When it comes to super hero movies, Warner Bros. arguably set the standard back in 1978 with Superman starring Christopher Reeve in the title role. Even after they fell off the track with several sequels, they bounced back in a big way with 1989’s Batman starring Michael Keaton. Since that time several more films about the Dark Knight had been released, as well as the successful trilogy by Christopher Nolan, but for a studio that also owned DC Comics, there was no major effort to actually build a cohesive cinematic universe. Meanwhile Marvel Studios emerged after releasing Iron Man and basically set a new trend in creating a canonical universe for the movies. Now back to Warner Bros. as they turned around and went for a re-boot of the Superman myth with Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel, a film that has been met with a great deal of controversy. That was followed up by the even more controversial Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just last year, and while many people heavily criticized its overly dark tones and complete lack of optimism, which Marvel understood and capitalized on, one of the shining moments in the film that pretty much all fans got giddy over was the presence of Wonder Woman.
Now Warner Bros. had to go for another movie, and some would say that they already had two strikes against them with Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice. A lot of people, mainly fans and industry insiders, were pinning their hopes that a truly great superhero movie could emerge from the embattled studio. Luckily for them, their hope and faith with Warner Brothers has paid off with Wonder Woman.
Starring Gal Gadot, and written by Allan Heinberg along with Zack Snyder, the studio went with director Patty Jenkins to steer this film, what we are given is a film that fits in nicely with the continuity and timeline established in BvS, and then allows us to journey on a phenomenal flashback detailing Diana’s life starting as a little child growing up on the hidden paradisiacal island of Themyscira, her desire to become a warrior, and her growing up to become the fiercest of all the Amazons there. Much like the comic book and all of the other renditions of this hero, everything changes for her when a pilot crashes just off the shores of their home, and as she rescues him she begins to learn of the terrible activities that are taking place around the globe. She leaves her home along with Steve Trevor in an attempt to end the war and bring peace to humanity. That’s where the similarities end, with probably the most striking difference being the historical setting for this film, that being World War I instead of World War II. One reason for this could be to explain why no one really knows of her as it was difficult to provide with plentiful historical evidence regarding her involvement with the war, something that plays out in BvS as Bruce Wayne starts his own investigation as to who this mysterious woman is. The other interesting diversion is Diana’s quest to find Aries, the Greek God of War. While the comic book has tied itself heavily with Greek mythology, none of the previous versions of the hero and the Amazons from the small screen did much leaning on that mythology. While these changes might cause some consternation among hardcore fans, most people will likely find them not only acceptable, but done with great respect in how they are presented in a way that does not really take anything away from the spirit of this superhero.
Stylistically this movie has some differing qualities than the two DC Cinematic Universe movies preceding it. The movie starts with some warm tones as we see an adult Diana working in a museum office (A curator perhaps?), and then switches over to Themyscira, and these scenes are absolutely stunning. The bright blue waters and some of the white cliffs do have a true sense of paradise about them, and we are treated to some wonderful scenery during all of this time of Diana’s life. It is when we leave this paradise and go to London that the film falls back on something that the previous two Warner Bros. movies did, and it’s something that I generally despise, and that is the “de-saturation” of the color. This creates a feeling that it’s almost always dusk, and even possibly a feeling of being grimy. Now I said that I generally despise this, and while that still holds true, I will give this film a pass on this technique because it serves as a great way to differentiate the world of the Amazons and the rest of the world of humankind. While the Amazons generally live in peace and harmony with their surroundings, the rest of humankind has been ruining and polluting the Earth with its industry, something which Diana makes a brief commentary on upon seeing London for the first time.
Another difference this movie has is its humor. Both Man of Steel and BvS were deadly serious, with virtually nothing to really smile about. However Wonder Woman, despite the seriousness of its plot, does have moments of levity, and both of those moments are during what I refer to as “fish out of water” scenes. When Steve Trevor first arrives on Themyscira he finds himself in a setting that is unlike anything he has ever experienced, and being the “above average” male he professes to be, finding himself on an island with beautiful, and terribly strong woman, certainly has its way of making him humorously uncomfortable. Then the tables are turned as Diana, in a beautifully told way of a person losing his or her own innocence, walks along mankind in a world that has changed and grown (not necessarily for the better) in ways that makes her very presence extremely awkward to say the least. After all, one does not go to a nice clothing store to get a proper wardrobe in order to fit in, and then try to leave brandishing both a shield and a sword through a revolving door.
This brings me to the casting, which is better than anything I could have ever hoped for, starting with our lead actress Gal Gadot. It’s difficult to say if her years in Israel helped to shape the way she approached the role of Diana, but her exotic beauty, not to mention her excellent physical skills with action sequences, gave Diana a truly unique quality that we have not had before. While the character has always been a strong, patriotic figure in the past, here we have someone who is not necessarily a friend of any government or military in war. Instead she gives us someone who is clearly an outsider whose only goal is to help mankind achieve peace. We also have Chris Pine (Star Trek) who comes in as Steve Trevor, and while there is nothing that people might consider Oscar worthy, he does present Steve as a patriot to his country. He clearly shows the shortcomings of this character, but he also gives a subtle transformation as his time with Diana helps him to discover the true strength of the human spirit. Pine also shows how good he can slip in to the role of villain if he so chose, as we are given one somewhat chilling moment where he pretends to be a German soldier, and the manner in which he does is absolutely perfect, even to the way he idolizes the sheer beauty of fire.
On the lighter side we have Lucy Davis who plays Etta Candy, secretary to Steve Trevor. She manages to play someone who bounces off the walls just a bit, but clearly has her wits about her at the same time, and all of her scenes were an absolute delight to watch. We also have Danish actress Connie Nielsen (Løvekvinnen, Ali and Nino) playing Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta. She plays the part of someone who bears the burden of rule, including that of a terrible secret that must never be revealed, and then there is the Queen’s sister Antiope, the trainer of all of the Amazon warriors played by Robin Wright (House of Cards). Wright has always played strong female characters, but each of them so differently that you never get the sense that you’re watching the same actress. The same applies here as for much of her time on the screen I felt that I was seeing someone who only bore a superficial similarity to someone I may have seen, but at the same time through her strength of performance, might actually be a newcomer to American Cinema. Now while there were many more strong characters in this movie (too many to mention), I must give a special nod to Elena Anaya as the villainous Dr. Maru. Her character is scarred and is therefore required to wear a partial mask throughout the movie. This could have been reduced to something cheap, comical and cliché, but Anaya never lets it get there. Instead we see someone who is almost terrifying. Maru is truly a psychopath here as a weapons designer for the Germans, and Anaya’s acting prevents the character from being a caricature. Instead she is dangerous, deadly, and oddly pitiful, all at the same time.
Wonder Woman is more than just a superhero movie. For sometime Zack Snyder had attempted a deconstruction of the superhero myth, yet he was never able to give it the resonance needed for fans to get behind. Jenkins, however, achieved that. Even though we are seeing a more “human” Diana, her strength as a character never wavers. Jenkins find ways to always remind the audience that whether she is just Diana Prince, or if she’s Wonder Woman, that she is forced to be reckoned with. Even as we finally get to see Wonder Woman unveiled (quite literally), it does in a magnificently iconic way, much like the way Superman saves Lois Lane and catches a helicopter in Superman, or the way Thor appears after he reclaims Mjölnir in Thor, or even the way we finally see the “Avengers assemble” while standing in a circle ready to take out the invading Chitauri, these moments are meant to just send a chill up and down your spine, and when Wonder Woman charges a field against Germans, I found myself not just getting a chill up and down my spine, but I felt a smile just grow on my face, and that was when I knew that I absolutely loved this movie.
Wonder Woman is finally the movie that DC superhero fans have been waiting for. It succeeds where Man of Steel fell short, and while it may not have that polished, glossy look that Marvel Studios has presented with us (which is not a bad thing), Warner Brothers has finally set themselves apart with something that is both different, but not necessarily depressing. While Captain America: The First Avenger tried to emulate some of the beats and stylizations of classic World War II movies, Wonder Woman makes a true statement as to the real horrors of war. We are aghast at what we see, just as Diana is, and yet she finds the will to persevere and win the day. The movie doesn’t take a cheap shortcut in having a man have to bail her out. She finds the strength within herself to defeat her enemy and save mankind from itself. Patty Jenkins, and Gal Gadot, have given everyone a true superhero, who also happens to be a woman. These are the characters that can inspire children that they can be better than they know, that little girls can see a woman who is both princess and righteous warrior. More than that, this move has given us something that not only speaks towards feminine strength, it speaks towards the potential nobility of all of mankind.
I give this movie 5 out of 5 lassos!
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