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Movie Review
Wonder Woman:Wonderful by Comparison; Ordinary on its Own


Directed by: Patty Jenkins Screenplay by: Allan Heinberg Story by: Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs

 

Let’s establish this right off the bat: Wonder Woman is the best movie to have been released as part of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) thus far. That being said, Wonder Woman is not a particularly great standalone film.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, with a screenplay by Allan Heinberg and story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs, Wonder Woman is the first live-action theatrical film to star Diana Prince/Wonder Woman as a standalone superheroine.

When US Army Air Service Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on Themyscira, Princess Diana (Gal Gadot), the youngest and most powerful of the Amazons, finds and rescues him. When Steve reveals that the world beyond The Paradise Islands is being torn apart by a Great War, Diana defies her mother Queen Hippolyta’s (Connie Nielsen) orders and leaves Themyscira to stop World War I.

As Diana is introduced to Steve’s world, the film takes its time to flesh out her quirks and naïveté, using seemingly inconsequential moments such as seeing a baby or tasting ice-cream for the first time to emphasise her alienness. Her inhuman strength is tempered with vulnerability, and the bulk of the film is more of a coming-of-age journey than a superhero story. Director Jenkins’ fascination with Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) is evident in certain scenes, yet its departure from the original Wonder Woman origin story makes for a unique approach. That being said, this film is far from flawless.

There is a distinct division to Wonder Woman’s pacing: the pre-interval half plods along to the monotone timbre of colourless acting, awkward pauses and persistent bids at flat humour. As Steve Trevor steers a guileless Diana around 1918-era London, there is a lot of room for good comedy. While this potential is a welcome reprieve after the exposition-heavy Batman v Superman (2016) and the equally nonsensical Suicide Squad (2016), it ends up hampering rather than aiding Wonder Woman’s plot progression.

Early 20th-century London is faithfully reconstructed through meticulous production design (Aline Bonetto) and polished cinematography (Matthew Jensen). Period clothing (Mariam Bey) is mostly authentic, save for some outfits (one particularly hideous fur coat springs to mind) that are historically inaccurate. Themyscirian costumes are impeccable, and Gadot’s armour appears to have been improved upon after her appearance in Batman v Superman.

Before they can embark on their ambitious mission to end the war, Steve and Diana decide to recruit two utterly useless comrades (Saïd Taghmaoui as secret agent Sameer; Ewen Bremner as sharpshooter Charlie), and a third equally inept companion (Eugene Brave Rock as Chief) somehow emerges to join them. With a little assistance from the kindly Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), this incompetent crew then proceeds to follow Steve Trevor as he follows Diana Prince, who does all the heavy lifting. Together, they determine that the formidable General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his evil chemist, Doctor Poison/Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), must be defeated in order to stop the war.

It is almost painful to watch Chris Pine and Gal Gadot struggling to form some semblance of onscreen chemistry. Pine’s comedic timing is spot-on, though, and he quickly establishes himself as an integral part of this film. Supporting characters such as Steve’s secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), are handed several openings for humour, yet these attempts fall short in both timing and delivery.

In an effort to distinguish Wonder Woman from Zack Snyder’s Broody McBat versus Scowly McSupes snooze-fest, Heinberg and Jenkins have worked in so many shots at comedic relief that the first half hour is not something to be laughed to, but rather a thing to be laughed at

While there is some action in the beginning of the film, combat is rather repetitive (Christopher Clark Cowan). Worse still, editing (Martin Walsh) is glaringly choppy in the first twenty minutes, and the Amazons are depicted as dim-witted acrobats rather than immortal warriors. Eight-time world boxing champion Ann Wolfe's potential is completely ignored in her role as Artemis, and Robin Wright's General Antiope is lukewarm at best. Cleary, the movie doesn’t start out very well, though there are a few scenes – such as a Renaissance-inspired animation that is compelling in its atypical style – that are praiseworthy. Even so, these sparing moments are not enough to satiate viewers through the dull first half.

Like a sputtering engine that eventually comes to life in fits and starts, the film finally launches into a battle-heavy second half. Post-interval, Wonder Woman is rife with combat, CGI and explosions, though it must be said that this is an inexcusable amount of time for a superhero film to showcase some gripping action.

While Gal Gadot is certainly an impressive figure in real life, she fails to channel this onto the big screen. In spite of having been cast over four years ago, Gadot is still not in ‘Wonder Woman’ shape. While it is unwarranted to demand that an actress in 2017 bear the same physique as her animated counterpart, it is reasonable to expect that she at least look like she can hold the part of one of the most powerful female characters of all time. Sadly, Gadot continues to disappoint in this sphere. Nevertheless, she is a mostly effective Wonder Woman (attributed in some part to stuntwoman Georgina Armstrong), but her deadpan delivery and lack of comedic timing make for a terrible Diana Prince.

In one particular scene, when Gadot has the opportunity to really let loose and allow the tragedy of her situation wash over her, all she does is hold her hair and scream – unconvincingly – whilst staring, dead-eyed, into the distance. The only thing that effectively expresses the devastation of the moment is Rupert Gregson Williams’ evocative soundtrack. Like with Batman v Superman, Hanz Zimmer/Junkie XL’s rousing ‘Wonder Woman’s Wrath’ theme song is arguably the best moment in the entire film.

Heavily marketed as a ‘feminist flick,’ Wonder Woman is modern Hollywood’s first female-led superhero film. Rather than tell the story of Diana Prince and simply be, however, this movie hammers in the gender bias of the 20th century at every opportunity. In its many attempts to highlight the feminism theme, the film will likely end up repelling the audience it is trying so desperately to impress. There was a lot of pressure for Wonder Woman to not only ‘save’ the DCEU but also bring female representation into the live-action comicverse, and the resultant tearing seams are apparent. 

At one point, it is almost as if Jenkins has turned the DCEU’s Wonder Woman into the story of a clueless Princess who travels to London and falls in love with a human in four days. While we’re at it, let’s not forget absurd moments such as Steve and Sameer being permitted to enter the German Army base because a security guard is uncomfortable with holding up a queue; Etta Candy strolling around town with a sword and shield as police stand and watch her from behind; or characters jumping from one set to the next with no context or logic to the change in location. Worst of all, when Wonder Woman predictably wins the final boss fight, any resulting goosebumps and hanging jaws are instantly nullified by horribly cheesy dialogue that will put off even the most dedicated of fans. If it weren’t for Gadot’s likable grin and twinkling eyes coupled with fantastic visual effects (MPC) and keen direction, it is likely that this film, like the rest of the DCEU’s efforts, would have crashed and burned.

While Patty Jenkins strives to distinguish her work as a postfeminist depiction of Wonder Woman's inspiring journey, the film is still plagued by the same issues as its DCEU forerunners: an implausible plot, underdeveloped villains, and head-scratching scenes that halt rather than advance the story. There is a fine line between canon elements and live-action embellishments, and some of Wonder Woman’s exaggerations are unpalatable at best.

For all its incongruity, however, Wonder Woman does have its moments. There is one particular fight scene involving German soldiers in a dim, musty room, where the protagonist is finally permitted to shine. The choreography here is stunning, and small bursts of CG (Pixomondo) make the experience even more exhilarating. Another battle at ‘No Man’s Land’ quickly establishes itself as one of the most iconic fight scenes of the genre. Judging by the success of the thematically similar Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), the film’s battlefield atmosphere and emotional nuance will most certainly lead fans to hail Wonder Woman as the best DCEU film yet.

When compared with other female-led comic-to-film adaptations such as Supergirl (1984), Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005), 2017’s Wonder Woman is a spectacular film. Then again, in the age of CGI mastery and an eager audience, superhero movies should no longer be evaluated on the basis of their predecessors. In that respect, the film is not as impressive as it is touted to be, yet it cannot be denied that Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a tremendous win for female representation in Hollywood.

For that reason alone, Wonder Woman is most certainly worth a watch.



   Tina Mohandas

Tina Mohandas is a songwriter, musician, tattoo artist, vintage motorcycle collector, and animal rights activist. Currently writing her debut science fantasy novel, she is also the co-founder of the non-profit Bikerhood India initiative, and hopes one day to free every caged animal in the world.

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