Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Wonder Woman is an action fantasy superhero film released in 2017 and is based on the DC Comics character of the same name created by William M. Marston and HG Peter. The fourth film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) series, the film follows an Amazon princess as she journeys to our unfamiliar world to battle an ancient foe during World War One after learning of the conflict from a downed fighter pilot. The film stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya and Lucy Davis and was directed by Patty Jenkins in only her second time as a feature film director and her first such film since 2003's Monster. The film itself had been stuck in development hell since 1996 and was announced by Warner Bros way back in 2010. When it was released to a mostly positive response from critics, the film smashed the global box office with takings in excess of $821 million - making it the most successful film by a female director and by some margin. The film is due to be followed by a sequel in 2020, Wonder Woman 1984, with Gadot, Pine and Jenkins all returning to the franchise.
What's it about?
On the remote and undiscovered island nation of Themyscira, Princess Diana has grown up alongside her fellow Amazons and yearned to become a warrior, despite the disapproval of her mother Queen Hippolyta. The Amazons - an all-female warrior race - were created by the Olympian gods to help defend humanity from the resentful anger of Ares, the god of war, who becomes jealous of humankind and kills the other gods while wounding Zeus himself. With his dying breath, Zeus leaves the Amazons with a powerful weapon known as the Godkiller before he forces Ares into retreat. Eventually, Hippolyta agrees to let her sister General Antiope train Diana who grows up to become one of their greatest warriors.
Sometime in 1918, Diana witnesses a plane crash into the waters around Themyscira and she rescues the wounded pilot Steve Trevor, the first man she has ever seen in her life. Shortly afterwards, the island is invaded by German forces who were pursuing Trevor and after a bloody battle repelling them, the Amazons soon discover that the world beyond their realm is at war with itself. Fearing the return of Ares, Diana decides that she has no option but to leave Themyscira to defeat her ancient foe along with Trevor - who not only contains information vital to the Allied war effort but also can't quite believe his new travelling companion...
Diana Prince / Wonder Woman
Capt. Steve Trevor
Gen. Erich Ludenorff
Sir Patrick Morgan
Dr. Isabel Maru / Dr Poison
Release Date (UK)
1st June, 2017
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Superhero
What's to like?
If nothing else, DC should be proud of the fact that they produced a female-led superhero film before their highly successful rival Marvel managed it in 2019 with Captain Marvel. But even ignoring that, Wonder Woman has far more going for it than its fellow DC stablemates which, if we're honest, haven't been all that great. The film's visual effects are fantastic - the island paradise of Themyscira looks amazing, feeling more rooted in realism than Kenneth Branagh's vision of Asgard in Thor. The campy tone of the legendary TV series has been replaced by a more gritty approach - as is the norm for superhero films these days - and this version of the character feels more grown up. Gadot's portrayal, struggling to overcome the actress' accent, also feels more mature - placing the character in the grim world of the First World War was a brave decision but it somehow works, illustrating the differences not just between her world and ours but also the rampant sexism of the past (as well as today, sadly) compared to the feminist world Diana leaves behind.
Thankfully, this film isn't anything like as grim as the actual First World War or even worse, the preceding Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. The film has plenty of comic moments to lighten the mood, mostly from the spunky Davis as the rarely seen comic character Candy and Pine as the tongue-tied Trevor. The action scenes are inventive and exciting, combining guerilla warfare with Matrix-style kung fu to great effect. And despite her relative inexperience helming projects of this size, Jenkins' direction feels confident and perfectly in sync with the film's core - nothing too flashy but a perfect riposte to any studio execs fearing female directors. Audiences have been craving a film like this for years, finally portraying a woman as something other than a cheap love interest, comic relief or a damsel in distress in action films. Times have moved on and the vast amount this film made should be enough to convince doubters that audience's tastes have as well. Anyone else surprised that Marvel waited until this film's success before finally announcing that long-awaited Black Widow solo film?
- The film is banned in Lebanon as Gadot is an Israeli citizen and former IDF soldier, a country Lebanon is at war with. Tunisia and Qatar later followed suit with the official reason being that Gadot had expressed praise for Israel in the past. Interestingly, none of her previous Fast & Furious film appearances were censored.
- Anaya's appearance as the masked villain Dr Poison (the first live-action appearance of the character) is a reference to her role in the 2011 Pedro Almodovar film The Skin I Live In, where she plays a character who also wears a prosthetic mask. Jenkins is a self-confessed fan of Almodovar's work.
- Diana's scenes in London mirror those seen in Superman: the character adopts a bespectacled disguise, stops a mugging and has trouble with a revolving door. Jenkins credits seeing that film at the age of seven for making her want to pursue a career in film.
- Olga Kurylenko was seriously considered for the role of Diana but lost out to Gadot. Ironically, the pair of them auditioned for the role of Camille Montes in the Bond film Quantum Of Solace which Kurylenko won.
What's not to like?
It's unfortunate that we are living in an age where superhero films are released multiple times a year, thanks to the phenomenal success enjoyed by Marvel's Cinematic Universe or MCU. This means that the competition is not only fierce but also of a high standard and sadly, Wonder Woman isn't quite the world-beating success I had been led to believe. Gadot's performance struggles to inspire confidence, let alone wonder - at times, it feels like she's merely posing in the costume as if this alone makes a feminist statement. She's competent enough in the action scenes but for the most part, emotion is largely absent - especially compared to her more experienced and expressive co-star.
The film juggles its narrative blend well until the final act when suddenly, balls get dropped all over the place. The surprise baddie was perhaps the most obvious I've seen in a long time, even if it didn't make much sense within the film's narrative. And much like Batman V Superman, the climactic battle between good and evil resembles a digitised version of Dragonball Z with fireballs, lightning, giant craters and individuals seemingly impervious to any sort of damage or even pain. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. It felt a million miles away from the promising opening scenes on Themyscira that were so full of colour, energy and light - as soon as Diana leaves the island, the film sucks all of this out of the picture until it becomes almost black-and-white with the odd explosion thrown in. I wanted to be captivated and thrilled and entertained in the same way that Marvel's best efforts can do. And while this is probably the DCEU's best film to date, it still feels a long way behind their rivals.
Should I watch it?
Wonder Woman manages to stand out from the crowd by being a female-led (and female directed) superhero movie with genuine vision and talent both in front and behind the camera. Unfortunately, it feels overwritten and narratively confused as well as saddled with a leading lady who struggles under the weight of the role. Visually, the film is great and fans of the character will love this movie but for veterans of superhero films, this will feel generic and a missed opportunity. Fingers crossed they get it right for the sequel.
Great For: fans of the character or comics, female representation on screen in Hollywood (here's hoping, at least), DC studio execs desperate for a hit
Not So Great For: challenging Marvel's dominance, previous DCEU films, high expectations
What else should I watch?
Perhaps releasing that demand for a female superhero film was greater than they anticipated, DC tried to repeat the formula early in 2020 with Birds Of Prey which is essentially a female-centric remake of Suicide Squad led by Margot Robbie's reprisal of Harley Quinn. Released to a mostly positive reception, the film's disappointing box office returns was blamed on the film's R rating and the lack of demand for a solo Harley Quinn movie. Despite this, Robbie will return for an actual sequel to Suicide Squad, tentatively titled The Suicide Squad and directed by James Gunn, the man behind the excellent Guardians Of The Galaxy. That alone will make things interesting...
Speaking of Marvel, they appear to have been stung by criticism that none of their films featured female superhero characters until Captain Marvel last year. Despite the likes of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Evangeline Lilly as the Wasp, all of these characters have been in supporting roles in ensemble films like Avengers Assemble. There was a noticeable moment during the epic battle sequence in Avengers: Endgame which brought almost every female heroine seen thus far together which, personally, felt like a bit of fan-pleasing box ticking. Hopefully, we'll see more female characters take the lead in their own adventures soon. In time, such films will become the norm instead of the exception they are now.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox
Benjamin Cox (author) from Norfolk, UK on August 30, 2020:
Watched it yesterday. It is simply incredible...
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on August 29, 2020:
As am I. It opens by me next weekend.
Benjamin Cox (author) from Norfolk, UK on August 28, 2020:
We shall see although I doubt any filmmaker checks my opinions! Frankly, I'm just waiting to see 'Tenet'...
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on August 25, 2020:
I hope Wonder Woman 1984 addresses your concerns - or at least makes for a respectable sequel. Their best effort here does not match the best of the MCU, The cinemas by me are now opening. I hope no setbacks hinder a successful reopening. The WW sequel is supposed to open by me on October 2.