War. War never changes. Ever since Neanderthal man learned to make tools to hunt, our species has spent thousands of years refining the ways in which to kill each other. For all our pretentious delusions of enlightenment, war is our legacy. If man were called by some extra-terrestrial force to stand trial for wasting our time here, we’d stand like some naughty school child chastised in front of the class for spending the whole lesson making paper aeroplanes instead of studying.
Hollywood is renowned for the war film and has brought so many different versions that it is difficult to see a new slant to take, and Wonder Woman, the first female led superhero film in the modern cinematic era of linked universes, faces several tough hurdles in crafting a war story not seen before with an action protagonist in a time when there were very few women taking part in armed combat, the first Russian women’s battalion of death notwithstanding.
Following on from the events in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince (Fast and Furious‘ Gal Gadot) is a curator at the Louvre in Paris where she receives a package from Bruce Wayne containing an original photographic plate taken during the First World War which sets this film on its origin story.
Beginning with her childhood, Diana was brought up as the only child on the island of Themyscira, a paradise hidden from the rest of the world by Zeus. A precocious child, she is doted on and sheltered by her Amazon tribe as the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Perfect Sense’s Connie Nielson) but shows a warrior spirit from an early age, prompting her to train in secret with her aunt General Antiope (The Congress’ Robin Wright).
Initially furious, Hippolyta tasks Antiope with training Diana harder than any other soldier before her while concealing her potential destiny of protecting the world from Ares, god of war, but that idyllic isolation is torn asunder by the arrival of pilot Steve Trevor (Star Trek Beyond’s Chris Pine) carrying with him the violence of the Great War. Informing the Amazons that mankind is tearing itself apart Diana fears it is Ares who is behind the conflict and vows to accompany Steve back to the conflict so she can stop him and by extension the war.
Unofficially assisted by Sir Patrick Morgan (Macbeth‘s David Thewlis), with Scottish sniper Charlie (Snowpiercer‘s Ewen Bremner), smooth talking Arab Sameer (Conan the Barbarian‘s Saïd Taghmaoui) and native American tracker Chief (Hell on Wheels‘ Eugene Brave Rock) the journey begins, Diana’s single minded approach to her quest soon compromised by the grim realities of war and the question is whether her naïve intention of killing one man – General Erich Ludendorff (Wrath of the Titans‘ Danny Huston) – will truly end the most brutal war humanity has seen.
To bring all this together within a film that feels unique may seem a tall order given the deluge of superhero origin stories released over the last decade, so it may have come as a surprise to see outsider Patty Jenkins given the director’s chair for what is only her second feature film. Having garnered critical praise for Oscar winning debut, 2003’s Monster, this is certainly her biggest undertaking especially given the vociferous nature of comic-book fans towards movies that fail to meet their often unreasonable expectations.
Fortunately there is no cause for alarm as Wonder Woman takes all the grit of Nolan’s Batman with the polish expected of any DC or Marvel film and serves up a true war hero story which leaves Captain America trailing in its wake, the setting of a 20th century conflict leaving it open to comparisons with Steve Rogers’ own origin story, The First Avenger.
Throughout the film looks gorgeous, cinematographer Matthew Jensen’s work on Game of Thrones and True Blood having developed his eye for the fantastic, and from the lush paradise of Themyscira and elegant exposition in a classical style to the industrial hum of war-time London to the harrowing trenches of war-torn Europe, the tone of the film conveyed across its three acts by the settings, each complimenting the others whilst contrasting in their tones.
As expected given Lindy Hemmings’ prior work on Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy all the cast look great in their well-chosen and designed costumes, although Gadot obviously gets the most attention and to say she is captivating in the ballroom scene is no exaggeration, and the whole is supported by Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score, no stranger to war movies having seen active duty on Hacksaw Ridge.
DC’s last offering Suicide Squad was a terrible attempt to shoehorn in too many songs, all trying to be “iconic moments” in a film that was little more than a collection of sound bites and set pieces, but thankfully this is the opposite although the finale does dance around the trap of their persistent obsession with destruction, fortunately each time diminished since the overkill of Man of Steel.
Allan Heinberg’s script combines dramatic moments with brevity, the childlike wonder when Diana gets to try on outfits or experiences ice cream or snow are joyful without being corny, but when the mood darkens it is a much more sombre war than was shown in The First Avenger without becoming overly graphic with barely any blood on screen despite the horrors of the Belgian fields.
The cast are wonderful with Gadot proving herself more than able to step out of the shadows of Batman and Superman to carry a film on her own, and while Pine is seen as the captain of the Enterprise there he leads a cast which is very much an ensemble and the same is true here, and in fact he very much gives the same performance, though in contrast to the accusations levelled at Star Trek Into Darkness here it is Pine who is the only individual required to strip for reasons only marginally plot-related.
Perhaps typecast as a drunk Scot, Bremner’s shell-shocked sniper is harrowing and bittersweet, while Huston provides weight alongside madness as the crazed Ludendorff and Thewlis gives more than was bargained for and The Office‘s Lucy Davis steals scenes as Etta, Steve’s affable secretary. Tellingly, the diversity of the wider cast is atypical for a film set in this period with many ethnicities reflected in the various regiments crossing the English Channel.
With themes of man as a destroyer and woman as a creator, the loss of innocence and what becomes of our beliefs when shattered there is plenty here for all to mull over, and the twist near the climax certainly provides our hero with much to consider beyond the obvious and while the question of whether Wonder Woman is genuinely a feminist movie may be compromised by the principally male supporting cast, one of them arguably a bigger star than Gadot, that is beside the point.
Storming No Man’s Land, stating correctly that she is no man, her compulsion to protect and nurture those in need, although some cynics may feel these scenes are forced it cannot be denied that they could not play in a male led superhero film, and it is long past time that girls were given someone to look up to in the same way as boys have been given spandex clad role models for decades, as Diana herself does in her youth, emulating the women around her, learning from them and being inspired by their example.
Wonder Woman is currently on general release and also screening in IMAX