Director : Patty Jenkins
Written by : Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs
Wonder Woman is everything that Man of Steel should have been : heroic, fun, aspirational, moving and emotional.
Gal Gadot, who was the only one to be universally praised for her turn in an otherwise divisive Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice, makes the role her own this time. The deep eyed former Israeli vet is THE definitive Wonder Woman. She received a lot of fanboy flak when Snyder cast her for the titular role, for everything from being too thin to her boobs (yes, seriously) being too small. Later when her solo movie was announced, with Gadot headlining, doubts were cast over her acting prowess and capacity to carry a movie on her. Gadot proves all her detractors and naysayers wrong and how! She is terrific as the heart of gold do-gooder who is at once naive as well as a fierce warrior.
Director Patty Jenkins, who believe it or not is directing a feature length movie after 14 years as her follow up to Monster : a movie in which she directed Charlize Theron to an Oscar (this is material for another article altogether but just imagine the plight of female directors in Hollywood if it takes 14 years for one to find a proper project after landing your lead actress an Oscar victory), has a realized vision for Wonder Woman. She beautifully frames the growth of her character from a young kid growing up in the secluded female only island of Themyscira to being a fish out of water in war torn London to becoming the hero we all know her to be by the end of the movie.
Jenkins has cleverly made this into a three act movie. The first act follows young Diana living in Themyscira. Since this is an origin story, one expects it to be exposition heavy. That however is not the case here, as the director cleverly tweaks this formula into something fresh with all the kinks and details about the secluded island filled with fierce warriors hitting us organically instead of through dialogue. Connie Nielson as Queen Hippolyta is regal while Robin Wright (Amazonian in real life) plays an Amazonian on reel. It is her character, Antiope, the fierce General and Diana’s aunt, who trains Diana to live her destiny, even as her mother wants to protect her forever.
The second act is all about establishing the stakes. Diana’s life in the safe space of her home ends as an American spy, Steve Trevor (the puppy eyed Chris Pine) crashes into Themyscira and brings a horde of ugly German men alongside. This eventually leads to Diana going to London where we meet the other characters : the delightful Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), the very British Sir Patrick Morgan : a speaker for peace in the Imperial war Council (played by David Thewlis whom genre fans will recognize as Professor Lupin) and the villainous duo of General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston plays the real life German nationalist, keeping up with the long history of Wonder Woman fighting real life villains) and Dr Isabel Maru/Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya who is able to somehow humanize a woman who gets off by murdering a room full of people with a deadly gas).
And then comes the third act, which is too spoilery to talk much about. But it is epic in scale, all the stakes that were established in the second act are at risk and this is the true coming of age for Diana. Her transition from Princess of Diana of Themyscira to the Wonder Woman we all know and love happens here.
Now all of this may sound cliched, because it is. But there is a reason why a cliche becomes a cliche, it is because it works well in the first place. What makes a cliche work are the characters. And Wonder Woman is filled with a talented cast. But at its core it is a love story : the story of Diana and Steve. Gal Gadot, as mentioned earlier, is near perfect in her role, she brings the sense of ‘wonder’ missing in all of the previous DC movies. But it Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor that almost steals the show by his understated performance. Gadot and Pine share instant, natural and crackling chemistry, their back and forth banter are some of the highlights of the movie.
I read this piece by Alonso Duralde, chief reviewer for The Wrap, and it expresses everything I want to say very articulately.
It’s often said that there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie, since combat is so cinematically exciting, but director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) gets closer to that goal than most: when we see war here, we see destroyed men who have lost limbs, devastated countryside, and yowling orphans who will never be reunited with their parents. And unlike so many 21st century adventures, the sacrifices here stick; there’s no take-backs in the final minutes.
Diana’s scenes of action are thrilling precisely because they’re meant to stop war, not to foment it; the idea of a demi-god using love to fight war might sound goofy in the abstract, but Jenkins make the concept work.
Diana, despite constant warnings by Steve and his motley group of companions, at one point storms through No Man’s Land, a piece of land during the war which no one from either side has been able to cross due to incessant firing from both side. That scene gave me chills. Okay, who am I kidding? I wept profusely as she braved bullet after bullet, deflected bomb after bomb, but nevertheless persisted. That scene is iconic not just in the context of DC movies or in the closeted context of comicbook movie genre kind of way, but for film making in general, standing up as a testament to the greatness popcorn entertainment can achieve if only a little imagination and a whole lot of empathy are deployed. That is the scene where Diana becomes a hero, the hero the DC universe needs. The hero every little girl and boy deserves. Pure, unadulterated, old school bravery from a character that took 75 years to come to screen.
Not that the movie is without faults. The villains, except for Dr Poison, fail to be menacing enough to capture your attention. The third act feels clunky and there are some problems with the pacing. But the pros far outweigh the cons.
The action scenes, shot in slow motion with her now iconic theme music from BvS playing in the background, are amazing and gets your heart pumping.
This is the story of a demigoddess who chooses love over everything else and wins.
This is the story of a princess who does not need even a second to put herself in front of the firing line to save others from suffering.
This is the story of a girl who thinks the ice cream maker should be proud of his creation.
This is the story of a woman who is not a mother or a sister or a widow of someone leading her own movie to massive commercial and critical success.
And no, she did not even need a Batman cameo for that to happen.
Rating : 4.5/5