Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
It’s hard to believe that a character as iconic as Wonder Woman has never had her own movie before now, especially since DC has seen fit to forge films for everyone from Steel to Jonah Hex down through the years. But, as the old saying goes, better late than never, and thankfully the esteemed Amazonian princess’s first eponymous theatrical adventure very much falls into the category of “better” when it comes to what the company that created her has produced for the big screen since Batman did battle with Bane five years ago.
Directed by Patty Jenkins, the highly-anticipated fourth entry in the ever burgeoning DCEU chronicles the early exploits of benevolent demigoddess Diana of Themyscira, who, having spent her childhood sheltered from the severity of the wider world, decides to leave her home behind and head off to Europe to fight on the front lines of World War I when American spy Steve Trevor unwittingly crash lands on her doorstep.
Rather than rushing into the action, Wonder Woman spends the majority of its first act meticulously exploring what makes its protagonist tick while simultaneously developing her relationship with Trevor and building up a believable bond between them. This endows the narrative with a lot of emotional depth as well as ensuring that it stays refreshingly focused and doesn’t suffer from attempting to service too many subplots like Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad before it.
As well-written as its character arcs are though, it’s the tremendous talent of its two main stars that really keeps this film afloat. While I enjoyed the aforementioned Batman V Superman for what it was, I don’t deny that it was riddled with flaws. However, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was most definitely not one of them.
If her performance in Dawn of Justice demonstrated that she had the potential to excel as the Amazonian aristocrat under the right circumstances, then the daughter of Zeus’s inaugural solo outing proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Gadot was born to bring the role to life on the big screen. The Israeli actress effortlessly endows Diana with a childlike yet intimidating demeanour that keeps her consistently compelling, while the humour that arises from her constant cultural misunderstandings only makes her all the more endearing.
Gadot also displays great chemistry with Chris Pine, whose delightfully down-to-earth take on Steve Trevor perfectly complements the fantastical nature of the fish-out-of-water protagonist, resulting in a genuinely enthralling romantic subplot. At the same time, Pine very effectively conveys the character’s virtuousness and Trevor facilitates what is arguably the movie’s most heroic moment.
The support cast, on the other, is a little hit and miss. Lucy Davis gives the best performance outside of Gadot and Pine as Steve’s whacky but winsome secretary, Etta Candy. Connie Nielson and Robin Wright both come across as appropriately imposing as Hippolyta and Antiope, respectively, but neither is given enough screen time to be described as being truly impactful. Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock all have fun moments as Trevor’s associates in the field and build up a nice rapport with Diana, but again, their roles aren’t as critical as they could have been.
However, as is the case with a lot of comic book movies, it’s in the antagonist department where Wonder Woman really drops the ball. While there’s nothing wrong with the performances of Danny Huston and Elena Anaya as General Erich Ludendorff and his nefarious scientist sidekick, Doctor Isabel Maru, both characters feel more like plot devices than well-developed villains and they certainly don’t serve as particularly formidable opponents for the titular superheroine.
It’s a testament to the abilities of both Gadot and Pine and how well-executed their characters’ arcs are that the movie manages to feel deep and meaningful the whole way through, despite sporting a fairly forgettable array of supporting players. The fact that the initial act is more concerned with developing their relationship than bombarding us with action also ensures that the film’s first major set-piece feels extremely well-earned and exciting.
Diana’s jaunt across no man’s land on the war’s western front is indescribably exhilarating, while the score both during this sequence and throughout the movie as a whole is as beautiful as it is bracing. Unfortunately, the final battle ends up becoming a bit too CGI-heavy as it unfolds, but the climax of the story still succeeds in packing quite a powerful emotional punch.
At the end of the day though, if the worst that can be said about Diana Prince’s first cinematic headliner is that its secondary characters are a little underwhelming and its third act overdoes it with the special effects, then it definitely represents a major win for DC considering the extent of the criticism that the last two entries in their extended universe incurred. Boasting a brilliantly developed protagonist, fantastic acting from Gadot and Pine, stunning cinematography and one of the most invigorating superhero scores ever composed, Wonder Woman is a thoroughly entertaining theatrical escapade that’s sure to satisfy comic book aficionados and casual moviegoers alike.
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