Lighter and funnier, there's enough here to hope for more than a one hit Wonder Woman
In turning out a perfectly fine version of Wonder Woman – make no mistake, it’s not better than that – director Patty Jenkins has performed a labour of herculean proportions.
The most famous superheroine of them all has had an extremely troubled path to the big screen, with directors as diverse as three straight white men can be (Ivan Reitman, Joss Whedon and George Miller) all attached to the project at one point or another.
The role of Diana, Princess of Themyscira, carved from clay and given life by Zeus, has been cast and recast, several actresses filling out the bodice and whipping around the Lasso of Truth, only to disappear like Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.
But development hell in Hollywood is less a Dante’s and more a Dan Brown’s Inferno – convoluted, self-important, ultimately hollow. Countless properties are always on the cusp of being greenlit, whole blockbusters canned at the last minute. Creative differences get blamed, fans mourn what might have been, scripts and concept art are posted online, the blockbuster goes on.
The less said about the infamous 2011 TV pilot the better.
No, the real heavy lifting Jenkins has done here is sorting out the DC Extended Universe – now rebranded as the DCEU in a splashy pre-credits stinger. The trio of preceding movies (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad) brought healthy box office returns for Warner Bros., but few fans back for a second viewing. Against the MCU’s quipping superheroics, the DCEU’s dark take on the genre comes across as cranky and joyless, filled with bursts of boring CGI nonsense and an aversion to humour so pronounced every critic was left wondering why so serious?
Wonder Woman is the best the DCEU has to offer, but there is no denying that the MCU’s fingerprints are all over this film. Gal Gadot, the Israeli actress whose brief introduction into the franchise in BvS was arguably the most enjoyable part of that film, returns for her standalone adventure, the film wisely only referencing the series with visual cues to Gotham’s billionaire. This is Wonder Woman’s origins tale, vividly told with lush visuals, a lightness of touch her male peers have yet to master, but falling victim to the same trappings of comic book flicks.
The plot revolves around Diana’s island paradise, home to the Amazons, warrior maidens with a penchant for Xena cosplay. Hidden by Zeus from the outside world, they train for the day when Ares, god of war, returns to the world, hiding the deity-destroying weapon that can take him down. But when Steve Trevor, an American spy crash lands on their beach – bringing the German navy with him – Diana learns that the world is at war and reasoning that Ares is behind it, sets off to kill him.
Along the way some things work very well; Gadot exuberantly brings us a Diana who can pivot from physical presence to dewy-eyed fish-out-of-water, imbuing Wonder Woman with just that, a sense of wonder. She’s ably supported by (a wonderfully deadpan) Lucy Davis and Chris Pine as Candies Etta and man, their shared scenes as Diana arrives in London as funny as anything Marvel can do.
But in aligning with what Marvel gets right, Wonder Woman worryingly makes the same mistakes those films do too, this film beleaguered by a baddy problem. Working up wicked plans involving suped-up mustard gas, the antagonists whip up little else. Aside from not speaking a word of German and regularly sniffing poppers, Danny Huston’s take on the real-life General Erich Ludendorff is instantly forgettable, huffing and puffing his way around like a panto villain, and so out of shape that sending in Diana seems like a something an intern Justice Leaguer could probably have managed. The Skin I Live In’s Elena Anaya is utterly wasted as Isabel ‘Dr Poison’ Maru, visually compelling with her creepy face mask, but side-lined lighting Bunsen burners and all but forgotten by the end.
Other things niggle (Diana convincingly speaks 100 languages, knows what sulphur and hydrogen are, but is left confused by snow), and the action is repetitive – although at least shot in daylight, groundbreaking for this franchise. By the time it all builds to the CGI-laden blow-out at the end, if you haven’t figured out the surprise, you’ve probably not seen many movies. Still though, good enough to merit being more than a one-hit Wonder.
Wonder Woman (12A/141mins) is released nationwide on June 1st