Through my own astonishing poor planning and lack of research, I’ve now seen WONDER WOMAN twice in the cinema, both times with subtitles. Luckily for me the film is compelling enough that I was drawn in and didn’t notice after a while. One unexpected bonus of having subtitles not only for the dialogue but also for all diagetic sound is that it provides a perfect summation of Wonder Woman’s cinematic debut: she roars.
Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves the island paradise of the Amazons to fight in the First World War, which she believes is being manipulated by the devious God of conflict, Ares. Together with American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and an unlikely gang of ne’er-do-wells, Diana’s experience of war, and of the horrors of the world, shapes her irrevocably.
Wonder Woman has moments that rank up there in the annals of superhero movies, and director Patty Jenkins should be admired for bringing freshness to the familiar. Diana’s smile of thrilled exhilaration as she first realises the extent of her powers; Wonder Woman showing just what thrilling and deadly miracles can be woven using a magical lasso in battle; WW casting aside her concealing cloak and striding out over No Man’s Land, the only splash of colour in a grey and desolate landscape.
Young Diana (Lilly Aspell) dreams if nothing more than following in the footsteps of a long line of warrior women. She wants to be a hero, to fight for everything good and moral. This ideology is brought into stark and thematically hard-hitting relief as she enters World War I, perhaps mankind’s most costly and pointless war. One of Diana’s first acts after arriving in the world of men is, thrillingly, storming into a cabinet committee to shame cowardly generals and politicians sending millions of men to die.
Wonder Woman is the second blockbuster of the year after ALIEN: COVENANT that is far stronger in terms of symbolism than it is with plot. Both films tread familiar ground and offer few storytelling surprises, but they are about so much more than the surface level. They are well-mounted retreads, but retreads nonetheless. They get away with it because of a handful of well-realised characters and a rich thematic seam that connects on another level.
In Gal Gadot, we get the most perfect casting of a comic book character since Robert Downey Jr in IRON MAN. She is Wonder Woman and brings with her some fascinating contradictions: she is naive but wise, both formidable and caring, strong of will but emotionally untested. She knows not what she is or quite where she fits into her world or ours, but she knows just what she has to do. Chris Pine is a charming foil who doesn’t over-do the comic relief, and in refreshingly progressive fashion, Steve and Diana’s relationship is, for the most part, based on mutual respect. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen make the most of small but crucial roles, Nielsen in particular as Diana’s mother Hippolyta brings a dignified anguish to a potentially naff goodbye to her daughter (“You have been my greatest love and today you are my greatest sorrow”).
The German voices are annoyingly inconsistent in their usage, with actual German dialogue for background characters and up close English-speaking actors with silly accents (the forever awful Danny Huston being the worst offender). Confusingly, some scenes featuring other languages than German are fully subtitled, so who knows what they were going for.
My main issues with the film come in the final act, where the big bad’s plan is revealed to work in the basis of some strange reverse logic, and when he does finally turn up for battle the poor actor’s face is very obviously, and badly, transplanted onto a stuntman’s body. I don’t see why action in Warner Bros superhero movies often pops so badly against the greenscreen. The early fight scenes of the film convince because, for all Diana and the Amazons’ balletic fight choreography and impossible physical movements, they have one foot in reality and you can tell that the beach, the trenches or the bombed out village were really there in the form of real sets. The final showdown was clearly manufactured after the fact, and at this level, this budget, you really shouldn’t be able to tell so easily.
Wonder Woman is greater than the sum of its parts, and far more important. There is no reason she should have had to wait 75 years to get her chance on the big screen. A mythical being crossing into our world like Thor, but pre-dating him and thrown into a far more brutal period of our history. A god and a saviour like Superman, but bringing with her far more hope and progressive thinking than any of his recent big screen outings. It’s so good to have a hero that is earnest, honest and good to her core, because that is who we deserve to fight our battles right now. She is shaken by the horrors she witnesses, but she stays straight and true on her path and refuses set aside her idealism. As she puts it herself, she is that man, and yes, she roars. SSP