Beating an admittedly low bar, WONDER WOMAN is unquestionably the best movie in the DC franchise. It has some of the darkness of BATMAN VS SUPERMAN but never feels pretentious or portentous; and in the place of SUICIDE SQUADS' maddeningly shifting tone and offensive objectification of Harley Quinn we have a movie with a straightforward compelling story and a courageous and often subtle take on modern sexual and racial politics. The result is a film that's both highly enjoyable and yet deeply meaningful - a long overdue strong heroine in a universe full of macho posturers.
The movie opens in contemporary France with Batman reaching out to Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), but it's essentially a long flashback and origins story, told in live action and with beautifully designed animation and the most seamless use of CGI. We see the young child growing up on an island of Amazonian woman - fierce warriors created by Zeus to protect humanity from the corrupting influence of his son Aries, the god of war. Diana herself is moulded from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen - GLADIATOR), and made live by Zeus himself. Accordingly, she is herself a god, sister to Aries, although this fact seems to escape her logical notice. The Amazons have been holed up on a magical island while World War One is raging around them, until US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine - STAR TREK reboot) crash lands in their midst. A brave Diana then returns with him to wartime Europe, supposedly to bring an end to war by killing Aries, whom she believes is German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston.)
The themes we are given are various and profound. Foremost, what should one do when war comes to us - ignore it or engage, even at great personal sacrifice and against all the odds. Diana and Steve both embody an active participation in the world. Second, what do you do when you are disillusioned about the people you are trying to save? Here, Gal Gadot acts beautifully - her face a conflict of sympathy and confusion. Once again, they choose to help, despite the fact that humanity is undeserving and despite showing again and again the grim consequences of war - the emotional and physical price paid by both civilians and the soldiers. War is not glamorous or heroic but sometimes must be fought. This makes for a profoundly humane film, in the best sense of the word.
And that humanity weaves itself into small moments throughout the film. There's a sad and provocative moment when one of the comedic sidekicks, Sameer, played by Said Taghmaoui, says that he didn't want to be a mercenary, he wanted to be an actor, but his skin was the wrong colour. One wonders just how painful this is for the actor to say given how his own career opportunities would've been curtailed by his race. Then, there's the definite attempt to make this a racially diverse film - from creating sidekicks that are French-Algerian and Native American (Eugene Brave Rock - THE REVENANT), to foregrounding Indian and African troops fighting in World War One. And even the beauty of having one of the "A-Team" be a Scottish sniper (Ewen Bremner - TRAINSPOTTING) who is incapable of shooting because he's traumatised by what he's seen. There's no question that he's still valued as a member of the team. Finally, I was particularly struck by the example of the stunningly beautiful and athletic Robin Wright as Amazonian general Antiope. We have come so far in cinema for Robin Wright to go from The Princess Bride, beautiful and constantly being rescued, to being a fierce warrior in her own right, whether in HOUSE OF CARDS or in this film.
Of course, the film has its flaws. I thought David Thewlis was not credible and thus mis-cast in his role as a British politician. And I'm rather sad that Etta Candy - one of my favourite characters from the original comics - didn't have a larger role, and presumably won't be seen in future contemporary instalments of the franchise. But overall, Patty Jenkins has crafted a superhero movie with all the requisite big action set pieces, but with more humanity, and far less objectification of women (amazing given Wonder Woman's outfits) than most. This is summed up in Gal Gadot's deeply sympathetic portrait of a smart, strong courageous woman who chooses to fight but always acknowledges the pain and beauty of those around her.
WONDER WOMAN has a running time of 141 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film is on global release.
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