I’ve made it no secret how disappointed I’ve been in the films of the DCEU. Whilst Man of Steel was pretty decent, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were absolute disasters, two of the worst comic book films ever made and the worst films I saw last year. All the hopes for salvaging the DCEU rested with Wonder Woman and I was apprehensive about this. Whilst I always wanted the film to be good just for the image of the highest profile superhero film with a female lead being good, the lazy way the character was introduced in Batman v Superman left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Thankfully, all my concerns about Wonder Woman are unfounded, this is the first great film in the DCEU.The film focuses on Diana, the princess of Themyscira, an island populated entirely by woman, the Amazons, as a haven from Zeus to keep them safe from Ares. During the time when Diana is the only child on Themyscira, she desires to learn how to fight from General Antiope, although her mum, Queen Hippolyta is against it, but she eventually relents. However, the utopia of Themyscira is disturbed in 1918 when American pilot Steve Trevor crashes on the island after being shot down by German forces. Under interrogation Trevor reveals the extent of World War 1 to the Amazons, with Diana certain that Ares is responsible for the war, resulting in Diana leaving Themyscira to try and stop the war, in particular preventing the use of poison gas by the German forces. Now whilst the description I’ve given of the plot does make it sound dark, this is actually the lightest film released in the DCEU so far. Whilst the other DCEU films have been bogged down in overly serious twaddle, this film remembers the importance of hope and love in superhero films. No other superhero film before Wonder Woman has embraced the ideas of compassion, hope and love in the same way and this quality helps Wonder Woman stand out from the crowd. The film also does a good job with it’s thematic weight and that is due to the World War 1 setting. The original origin story of Wonder Woman had Diana go into the world outside Themyscira during World War 2 but the way this film is set out, setting the film in World War 2 would not have worked. A good chunk of Wonder Woman is devoted to showing the horror and ugliness of war, how both sides of war can commit atrocities and be motivated by greed, this side of the film helps give some thematic weight to the DCEU that it hasn’t really had until now. Now the elements of the film concerning Themyscira and the Amazon, I don’t think I’m fully qualified to talk about, as a man, I know that my reaction to these elements of the film are different to the reaction of women, as much as I enjoyed the elements of the film on Themyscira (and they are some of the best parts of the film), my reaction will not be as pronounced as that of women watching the film and seeing an all women utopia, and the image of Themyscira alone is why we needed Wonder Woman.
The performances meanwhile add to the charm of the film. After Batman v Superman, I was wary of Gal Gadot as Diana, but after watching that, I have to chalk up that wariness to bad writing in Batman v Superman. Gadot’s performance here is filled with so much joy at everything around her that shows the good of the world, this is a character for whom eating ice cream is a transcendental experience. However, Gadot also shows a darker side to Diana through her growing realisation at the horror of war and how the world is not as black and white in morality as she’s been led to believe. Chris Pine as Steve Trevor meanwhile is also incredibly charming, giving off the right tone for the character, being great comic relief and showing understanding of Diana’s skills, along with having great chemistry with Gadot, best seen in a scene with the two on a boat heading to London. On the villain side, Elena Anaya and Danny Huston as Dr Poison and General Ludendorff respectively are underdeveloped (to service the development of Diana) but they are having fun in the roles and that fun goes to the audience. For Themyscira meanwhile, Connie Nielsen gives an imposing performance as Hippolyta showing a caring side towards Diana whilst never letting you forget why she is the queen of Themyscira, whilst Robin Wright is just a complete badass as Antiope, I can’t really explain it, just look at footage of Wright in the film and you’ll instantly see why. Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock are also solid as Trevor’s allies in the war, each showing a different way in which war has damaged them. Lucy Davis meanwhile gets some good comic relief moments and David Thewlis makes a strong impression, although to explain why would be to spoil the film.
On a technical level, the film is highly impressive. The production design of Themyscira is incredible, doing a great job at creating a utopia inspired by Ancient Greek architecture, setting up the whole nature of Themyscira compared to the rest of the world in 1918 in seconds. This is aided by the costume design as well, in particular the Wonder Woman armour worn by Gadot throughout the film, which adds a great deal of colour to the darkness of the DCEU whilst simultaneously looking intimidating and practical for the environment of Themyscira, the contrast between the costumes on Themyscira and those in London helping enforce the gender inequality seen in London in the time. The costume design also shows why it was important for a woman to direct this film. If a man directed it, then the costumes and the way they were filmed would be filled with sex appeal, in particular upskirt shots. With Patty Jenkins at the helm though, this is avoided, the costume being shown as practical at all times. Speaking of Jenkins, her direction of the action scenes is incredible. There’s clear scene geography at all times, the way the guitar riff in Wonder Woman’s theme is used in these scenes is excellent and there are so many instantly iconic shots in the film that will make Wonder Woman an instant icon in the realms of action films, in particular a brilliant set piece in which Diana goes into No Man’s Land for the first time, showing the full reveal of the armour and the weapons, the way each weapon is utilised being efficient and powerful, with special praise having to go to the stunt team and choreographers for these scenes.
Overall, when I went into Wonder Woman I was feeling trepidatious. Considering the track record of the DCEU a small part of me was preparing for the possibility of the film being bad as soon as I walked out of Batman v Superman last year. However, under the stewardship of Patty Jenkins, it took less than 5 minutes for Wonder Woman to prove itself as the best film in the DCEU, with the potential of being one of the best pure superhero films out there. In a film series that has been filled with darkness, despair and just a mean spirited streak, Wonder Woman proved that the DCEU can have dramatic themes without losing sight of what has made the characters stay in the public consciousness for decades: love and hope.
My Rating: 5/5