There’s a proverb that in the land of the blind, the man with one eye is king (or if you love Norm MacDonald’s 1998 comedy “Dirty Work”, in the land of the Skunks the man with half a nose is king”). “Wonder Woman” is that rare bird (“Electra” and “Catwoman” are the other anti-heroes that made it into their own films first) in the cinematic sausage fest of male superheroes and we (I) have been in meditative trances pleading to the movie gods “please don’t suck, please don’t suck, please don’t suck.”
Fortunately “Wonder Woman” is the movie that the character deserved.
“Wonder Woman” begins on Themyscira, an island of Amazons long hidden from the world by the god Zeus. Diana, Princess of Themyscira and daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Brigitte Nielsen - “Gladiator”) is being coddled and sheltered from the warrior life of her Amazon sisters. When Hippolyta finally decrees that she can follow her path, she demands that her sister Antiope (Robin Wright - “House of Cards” and “Forrest Gump”) groom Diana to be the greatest warrior their race has ever seen. As she’s beginning to reach her potential, U.S Pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes down in their pristine waters followed by German forces and giving them a crash course in the evolution of war when Trevor speaks of “the war to end all wars.” Suspicious that the long banished fallen God Ares is behind the Axis war efforts, Diana convinces Trevor to take her to the front.
Patty Jenkins’ visualisation of Diana’s battle prowess is easily the biggest highlight of the film. There’s such a sublime grace to the Amazon mastery of millennia old mounted battle and because most of it is achieved with digital effects there are some minor yet jarring ’uncanny valley’ hiccups as they merge digital renderings with their human counterparts faces. However, when Diana steps into the arena - so to speak - the film’s action elevates it to the very best we’ve seen out of the genre so far. The centrepiece of the film where we watch Diana and Trevor’s team arrive on the front is just absolutely stunning. From the editorial economy of their journey, arrival to the front and the conception of Wonder Woman’s symbolic birth in ‘No Man’s Land’ you’ve got a sensationally orchestrated action set piece that never loses sight of her team that’s got her back and the soldiers charging behind her; their mortality is her vulnerability. Hell, the single sequence operates as a metaphor for the original female superheroes bumpy ride to the screen.
Gal Gadot does an excellent job as Diana. It’s a role that demands a level of naivety and comic timing that she wears well. She’s being compared to Christopher Reeves’ Clark Kent/Superman from Donner’s seminal original film and in many respects those comparisons are right. Gadot’s Diana stubbornly refused to idly accept atrocities that abound and willingly launches herself into harm’s way; and it’s done with a gusto and belief that makes you believe that she can. Unlike Reeves, Gadot has already formed a destination for the character that was introduced to us in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (she was the highlight). She was the battle weary and savvy warrior, so when her credulity in “Wonder Woman” could grow tiresome, the film responds and we begins to see the character set a course for her destiny. And finally she’s just so stunningly beautiful that on a number of occasions you can’t be sure whether Jenkins is shooting in slow motion or whether you’re just seeing her slowed down.
“Wonder Woman” must trudge through the necessary origin story tropes that we’ve seen a thousand times before and the primary saving grace is that at least the film attempts to stream through the early part of her life at speed. In a contemporary world, superheroes have replaced mythological heroes. While they are largely inhabited the “cockamamie” arena - to use the word of Australian critic Luke Buckmaster (read his excellent review here) - it’s refreshing to see a demigod, bridging myth and pulp storytelling that bravely wears its heart on its sleeve to champion underrepresented voices.
Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg feature some passing interactions that Diana has with supporting characters so loaded with world view forming truth bombs that they take a few scenes to reflect upon and fully sink in. Guising beauty with conservative dress is dismissed, harsh truths about “being the wrong colour” to be an actor at that time, addressing men damaged by the atrocities of war. The moment of pure transcendency occurs when one of Trevor’s crew nicknamed The Chief (played excellently by Eugene Brave Rock) - because he’s a Native American is being grilled by Diana. Witnessing the conflict in all its abject horror is taking an emotional toll and Diana wants to know how someone could be a smuggler in a war like this and profit. The Chief explains that he’s a member of a conquered people and this commerce makes him feels freer than he ever has at home. When she enquires who conquered him, he points to a sleeping Trevor.
Strong character actors like Nielsen and Wright set the tone for the support for Gadot. Chris Pine is excellent as Trevor; the chivalrous spy with good moral standing, which isn’t dwarfed by Diana’s demigod powers. Pine has that charming scoundrel streak (see Capt. Kirk) that makes him the sure footed support for Gadot. All of the characters that surround Trevor inform Diana’s view of the world. Lucy Davis’ Etta, Trevor’s secretary is hilarious throwing shade at inequality. Saïd Taghmaoui’s Sameer is an aspiring actor turned translator because the colour of his skin is a barrier. Ewan Bremner is essential as Charlie, the shell shocked soldier that the “great war” glossed over. Finally Elena Anaya’s Dr. Maru a.k.a Dr Poison, is an iconic Bond hench-woman that Bond forgot.
“Wonder Woman” gracefully ascends into the arena and defiantly delivers a stylish, funny adventure made with heart. After the genre shaking “Logan” and the genre redefining “Wonder Woman,” there’s only one thing left to be said: your move Marvel.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.