DIR: Patty Jenkins • WRI: Allan Heinberg • PRO: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Richard Suckle • DOP: Matthew Jensen • ED: Martin Walsh • DES: Aline Bonetto • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielson, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock
Action-packed and thrilling, Wonder Woman is an exciting origin story which has firmly lifted DC out of its cinematic rut. After the mixed reception of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), all eyes were on DC’s first female-fronted superhero movie. The nervous anticipation of its release not only stemmed from the current slump of DC’s live action films, but also due to the fact that Wonder Woman was not only to premier a female lead but was also to be headed by a female director, Patty Jenkins. There are always background tensions when the filmic adaptation of a comic book hero is helmed by a women, largely due to the gatekeeping of “geek culture” as something innately male-centric and patriarchal. Additionally, with a recent online backlash towards any media moving away from white-centric and masculine characterisation, the stakes for Wonder Woman were raised even higher as, if the film were to flop, there was the potential for the poor reception to once again be blamed on feminised identity politics. But flop Wonder Woman has not.
Beginning in Paris, Diana (Gal Gadot) receives the negative of the old photograph glimpsed in Batman v Superman, which launches her into the memories of her life and the origins of becoming Wonder Woman. As a small child on Themyscira, Diana is raised and protected by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilson), a woman who knows the pain and loss of war and has set upon doing everything in her power to ensure Diana never learns the truth about who she is. She tells the young princess the story of how Zeus created mankind to be loving and gentle, but the jealous god Ares instead drove them to war, and that it was the job of the Amazonian women to defend humans against Ares’ wrath and to put an end to the violence. However, in awe of the strong and powerful warriors, it is clear that Diana is itching to train and fight with them. Even though her mother has forbidden it, Diana begins to train with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), and, following some tension, is allowed by her mother to be trained to her full potential. A hiccup during a sparring match reveals Diana to be in possession of great power, and the revelation is paired with the sudden arrival of United States Air Force captain, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who, literally crashing into Diana’s world, brings news of a long and terrible world war. Convinced that Ares has returned to spew his wrath upon humankind once more, Diana vows to accompany Steve back to his post in order to kill the god and once more restore peace and unity.
Upon arrival in London, however, it soon becomes clear that things aren’t as simple as Diana once imagined and as she and Steve, along with the help of secret agent Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), alcoholic sniper Charlie (Ewen Bramner), and opportunist trader Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), prepare to take down Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) – a German general who, with the help of scientist Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya) have developed a poisonous gas potent enough to kill millions – she slowly begins to realise that maybe Ares isn’t the only one responsible for the violence of humankind.
Wonder Woman offers up an entirely more nuanced understanding of what it means to be a hero then has previously been seen in any of DC’s live action films. Using the backdrop of World War I, the film engages in an intricate and in-depth exploration of good and evil without resorting to the binary separation of the two, or the muddying and oversimplified alignment of the two as one. Rather than positioning the presence of evil as an innate expression that can’t be prevented, and goodness as untainted and wholly pure, as something without the propensity for deception, the thematic discourse of Wonder Woman instead wagers than humankind is a scramble of the two, and that there is a chance for both good and evil to sprout provided they are granted the right conditions. This goes beyond the usual explanation of villainy as a trait sparked by mistreatment, and opens up the dialogue that, even if what is being done is believed to be just, actions can still do harm. This is wrenched to the fore in a poignant moment in which Steve tells Diana that the violence of the war is on his head too, despite his objection to the fighting and an exhausted longing to bring the bloody battle to an end. In this way the film communicates that all violence – be it epistemic or physical – occurs as part of a spectrum, and, whether the intentions behind actions are pure or otherwise, accountability lies with whoever causes damage.
The film also touches on the performative nature of social structural hierarchies. Having been raised on an island full of women, Diana struggles with the culture shock of London’s patriarchal society. Led around a department store in order to find clothing that won’t draw attention, she stares at the corsets and dresses in confusion, asking “Is this what passes for armour? How can women fight in this?” Steve’s assistant Etta (Lucy Davis), a suffragette who is fully in awe of Diana, replies “using our principles”, but her added suggestion of not being against a bit of rough and tumble communicates that Diana has already begun to hold sway as a possible figure of liberation. Again and again she interrupts men when they are saying things she does not agree with – she even goes so far as to heatedly argue against them – and again and again she enters and holds her own in areas in which women were not allowed to go. The ways Diana deals with the restrictions of patriarchy are humorous but with hints of anarchical purpose; if there is no clear and justifiable reason for a woman to not do something, then the restriction is rendered obsolete.
From start to finish, Wonder Woman is an origin story that is faithful, thoughtful, and streaked with exciting action and impressive stunts. It is a film that thrills, contemplates, and, most importantly, holds the pleasure of introducing a younger generation to a new and powerful hero.
Sadhbh Ní Bhroin
12A (See IFCO for details)
Wonder Woman is released 2nd June 2017