Wonder Woman: a spoiler-free review
So here we go. Detective Comics first modern-day take on a classic superhero character: Wonder Woman. For those of us of a certain vintage, the phrase "Wonder Woman" conjures up images of Lynda Carter saving 1970's America in her star-spangled costume and satin tights. For teenage boys everywhere she was Wonder Woman made flesh.
DC Comics have ventured into solo female superhero movie territory before with poor results. We had 1984's ill-conceived Supergirl with Helen Slater and 2004's critically-panned CatWoman with Halle Berry. Even Marvel, who can do no wrong these days have had their fair share of solo female super-hero disasters: Elektra anyone? And so DC, having faced critical and fan-based scorn for 2016's Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, dip their toe into the superhero waters once more. To say there is a lot riding on the success of Wonder Woman is a truism. It's the next test for DC and it's in a genre with a poor track record: single female superhero movies.
Director Patty Jenkins has an excellent track record with 2003's Monster being one of my stand-out favourites. It also has the honour of earning Charlize Theron her first Oscar (Best Actress in a Leading Role). So we know Jenkins can tell a story. As with all origin superhero films, we have to have the back-story together with an "it's all up there on the screen" action sequence in Act III. Israel's Gal Gadot appeared as Wonder Woman in last year's Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Her performance in that was one of the stand-out moments of an otherwise dull movie. So hopes are high that she can carry a feature-length movie on her own. The good news is that she can. Supporting her and providing the love interest is Capt. Kirk himself, Chris Pine as Major Steve Trevor.
In terms of story we have the obligatory origin-story. We discover that before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, raised on a sheltered island paradise and trained to be an unconquerable warrior. The island has been hidden from the world by Zeus but when a pilot crashes on the island's shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. All of this happens in Act I and we get performances from Robin Wright as her trainer. We are also introduced to one of the villains of the piece, Ludendorf played with scenery-chewing aplomb by Danny Huston.
In Act II our heroine is brought to London, to the heart of the Allied war effort. IN this Pygmaleon-esque sequence we see Diana being introduced to society. Most of the film's humour resides in this Act and it is a delight. Gal Gadot shows her acting chops and comic timing and proves a good foil for Chris Pine. Lucy Davis shines as the female role-advisor and hapless carrier of the sword! Diana and Steve decide to go to "the front" and try to stop the development or release of a new German weapon. More comedy ensues as they recruit the team they need.
Once we get to the front, the tone changes. We witness through Diana's eyes and her experiences, the true horror of war: not just on the soldiers but on the towns and families caught up in the war. In typical hero's-journey pacing, it is a real road of trials for Wonder Woman. Her experiences, her apotheosis in Act II set up our hero for the final showdown in Act III. As is required by modern-superhero story-telling, there is an epic final battle. That's where we leave the narrative for fear of spoilers.
This film's strength is in it's heart and Jenkins has proven herself a master of telling stories that resonate with audiences. She never allows the film to lose that heart and it is a better movie for it. It's not without it's flaws. In particular, Act I, on the island is scattered and at times disorientating. A minor quibble in an otherwise good origin story.
Gal Gadot is simply outstanding. Her range in this film shows she is capable of more. She is slated to reprise Wonder Woman in DC's Justice League due later this year. For now, as Princess of the Amazonians, she rules all before her.