Friday 16 June 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) - Movie Review

As a means to contrast the enduring sense of dread I had in the lead-up to the release of Baywatch (you know, before I ended up liking it), today’s film has been a long and steady process of chanting “please don’t suck” over and over again every time I saw the marketing for this film. Knowing what DC is capable of in terms of stories, and how much their recent efforts have been underwhelming (I didn’t give nearly enough flack for the whole Granny’s Peach Tea insanity from BvS: Dawn Of Justice when I first reviewed it), I seriously wish that they would stop falling under their own strain and just make the DC Extended Universe worth watching. The closest we’ve gotten so far is Suicide Squad, and even then it ranks up there in terms of the most bewildering fanboy rage quits in recent years; it honestly seems like I’m one of the few people who was willing to give that film a chance.
So, in the wake of this film’s alarmingly warm reception, am I going to join the crowd for once or am I going to be the lone jackass wondering what the hell everyone else is seeing? Only one way to find out.

The plot: Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazon warrior who lives on the hidden island of Themyscira, has her life shaken up when American soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes onto the island. As he details the World War that is tearing Man’s World apart, Diana decides to leave her home and help Trevor put an end to this war, in particular the actions of Nazi general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and chemical specialist Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). However, as she discovers more about life outside of her home, her faith in humanity will be tested.

Back in my Dawn Of Justice review, I mentioned that Gadot still had a fair ways to go before completely convincing me that she is Wonder Woman. Well, consider me convinced. It’s hard to really put into words but the sheer conviction she puts into the character’s mindset and want to make the world a better place makes it at once inspirational and weirdly relatable. Pine, while his presence in the story does make me slightly annoyed that we still absolutely have to give a female main character a love interest, not only has terrific chemistry with Gadot but feels like a true character in his own right. Nielsen only manages to bring out the worried parent side of the queen of the Amazons, but thankfully, she’s not in nearly enough of the film for that to be an issue.
Casting Danny Huston, one of the best villain actors working today, as a Nazi general is the kind of decision that would make even Marvel kick themselves that they didn’t think of it first, and he unsurprisingly fills in that role very nicely. Opposite him, Elena Anaya makes for a very unsettling presence as the deliciously-named Doctor Poison, coupled with a face mask that never stops being creepy. From there, it’s basically a who’s who of recognisable British actors from Lucy “Dawn from The Office” Davis to Ewen “Spud from Trainspotting” Bremner to David “Lupin from Harry Potter” Thewlis, all of whom go beyond simply being recognisable into fitting their roles remarkably well.

This has the best pacing of any DC film thus far… by which I mean that it has any sense of pacing to begin with. As a result of the ungodly game of catch-up DC has had to do to meet Marvel’s level of presence and world-building, every DC cinematic universe offering we’ve gotten so far has largely felt like films that know they are in a rush to get everything set up and it shows. That feeling of exasperation is nowhere to be found here, sticking to a deceptively simple origin story to fill out the film’s run time. Basically, think of Man Of Steel, Dawn Of Justice and even Suicide Squad as a construction crew trying to build an entire apartment complex in a single day’s work, whereas this film is the smarter crew that takes its time and puts everything in place brick-by-brick. And yet, “taking its time” isn’t even the first phrase that comes to mind here, as this film manages to breeze through its most crucial moments in a way that allows for very natural character interaction and even humour. Yeah, actual humour in a DC film; this is what happens when you stop taking yourself so friggin’ seriously.

But what about establishing Wonder Woman’s place in the DC universe? After all, the 70’s TV show is all but a blip on the pop culture radar and the less said about the unaired pilot for a new Wonder Woman show, the better. It is at this point that I’d like to mention that the executive producer behind that pilot, where Wonder Woman is shown as a bloodthirsty Frank Miller-inspired vigilante that sees no problem with torturing people in hospital beds to get what she needs, is also the writer for this film. Before we all start panicking, I should also mention that the writer in question, Allan Heinberg, has his share of experience writing for the character in comic books and that kind of familiarity shows.
Without it feeling forced down our throats, we get the origin of Themiscyra and the Amazons (in a beautifully animated picture-book sequence), a vivid picture of their society and culture and a feel for the legends that they hold dear. Not only that, we also get an understanding of how they exist parallel to the rest of the world, making them a part of the larger picture and a few steps to the left of it at the same time. As for Diana herself, while the fish-out-of-water jokes at her expense get truly cringey at times, along with the enfant terrible in her conversation about sex with Trevor, she fits in not only with DC’s general approach to superheroes but also with what makes for a compelling superhero in their own right. Strong, capable, caring and willing to lead the charge against evil; sign me up for a place in that army.

Amidst the DC universe’s rather muddled ideas of what makes a good superhero story, there have been a lot of noteworthy questions brought up within their narratives: What makes a person want to save people; what happens if they decide not to save people; who exactly made the rules on who should be saving people in the first place; etc. This film, however, asks a different question: Do people deserve to be saved in the first place? Initially, Diana’s attitude towards the larger world comes across as na├»ve, innocent, dangerously close to precious in how she doesn’t seem able to understand why the world is the way that it is in terms of attitudes (yeah, it’s set during WWII, but let’s be honest: We still have a long way to go yet). However, as the film presses on and Diana’s point-of-view starts to truly take shape, that feeling starts to fall away and become something far more vital: Purity. Diana’s view of humanity is pure, untouched and the way that she keeps putting the blame on Ares for Man’s follies at war just shows how much she cannot bear to believe that Man is capable of such evil on its own.

But here’s the thing: Judgement is easy. Aggression is easy. Hate is easy. I’ve talked about mankind’s innate fear of The Other in previous reviews, and in a groan-worthy quote, fear leads to anger which in turn leads to hate. Wonder Woman, at her very core, is a spirit of truth and compassion; she is part of DC’s legendary triumvirate with Superman and Batman for a reason, as she embodies the very ideals at the heart of every superhero. Wonder Woman isn’t strong because she can deflect bullets or toss a tank across a field like so many schoolroom tables. Wonder Woman is strong because she can see Man’s destructive nature, witness the atrocities of war with her own eyes, and say “No. These people still deserve to be saved.” When this ideal is wielded by both Heinberg’s learned scripting and Gadot’s powerful delivery, it shows a message that the world will never not need to hear but in a way that takes war films, superhero films and just good films in general and shows the one uniting point between them all and shines that light as bright as it can. Hell. Yes.

All in all… okay, rather than do my usual round-up, I want to quickly go over how I qualify ‘good’ superhero media, not just films. ‘Good’ superhero stories, ones involving characters that are depicted as being emblems of justice and peace, are meant to make you feel inspired; meant to make you want to be a better person, go out into the world and do some good. This film, far more so than any other superhero or even comic book-related film I have covered thus far, does exactly that.
DC, now without a single shred of doubt, has a film that it can be proud of, taking all of its former musings about the nature of heroes and what they represent for the rest of humanity, and hitting the nail on the head in such a way that I left the cinema with goose bumps all the way up my arms. I still defend Suicide Squad as the first film DC has produced where I wouldn’t mind seeing an Extended Cut, this film does so much right in such a (relatively) small space that it doesn’t even need an Extended Cut. With how these films have been steadily improving with each installment, I am honestly looking forward to how Justice League is going to turn out. Believe me, a couple short years ago, you would have never caught me saying that.

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