Directed By: Patty Jenkins
Written By: Allan Heinberg (based on the comic book character by William Moulton Marston)
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis
It takes 75 minutes before we see Gal Gadot appear as the quintessential Wonder Woman we’re all familiar with in full flow; 75 minutes before we see the famed red top, blue shorts, gold tiara combo in combat. It’s difficult to recall a comic book film from recent times that has that same level of patience. The first that comes to mind is Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, a movie which has always appeared to be an art film masquerading as an action blockbuster. Not-so-coincidentally, Nolan’s Dark Knight films are also the last truly worthy DC inspired movies—the last, that is, until now.
The story of Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins is quite remarkable. Poetically, the first superheroine action blockbuster committed to film is also the first superhero movie to be directed by a female. With Wonder Woman, Jenkins has been handed the keys to the ever bankable but thus far panned DCEU, and with that trust comes a 150-million-dollar budget, another first for a female, and twenty times the budget of Jenkins’ last noted big screen outing in Monster.
What’s remarkable about the film itself is how unrushed it is. Jenkins places great trust in her viewers, many of whom (justifiably so) are no doubt conditioned to expect a steady rhythm of calamity to prop up the story before them, to follow along and indulge the personalities on screen. There is ample action on offer in Wonder Woman, but Jenkins doesn’t take the impact of those action sequences as given. Unlike the prior DCEU effort in Suicide Squad, a film which opted for more immediate chaos and as a result left the moments that fall in between said chaos (characterisation and interaction) on the cutting room floor, Jenkins champions those “in between” moments and places them at the centre of her narrative. It’s not until Wonder Woman’s final stanza that the director finally consigns to derivative blockbuster spectacle, the obligatory whirlwind third act extravaganza, one that this time, however, is bolstered by the inclusion of stakes that have legitimate heft.
Gal Gadot is a flawless beacon of heroism and goodness in the title role; cute and kind without being coy, fierce and tough without overstatement. It’s the sort of pitch perfect casting/performance that crushes the plausibility of any other person ever playing that role again.
When we first meet Gadot she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons, a race of warrior women created by Zeus residing on the hidden island of Themyscira. Initially forbidden from becoming a warrior in her own right by her mother and Amazonian Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana trains in secrecy under the tutelage of her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright). Hippolyta holds that Diana’s training is redundant—the Amazons were created to combat Zeus’ son Ares (the God of war and embodiment of violence and destruction) who is believed to have long since ceased. The Great War, which is in progress unbeknownst to the Amazons, refutes that notion.
Diana is lassoed into the human world when World War 1 spy and a captain of the U.S Airforce, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is shot down over Themyscira by his German pursuers. Pine is in his wheelhouse as Trevor, the brash but good willed, heart-of-gold leader who by his own admission is “above average”, but who also hurls himself into danger with a certain grit and beaming integrity, a character that calls to mind Pine’s work as J.T Kirk in fellow franchised blockbuster Star Trek.
Believing Ares is at the heart of the War, Diana resolves to join Steve in his fight against the Central Powers and follows him into the outside world. From here, it’s the interaction of Diana and Trevor that takes centre stage. Writer Allan Heinberg wrings easy but endearing comedic mileage from Diana’s fish-out-of-water routine, as the heroine experiments with less conspicuous clothing than her Amazonian get-up, only to couple her new suit with her sword and shield. Diana and Trevor discuss the nature of war. They discuss the nature of evil. They learn about each other’s respective worlds. They admire each other’s penchant for doing what’s right, no matter the cost. They have dialogues regarding humankind’s veiled but inherent capacity for love and goodness, exchanges that ought to border on sentimentality, but which elude that particular emotional pit-trap via an earnestness and freedom from cynicism which define the film at large.
The key is just how engaging the interplay of Trevor and Diana is. These are characters of emotional intelligence and depth—Trevor as the cool, hard-nosed battler wounded by the loneliness necessitated by his job; Diana as a hub of morality, wrestling disenchantment as she faces true violence and suffering for the first time.
If Batman Begins was an arthouse film masquerading as an action blockbuster, Wonder Woman is a war time polemic masquerading as an action blockbuster. Jenkins evades Hollywood’s oft glorification of war by viewing it through Diana’s indomitably kind and thus disturbed lens. The director isn’t afraid to show soldiers and townspeople brutalised and ravaged with pain, to portray the world in a distinctly un-comic book light that finds an effective balance between gritty real world, and fantastical, aesthetics.
The crown jewel of Jenkins’ Great-War-meets-superhero-movie concept takes place at the aforementioned 75 minute mark, where Diana, as Wonder Woman, crosses no man’s land and pushes through German lines in a solo effort to liberate the adjacent town. So earned is this moment by its meticulous set-up, so epic is it in its composition, so satisfying it is to see Diana trump evil with sheer rectitude, so fully do we believe in Diana and her cause, that the scene is not only thrilling, but deceptively touching. There is a genuine beauty to this sequence’s unravelling, an adjective seldom ascribed to big-budget popcorn flicks, built upon how refreshingly enamoured of our lead we find ourselves. This moment of beauty is a snapshot of why Wonder Woman has emerged as such a jab in the arm for the DCEU; underneath the flashy, lavish exterior, must reside a beating heart, and Wonder Woman’s heart beats intensely.