A cinematic wonder

After the crushing disappointments that were Man Of Steel (2013), Batman V Superman (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016), it’d be completely fair to assume that Wonder Woman — the latest superhero film to join DC’s ailing cinematic universe — would likewise be an easy pass. You’d be mistaken.

One of the two films to join the franchise in 2017 (the other being Justice League), Wonder Woman is a spectacular exemplar of a superhero film. Easily the best film in DC’s portfolio since Nolan’s take on the caped crusader, Wonder Woman deftly captures everything that is great about the superhero genre while also avoiding many of its common pitfalls. It also boasts an entrancingly charismatic cast of characters — with genuine chemistry between its actors — that makes every scene and interaction a joy to watch. If nothing else, Wonder Woman proves that a female-lead superhero film can’t just be as glorious and satisfying as its male-lead counterparts, it can positively beat them into the ground.

While already having made her debut appearance in last year’s Batman V Superman, Wonder Woman takes us back to the titular heroine’s origin story. About the first quarter of the film takes place on the mythical island of Themyscira, the home of the Amazons. Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) lives a secluded life training in the ways of her people, until a fighter plane carrying British-Intelligence spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) falls into the ocean near the island.

Seeing the struggling pilot, Diana jumps into the water to save him, only to be confronted with the realities of World War I when an armada of German soldiers pursues Steve right onto the island’s shores. Determined to fulfil the Zeus-bestowed destiny of her people to kill Ares, the Greek god of war, and end the “war without end” to save humanity, Diana accompanies Steve into the trenches of World War I Germany, where she believes the war-god is manipulating the Germans in the guise of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston).

From the very first true battle scene between the Amazons and the Germans on the beach, the action in Wonder Woman is a delight to behold. Diana, having trained with the Amazons, retains her forceful-yet-elegant approach to combat, twirling, cutting and pummelling poor German soldiers into the mud while looking spectacular in every frame.

Granted, much of the action can seem rather frantic and chaotic for some people, who may not appreciate the camera’s constant swerving, swinging and occasionally dipping into slow-motion to keep up with and highlight Diana’s every bone-crunching blow or bullet deflection. But think what you will of the action, Gadot is simply stunning as Diana. The actress brings an appropriately imperious, otherworldly quality to the warrior-goddess, instilling her with as much authority and presence as you would expect from her character.

Personally, my only recollection of Gadot’s past acting work is her role in the Fast And Furious franchise, which admittedly isn’t the most telling demonstration of an actor/actress’ real calibre.

As such, it is truly surprising to watch the dynamic shift in performance she delivers throughout the film, as the naive and optimistic Diana is slowly faced with the undeniable darkness in mankind. Perhaps most importantly, Gadot is also surprisingly funny, as she portrays Diana’s general obliviousness when it comes to the mortal world. Of course, she still looks like a princess, even when she’s making a fool of herself.

Much of the film’s humour and heart wouldn’t be possible, however, without Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. Pine is absolutely charming in his role as the sardonic-but-well-meaning spy, his deadpan, self-deprecating humour pairing very nicely with Diana’s aristocratic innocence. You could argue that the real star of the film is Pine, who actually gets to be the most dynamic over the course of the film. He’s awkward and lovestruck one moment, commanding and valiant in another, and remains convincing all throughout. While I personally found his romance with Diana ultimately unnecessary — as the two establish a sort of quippy, buddy-cop dynamic towards the beginning — the chemistry between the two characters makes it easy to forget that they seem to have fallen madly in love over a matter of days.

Likewise, the supporting cast is equally delightful in the little time they are given. From Steve’s peppy secretary Etta (Lucy Davis) to the trio of mercenaries that accompanies Steve and Diana to the front lines (portrayed by Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock), every character has their own amusing quirk, which adds to every scene they are in. It’s a shame they aren’t given more screen time, as their interactions with both Steve and Diana (individually and together) make much of the film’s relatively uneventful middle that much more enjoyable.

And let’s not forget Ares, who manages to end up being more than a one-note villain in the same vein as found in many superhero films. There is a pretty significant revelation regarding the character, and I wouldn’t want to spoil that for you by saying anymore.

In the wider public sphere of consciousness, Wonder Woman is often seen as a symbol of feminism, a righteous and incorruptible super-heroine who stands equal to the likes of Superman. Wonder Woman the film (the first superhero flick to be directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins) takes the metaphor a step further, beating even Man Of Steel in the hierarchy of DC’s cinematic features. As true in the film as it is in the real-world film franchise, Wonder Woman is a shining beacon of light in an otherwise grey, miserable world.

Wonder Woman

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Billy Huston

Directed by Patty Jenkins