Janus Film Review Presents: Wonder Woman (2017)

as reviewed by Tom.

Format Reviewed: Blu-Ray/Warner Home Video (2017).

Gal Gadot’s first brief appearance as Wonder Woman at the conclusion of 2016’s clunker Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the best thing about it. Batman and Superman, though never the most interesting of superheroes, had been subjected to dour characterisation in doom-laden and largely dull films. The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was taking itself too seriously, and that is a problem when your main characters are inherently ridiculous. However, with Wonder Woman there was a distinct sense that there may be life yet in the underachieving DCEU. In truth, a large proportion of Wonder Woman viewers care not one hoot whether the film hails from the pages of DC or the all-conquering Marvel machine, and maybe are not aware there is a distinction. One must therefore assume its success lies in its quality, for Wonder Woman is a very worthwhile ‘superhero’ film.

Wonder Woman is an origin story – that of Diana of Themyscira, a hidden island, who is daughter of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Initially a peace-making tribe, the Amazonians have been forced to train as warriors to protect themselves against the threat of Ares, the god of war. War and violence are brought directly to the shores of the island in the form of Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who crash lands in the sea, pursued by German boats. Needless to say, the German soldiers are no match for the warrior race they have rudely interrupted. Diana, in her naivety, believes Ares is responsible for the war and so convinces the captain that she must accompany him to the heart of the war and defeat Ares once and for all. The opening act does an excellent job of portraying the isolation of the Amazonian culture and its disconnection from the outside world, particularly in Diana's innocence and unwavering devotion to “acting on behalf of all that is good in the world.”

In terms of the film’s style and aesthetic, the closest comparison is arguably Richard Donner's Superman from 1978. Director Patty Jenkins has acknowledged the inspiration and sprinkles knowing nods and references to it throughout, particularly in the ‘fish-out-of-water’ elements. Where Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent transitioned from small town farm boy to making his ungainly way in the big city in 1978, here Gal Gadot's Diana Prince has to navigate her way through wartime London and the Western Front, remaining resolutely conspicuous the whole time. It's hard not to be when you're brandishing a sword called the “Godkiller” and a lasso of truth. Gal Gadot commits to the role, exuding a warm empathy, curiosity and a fierce determination.

Chris Pine as Captain Steve Trevor has the qualities of a modern-day matinee idol, bringing charm and earnestness to the role, and the two lead characters contrast well. Diana and Steve ultimately have the same aim; to save the world and end war. A pivotal moment occurs where Trevor’s battle-weary sensibilities and Diana’s commitment to finding Ares clash, where he tries to convince her that it is not “just one bad guy to blame”, and casts doubt over whether Ares even exists. The outcome of this conversation highlights a refreshing strength of this film – actions have consequences.

Despite a strong story and uniformly excellent performances, Wonder Woman ironically suffers in its latter stages from the need to be a ‘superhero’ film. There is an over reliance on the use of slow-motion action shots and in terms of effects, the final showdown between Wonder Woman and Ares doesn't fully convince. It looks and feels like the actors are constricted by the necessity to battle against a green screen, and so the sequence doesn't have the visceral impact such a stand-off requires. It amounts to each character blasting the other back and forth without providing something unique to distinguish it from other scenes of heroes and villains blasting each other back and forth in other superhero films. It is not quite as catastrophically destructive as the much-derided end battle sequence of 2013’s Man of Steel – the film that kicked off the DCEU – in which Metropolis is pretty much levelled, but it is certainly a fairly close relation. Love it or hate it, the superhero genre has, to put it mildly, had an unprecedented box-office and critical resurgence over the last decade, with each new film, out of necessity, needing to up the ante and outdo the previous one in terms of action and spectacle. Ultimately, this aspect is not where Wonder Woman’s strengths lie.

However, though one suspects that repeated viewings may diminish its potency, it is certainly not dull or doom-laden, instead possessing a wit and charm that rejuvenates and brings out the best in a beloved character. When we reach the beautifully animated end credits, there is no doubting that the lingering impression of Wonder Woman is that of a film brimming with heart and humanity. And that is never a bad thing.

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