date, continuing through without incident to become the fourth instalment of the DC Cinematic Universe.

Now we finally have Wonder Woman’s solo film, better late than never. We caught a good glance of Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character in her extended cameo in Batman v. Superman and she was one of the few highlights in that turgid film. In this film we follow Diana, a feisty Amazon princess who lives upon the mysterious island of Themyscira, an enchanted land created by Zeus in order to protect the Amazons from malevolent God of war Ares. Trained by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) in the event that Ares should return, Diana’s life changes when she rescues American Air Force Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who crash lands near the island. Upon learning that Trevor is fighting in the First World War Diana sets off with him, believing that Ares is behind the chaos and tries to stop him, a task that includes defeating General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his assistant Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) from setting off a new deadly form of mustard gas to kill the Allied forces.

Much has been made of Wonder Woman being a much lighter toned film than the previous entries into the DC Extended Universe (Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad), shining more light and hope into the dour and gloomy franchise. The film certainly isn’t devoid of darker moments; it is set in World War I after all and it would be amiss if some of the horrors of the war were absent. It’s overall a bit darker than its closest point of comparison Captain America: The First Avenger (also a period piece superhero movie set during a World War). As a whole, however, Wonder Woman is a beacon of hope in the DCEU with a much lighter spirit to it. There are far more moments of good humour in this film, for instance; much of it comes from Diana’s fish out of water nature in the world of man, her bemusement over certain traditions that humanity has and her wide eyed excitement at parts of life such as dancing and snowfall. This helps to give the film a far brighter and therefore much more enjoyable spirit than previous DCEU films and when it gets dark it doesn’t feel too forced and dour like the previous films.

It helps even more that the film is much more simple and streamlined. Compared to Batman v. Superman, which had plot strands hanging all over the place, and Suicide Squad, which felt like it large bits of it hacked out and was edited in a dreadful manner, Wonder Woman has more of a one-tracked plotline and very few parts of the film feel extraneous. As such the film feels far shorter than its 141 minute runtime would indicate, proving that sometimes less can be much more. Additionally the action scenes in this film are some of the best of the DCEU. Of particular standout is Diana’s walk across the trenches in No Man’s Land and the subsequent battle afterwards to liberate a Belgian village – the scenes are shot with great intensity and excitement and though there is a fair bit of slow motion it works in favour with some moments, such as with Diana kicking a soldier right out of a window. This makes the film an enjoyable action romp all the way through.

If Gal Gadot had any doubters following Batman v. Superman she can easily end all of their worries as she performs admirably as the title character. Her strength in fighting and determination of her character are all well and good but it’s more interesting to see the side of Diana that’s more full of wonder, and sometimes horror, with the new environment around her. Gadot demonstrates a far more comedic side to the character without ever surrendering an ounce of her badass credentials. She also has solid chemistry with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, who himself does solidly in his role as a pilot desperately trying to end the War. Good comic relief comes in the form of Lucy Davis as Trevor’s jovial secretary Etta Candy and Ewan Bremner as Charlie, the Scottish sharpshooter that forms part of a team with Diana and Trevor on their mission to stop Ludendorff. Speaking of which, the baddies are a little one dimensional but Huston in particular is having a tonne of fun with his part. Finally there’s Ares, whose identity I won’t reveal here. His motivations are again a little one note – he believes that humanity is a blight on the face of the majestic planet that Zeus created and wants to bring it back to perfection. It’s a standard motivation for a villain but the actor playing him does his part with such gleeful menace and his final fight scene with Diana is an absolute blast, relying on psychological trickery in addition to fist fighting.

Overall, Wonder Woman is exactly the shot in the arm that the DC Extended Universe needed. To say that it’s the best film in the DCEU isn’t exactly showering it with praise given how bad the prior films were but it really rises above those films, being the best live action DC movie since The Dark Knight, and even comes to the heights of some of the very best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wonder Woman shows that taking on a somewhat lighter tone is greatly beneficial to these films as it manages to get these heroes to inspire hope into audiences and leaves them having had a great and positive time in spite of some of the darker moments. With the action being great, the cast solid and the story being far better for being much simpler, Wonder Woman shows that’s life yet for DC on the big screen. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this but – bring Justice League the hell on!

Wonder Woman – Directed by Patty Jenkins, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, produced by Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Charles Roven and Richard Suckle, starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, David Thewlis and Connie Nielsen. A DC Films/Cruel and Unusual Films/Atlas Entertainment/RatPac Entertainment production, a Warner Bros. film

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