WONDER WOMAN – a review by JJ Heaton

Starring: Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6), Chris Pine (Star Trek Beyond), Connie Nielsen (The Devil’s Advocate), Robin Wright (The Princess Bride), Danny Huston (Children of Men), David Thewlis (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Lucy Davis (Shaun of the Dead)

Director: Patty Jenkins (Monster)

Writer: Allan Heinberg (The Catch)

Runtime: 2 hours 21 minutes

Release Date: 1 June (UK), 2 June (US)

Whilst I have yet to outright dislike any of the films in the DC Extended Universe so far, I will admit they have all had gaping flaws. Their characters lack charisma and development, their tones are grim and messy, and their stories have been convoluted and undercooked. But despite all this, I have remained optimistic because they do get enough right; their films have been visually fascinating, have a grandiose scale befitting of the god-like characters they present, and whilst their execution has been haphazard their goals have been mostly sound.

Whatever your opinion, a lot has been riding on the performance of Wonder Woman. Not only does it have the stigma of being a DCEU film, but female-led superhero films have been unanimously terrible in the past; their quality has had nothing to do with them being female-led, but it is a pestering statistic nonetheless. However, I am glad to say none of these supposed impairments have any affect on the final product. Wonder Woman is a triumph of a movie in many facets, and no matter your opinion on DC or the superhero genre in general you owe yourself the joy of witnessing it.

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In terms of the basic story elements of Wonder Woman, it doesn’t do anything astoundingly original. The film owes its most obvious inspiration to Superman in terms of structure and scale, but it also shares similarities with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger along with borrowed elements from non-superhero fare like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan and 300. But with these familiar pieces has been crafted a film greater than the sum of those parts, telling a story not only more than worthy of the character but also of our times.

Not since Richard Donner’s progenitor of the genre has a superhero film felt like a cinematic epic, telling a tale of morality and strife in very broad but also cleverly nuanced strokes. It is a film of tremendous length but of even greater pace and entertainment, balancing out its varying elements of drama, action and comedy with impeccable craft. But Wonder Woman’s greatest strength should come as a relief to those dismayed by DC in the past: it’s fun and hopeful. Sure, it has some intense moments of darkness, but it balances it out with an optimistic flair that carries you through those moments. If I have any faults with the story, I will say that the third act isn’t as spectacular as the first two, but that complaint feels pedantic in the face of everything the movie does peerlessly. When all is said and done, I doubt you will find a blockbuster more engaging than this during this summer movie season.

Gal Gadot was one of the brightest stars to emerge from Batman v Superman, but her appearance there was brief and doubt still loomed as to whether she could carry a movie on her own shoulders. After seeing her in action, I can say she not only carries the movie but she holds it up as strongly as the tanks she throws around in battle. Again to make the Superman comparison, Gadot plays the role of Diana with the same grace and authority as Christopher Reeve, embodying both the strength and sensitivity that makes Wonder Woman such an iconic character. Her optimism and naivety do often get the better of her but they are also the qualities that motivate her, and the journey she goes on in this film epitomises the advantages and disadvantages of that outlook. She ranks up their with the best protagonists of the genre, and I am eager to see where they take the character from here.

But in another move taken right out of the Donner playbook, Gadot’s supporting cast help elevate her and the movie even further. Chris Pine makes for an excellent Steve Trevor, delivering not only a charming and swaggering performance that Harrison Ford would approve of, but also serving as a wonderful counterpoint to Gadot. Not only do they effortlessly exchange banter and chemistry, Trevor’s realist outlook helps to both ground Diana but also creates conflict; one is determined that they can definitively end war, but the other knows it’s not that easy. Connie Nielsen is excellent as Diana’s mother Hippolyta, providing our hero with the grace and courage she needs, whilst Robin Wright’s Antiope gives her the physical strength to be a warrior.

Even the smaller side characters are fun and memorable, which is afforded to them by the talent playing them. Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui and Eugene Brave Rock make for a colourful band of soldiers Diana and Steve embark on this quest with, and Lucy Davis provides some fun comedic relief as Etta Candy. If there are any faults on the character side, it is in the usual area for superhero films: the villains. Danny Huston and Elena Anaya are fairly broad antagonists as General Ludendorff and Doctor Poison respectively, but deliciously so and in a way I think was intentional, whilst big bad Ares is satisfying once he finally shows his face but his screen time is imbalanced compared to the amount of build-up they give him.

After three DC films with muted palettes and dreary modern environments, it’s refreshing to see Wonder Woman embrace colour. The film’s first act in Themyscira is gorgeously realized on the scale of Thor’s Asgard with ancient architecture and luscious greens, whilst Wonder Woman’s stunning costume shines brightly against the murk and dirt of World War I battlefields. Speaking of battle, the action sequences here are incredibly well staged and choreographed. There is a lot of CGI and Zack Snyder-style slow motion involved, but at all seamlessly flows with the motion of combat filled with soon-to-be iconic moments. The score by Rupert Greggson-Williams is also phenomenal and filled with the bombast required of such an epic, incorporating the already iconic theme established for the character in Batman v Superman into much more classically heroic pieces of orchestral music.

Wonder Woman is not just the first great female-led superhero movie or the first great movie in the DC Extended Universe, but an astounding example of modern blockbuster filmmaking in general. Patty Jenkins and her crew have pulled off here a film that is both the quality all films in this franchise should aspire to and the benchmark for every superheroine flick in development right now. It understands its main character and their intrinsic philosophy better than many of its genuinely good peers, all buoyed by Gal Gadot’s star-making performance that all women who pick up this mantle in future interpretations will be judged by. It is not a film that is necessarily impactful because of what it does, but because of how it does it and who is doing it. So to those of you reading this who have been disillusioned by the DCEU or have little interest in the genre entirely, Wonder Woman is the film that may sway your opinion. Make this film the success it more than deserves to be and break every preconceived notion about women in blockbuster cinema in the process. It has been a long time coming…

FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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