Things haven’t gone swimmingly for DC’s Extended Universe. Reviews have been disparaging, revenues less than anticipated and long-time fans left feeling disappointed. If Warner Brothers were to continue with the planned franchise, this is the film that needed to succeed, and mercifully, it does exactly that.
On a secluded island live the Amazons, a race of powerful female warriors. Among them is Diana (Gal Gadot) – daughter of the island’s leader, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) – who was brought to life by the god Zeus. One day, Diana witnesses a mysterious aircraft crash off the island’s coast, and so dives into the ocean to examine the wreckage. She retrieves from the cockpit an American pilot by the name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who almost immediately is smitten by Diana.
Imprisoned by the Amazons, Steve explains that he is a spy working for the British armed forces, and has top secret information to share with his superiors regarding the Great War. Although the Allies are close to securing an armistice, it is believed that a rogue German squadron is preparing a final attack using a deadly variant of mustard gas. Distraught to learn of such barbarity, Diana frees Steve and accompanies him to London, hoping she can bring an end to the war.
Strangely, Wonder Woman works better as a war movie than it does as a superhero (or superheroine) blockbuster. The action sequences that take place in the trenches, and a show-stopping siege in a French village, are far more entertaining than the scenes where Diana battles alone. What’s more, its capturing of the horrors and atrocities of war is as good as any other movie set during this period – even with a measly PG-13 rating. This approach means the film stands out from the many other superhero origin stories.
The World War One setting isn’t the only factor setting it apart. Unlike Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which were let down by a grim atmosphere, Wonder Woman is blessed with a more jovial tone. While the picture doesn’t forgo the darker moments, it does come across as more colourful, both metaphorically and literally – Diana dons a blue skirt and red chest-plate here, a welcome change from the bronze/brown combo in Dawn of Justice.
Another deviation from the other DCEU films is the humour. While it isn’t at Marvel-levels of hilarity, it does produce the odd laugh or two, and is far better than DC’s previous attempts at comedy, which were pathetic at best. Most of these chuckles come courtesy of Chris Pine, who delivers his one-liners with near-perfect timing. Pine is by far the most charming part of Wonder Woman, his character standing out so much that the movie may as well be called Steve Trevor.
That’s not to say that Gal Gadot isn’t worthy of top billing – she is a magnificent lead who cements herself in the role of the heroine, a feat she was unable to achieve in her all-too-brief appearance in Batman v Superman. The delight she shows for something as mundane as an ice cream seems so genuine, as does the anguish at seeing innocent civilians being affected by the war. Unfortunately, Gadot’s acting pales in comparison to Pine’s, who has far better range and conviction than his co-star.
Joining Gadot and Pine are an eclectic group of supporting characters, the most enjoyable of which is Trevor’s cheery British secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). Disappointingly, these characters have only a small amount of screen-time and are given very little time to develop. Even more disappointing is that these characters won’t be appearing again any time soon – director Patty Jenkins has stated that the sequel will be taking place in the present day. As for the villains, well, they’re utterly forgettable.
Wonder Woman is what other DC films should aspire to be: joyous, humorous and unafraid to have fun. Featuring a talented cast portraying some memorable characters, it’s both a decent superhero movie and an outstanding war movie. Without any sense of irony, one could even call it wonderful.