Watching Wonder Woman I could sense the trepidation of everyone at the screening evaporating. It was, I think, when we realised that DC had made a movie that we were actually enjoying. There is colour on screen; actual, honest colour. Even as the action shifts from a matriarchal Island paradise to the duller locations of WW1 Europe a sense of life remains. This is fun.
I’ll stress that there’s nothing mould breaking on display. At this point, just having an intact mould is a victory for the notoriously fuck-up prone studio. We finally have the by-the-book origin story that should have come out years ago. After starting audiences off with the inept punchlines of Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad we finally get a set up. It’s like a breath of fresh air.
We spend most of the story with Wonder Woman (AKA Diana) playing a fish out of water. After a downed pilot (Chris Pine) brings news of the great war to her Amazonian island society Diana joins him in an attempt to prevent the use of a deadly, new super-weapon. Cue a lot of culture clash comedy. The Warrior Princess stares in bafflement at corsets and horror at the violence of the Western front. Focusing on this journey for the character allows both broad, pop feminism as she grapples with 1918 era patriarchy but also allows the film to tell a human story. The scenes of comedy and romantic tension between Gadot and Pine (the first man she’s laid eyes on) are perfectly judged, bringing humour and grounding the people in the middle of all the CGI set pieces. Their chemistry, more than anything, carries this thing.
Gadot was great even in Batman V Superman where she had nothing to do. Given a leading role she turns into a star. Patty Jenkins doesn’t let the camera leer at her. While she is a beautiful human and the armour is, let’s say, impractical, she’s fetishised as an Olympian badass rather than a Harley Quinn style wet dream. It’s empowerment fantasy rather than sexual fantasy. Thank God they gave this to a female director who can understand the distinction while choreographing expensive looking thrills.
If it uses the best of the genre’s conventions, though, it’s ultimately dragged down by the worst of those same conventions. Jenkins has talked about not having deleted scenes for the Blu Ray release. In retrospect that might have been a good idea if it meant cutting down on the bloated, two hours plus runtime. The final act descends into a videogame fight that’s not only boring but thematically confused. After watching the heroine beat, stab and generally kill the shit out of everyone for two hours we learn that she’s all about love, baby (also, isn’t that an oddly gendered trait?). Here, the power of love is portrayed as the ability to throw tanks at people and laser blast your enemies to death.
For something that’s ultimately about peace, love and understanding the movie is harder on Germany than the treaty of Versailles. Throughout, the need for cannon fodder isn’t supplied by robots or aliens. It’s the Bosche. We’re meant to cheer as our heroes storm their trenches. It’s both confusing on a thematic level and leaves a sour taste as the film simultaneously laments and sanitises the horrors of war.
In spite of the above it’s hard not to enjoy this. Call it the magic of lowered expectations. Maybe Wonder Woman only seems miraculous because it was pulled from a dumpster fire. If the DCEU can deliver another miracle baby that’s just a little leaner, a little smarter and that, maybe, has a satisfying climax? Then Marvel should start to sweat.
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