I’ve seen Wonder Woman for the second time now. The first was on release day, and the second was a week later. I fully intended to see The Mummy, but at the last minute, I choked; I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t justify spending sixteen dollars on a ticket for a movie that could be — for all I knew — amazing, but had the potential to be anything but. (At the time of my publishing this, it has become clear that the latter is the case.) Watching a movie that was not as good as Wonder Woman, while this perfectly synthesised historical fantasy epic was playing in a room a mere hundred feet to my right, was simply something I could not stomach.
Wonder Woman, prior to its release, had a labor of Sisyphean proportions to complete. The poorly received Batman Vs. Superman and Suicide Squad left a lot to be desired in terms of movie quality, although I must confess, I enjoyed both films immensely. Nonetheless, I recognized the need for some critical acclaim, and for the universe to be taken seriously. I don’t actually mind morose, brooding heroes, but for the time being, they had to go.
Thankfully, Wonder Woman delivers on all fronts, with perfect amounts of action and organic humor, but also a story that is an entity of its own. Wonder Woman is merrily free of any universal setup. I remember the days when I sat through a full fifteen minutes of credits to see a thirty-second clip at the end of Captain America, but this time around, I rejoiced at the absence of anything other than names rolling up a screen. Really the closest we get to any hint of an interconnected universe is a Wayne Enterprises truck, and an email sent to Bruce himself.
Wonder Woman features an excellent cast of Chris Pine, Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, and David Thewlis, all of whom perform to levels of immaculate perfection, Gadot and Pine especially. Pine’s character, Steve Trevor, is the perfect foil to Gadot’s naive and sheltered warrior of peace. He reacts to her absurdities not with disbelief or wide-eyed wonder, but with a calm acceptance. When she imparts the story of her creation to him — “I was sculpted from clay and brought to life by Zeus,” — he simply answers, “Well that’s neat”.
I was extremely relieved that Trevor was not written to be a bumbling buffoon, fawning over Diana and balking in need of her protection. He is her equal; she just happens to be the hero of the story. This phenomenon really speaks to the philosophy at the core of this movie. Director Patty Jenkins has not given us a case for why women should have prominent roles in movies, or a vehicle of revenge on Hollywood for years of second-rate female characterisation. It simply goes about its business as if movies with strong female characters are the norm; the way these things ought to be.
For all the celebration of Zack Snyder’s lack of major involvement in the direction of Wonder Woman, Jenkins does rip out a considerably large page from his book in her shooting of the action scenes. With liberal use of slow motion and integrated CGI, Jenkins asks us to sit in awe of the feats of legend happening all around. Every flip Diana executes, every toss of an Amazon’s dagger, and each beautiful explosion is rendered in exquisite detail. We see wide takes of most of the action sequences; the days of Chris Nolan’s quick-cutting shaky cam fights are all but forgotten here.
The landscapes and palette of Wonder Woman are also beautiful. The bright colors of Themiscrya clash perfectly with the muted industrial London landscape, and the smoky battleground of the German front. The sandy beaches and shimmering water emphasize the divide between Diana and the world of humankind, which is characterized by death and muddy trenches.
The team assembled for the movie’s mission is a compelling one. There are of course, Steve and Diana, the former the team’s official leader, and the latter the de facto one. There is the team’s tracker, known only as the Chief, and Sameer, a master of disguise, who’s true passion is as an actor. Finally, there is Charlie, a marksman who really never shoots. His arc is an incomplete, but fascinating one. One night after a battle, we see him singing and playing the piano. The people of the village begin dancing, Diana and Steve included. This is a sweet reminder of the world that exists when war isn’t happening, and serves to highlight Diana’s true motivation. She isn’t fighting Germany, although many a soldier seems to be caught on the wrong end of her blade. She is really fighting against war itself, personified in the film’s antagonist, Ares.
In the film’s midpoint battle sequence, a liberation of an occupied German village, Patty Jenkins deftly showcases Diana’s various strengths and abilities. She leaps through a stone wall and brutally decimates the ranks of the enemy with sword, shield, and kicks — many many kicks. The fight moves back to the ground level, and the band of heroes is threatened by an armored tank. I expected Diana to cleverly breach a chink in the hull’s armor to throw in an explosive, or leap on top to cut through the roof with her sword. To the amazement of all watching, within the movie and without, she simply leaps over and overturns the behemoth with her bare hands. Wow.
Throughout the movie, Diana is bent on finding and killing Ares, which she believes will liberate men’s minds, and allow them to stop fighting so the world can be at piece. She sees general Ludendorff and the power he has as a clear indicator that he is in fact, Ares in human form. In what feels like the film’s climax, she finally kills him with one dramatic sword thrust. Nothing happens.
This is the point at which the film does something interesting. Diana, shocked by the lack of indication that the globe-spanning coflict has ended, is surprised and crestfallen. Steve Trevor tries to explain that maybe it isn’t Ares, but humanity instead that is the cause of all conflict. Diana won’t have any of it. This was a fascinating concept, and still is. We see the loss of innocence in Gadot’s eyes as she realized that man is not perfect, and that her mission has been a sham all along. Had the movie ended there, it would have been perfect. So unconventional and unexpected, this would have been one of the boldest and most creative thing to have been done with a superhero movie. The film keeps going; not neccessarily to a bad ending, but to a considerably less thought-provoking one. The film concludes with a half hour action setpiece that, while not really neccessary, is enjoyable nonetheless.
Understand, Wonder Woman isn’t “an important” movie as rallying call of empowerment or any of that nonsense. It is quite simply a great story of heroism, and though it is empowering, it does not in any way appear to favor either gender. It is a movie that, in addition to being the DCEU’s best constructed vehicle, is a solid story about valor, sacrifice, and love. Here’s hoping that the next entries in the franchise live up to this one’s example.