There is a scene, in the new Wonder Woman movie, where Gal Gadot’s character walks into a room of politicians arguing over the merits of war and peace, and the whole place goes quiet when it not only becomes apparent she’s there, but that this is unacceptable. Setting this movie within the War to End all Wars is not only apposite as we remember these events a hundred years on. It highlights the truth that it has not been very long at all since women were considered as second class citizens, and that to fight was a man’s preserve. Into this comes an innocent, Diana’s character not simply a fish out of water but with no real conception of this ‘World of Men.’ That’s exactly what it is: women are bit parts, secretaries and set dressing, yet every woman’s part in this cinematic version of early 20th Century Earth has both substance and significance. It is especially encouraging to see a villain in female form, but I’m not spoiling plot here. That’s crucial to your enjoyment of this movie: go see it cold. Don’t binge on spoilers beforehand because they will lessen your enjoyment so very much.
This movie has so much to lend to it in positives, not simply a pretty damn faithful reproduction of Wonder Woman’s ‘origin’ story. Chris Pine is as great a Steve Trevor as you could possibly have hoped: inspired by Diana’s heroism, yet still unable to believe her true motivation until the truth literally explodes in front of his eyes. The plot isn’t flimsy, but solidly robust, and even when it drifts into cliche or skips credibility for simple exposition you allow this to slide, because you buy into what you’re being told. There are some beautifully placed nods to other DC heroes, to the genre generally but where this entire endeavour so brilliantly succeeds is where Diana is a warrior. The sequence where she liberates a Belgian village is so incredibly uplifting you’re willing to forgive the casualties, that the Germans might not just be the bad guys. This Amazon owns everything she sets out to do, encouraging those around her to be better than they are without her by their side.
However, there are criticisms. The way this story is both presented and told initially assumes a great deal of an audience, and my 12 year old with no backstory and understanding of the genre was confused and unhappy at certain parts of the narrative. If you’ve already bought into the DC Universe it makes a lot more sense, yet there are a number of quite serious questions that are left unanswered in WW’s narrative. The biggest single issue I still have after several days however is the convenience with which events play out in the first 45 minutes: with the running time of this movie at 2 hours 21 it is fair to say that had there been any more scene setting, your average audience would have struggled. So, you let the issues slide, because there’s moments where you forget everything and simply allow the movie to swallow you whole, and it does. The last 40 minutes is breakneck, and even though it ends with a denouement that could have been ripped from another Marvel movie if you’re looking to compare and contrast, it doesn’t matter at all.
There’s not a dud performance amongst any of the supporting cast: particular love goes to Lucy Davis (above) as Etta Candy (who should have had more to do, frankly, but this is 1918) with Robin Wright and Elena Anaya doing a really great job in their respective tasks. When there’s intimacy (and this serves an important function in the plot so it wasn’t just written in as an afterthought) it is so brilliantly acted by both leads as to be both acceptable and encouraged. In fact, that strength is one of the cornerstones of the entire movie: that love is what matters above destruction and hate, that caring and not killing is what should always be the default, in the end. However, the fact that people have to die is a point that echoes throughout the entire fabric of the film, from first frame until the last, and using mortality as the lynchpin to so much of this action gives a resonance that remains with the audience long after they have left the theatre.
Frankly, I’d argue you’ll not likely to see a better ‘comic book’ movie this year: I’m not sure Justice League is going to give Gadot the space she needs, or that her supporting cast are the right characters to pick, but we will see in November. In terms of my personal scale, this ranks on a par with Batman Begins, and I think probably sits with the original Iron Man movie as an origin story that isn’t just totally believable, but you’d have wanted to be real. There’s more than enough to keep the casual fan happy, and if you’re a hardcore fangirl nitpicker, it leaves you with more positives than negatives. In fact, I’ll repeat what I said as the credits rolled: I’ve waited 50 years to see a movie with a heroine so beautifully and compellingly formed like this.
I hope I don’t need to wait the same time for another.