By Ankur Bhelawe.
Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman swept theaters worldwide last weekend and is already being lauded as DCEU’s first major win against Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The highest grossing female-led superhero flick of all time, Wonder Woman is breaking all records.
Everyone anticipated something out of Wonder Woman. Catwoman and Elektra were utter disasters. If Wonder Woman had failed to win the audience’s love, no one would probably have ever dared to make another high-budget supergirl movie again. Also, a bad performance on Wonder Woman’s part would have jeopardized DCEU’s Justice League, scheduled to release this November. DCEU had, so far, not been able to produce a critically acclaimed movie. While Man of Steel received mixed reviews, both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad received negative reviews. As such, the responsibility to take DCEU out of the abyss of negative critical responses fell on Wonder Woman. There was a lot at stake.
Let’s just say, Wonder Woman has come across as DCEU’s savior!
Set during World War I, Wonder Woman is Diana Prince’s origin story. Born and brought up among the Amazons (an all-women warrior clan) in Themyscira, a veiled paradise island, Diana (Gal Gadot) is intent upon training to fight like all other Amazons. Defying her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) she trains in combat with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). She also learns about Ares, the God of War, who is believed to be causing conflict in the world of Men, lately.
Enter Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a British spy whose plane crashes into the sea, just outside Themyscira. Jenkins plays with the theme of role-reversal, letting Diana save Trevor from drowning to death. Diana and the other Amazons fight with, and kill all the Germans in pursuit of Steve, giving birth to one of the most awe-inspiring action sequences in recent memory.
Diana agrees to help Steve deliver the crucial intelligence he gathered while on his espionage mission in the German ranks, believing that she could find and kill Ares by going with Steve, and end the war. She is a living paradox; it is her duty to fight, in order to bring peace. So, armed with the sword Godkiller, shield, bulletproof gauntlets, and the Lasso of Truth, Diana sets out for London with Steve, and later on to the war front in Belgium. Will Diana be able to save the world? Will she be able to stop the war?
Patty Jenkins plays with quite a few themes that are relatively new in the comic superhero movie genre. For instance, Diana is not the damsel-in-distress. She is more than capable of taking care of herself. Steve Trevor is not just Diana’s love interest; he is given a much more important role to play in the movie, and much more screen time, which makes Steve’s character much better than just Wonder Woman’s arm candy. Another theme that is rare in superhero movies, but is depicted here, is Diana’s naivety. Diana is strong, no doubt, but very innocent. She is not worldly-wise, having grown up on a sheltered island away from the world of Men. In London, she is a fish out of water. She’s curious about the world. This leads to some hilarious comedy pegs throughout the movie, a light mood that previous DCEU movies lamentably lacked and obviously needed. Etta Candy (played by Shaun of the Dead star Lucy Davis), Steve’s bubbly, vivacious assistant, is an absolute delight to watch, my favorite exchange of dialogues being where Etta tells Diana that she is Steve’s secretary and Diana says, ”Where I’m from, it’s called Slavery.”
Diana’s character has been very well fleshed-out. She can be kind, lovely, cheerful, and at the same time fierce, strong, independent. She’s more capable both intellectually and physically than most men, and does not stand down to them. She doesn’t always comply with Steve, doing whatever she feels is right, even if it means walking through a revolving door with a sword and shield in hand, or crossing no man’s land at the war front, all alone. She doesn’t really understand why it is not polite for British women in the late 19th century to enter an all-men law making institution, or speak directly to men during a men-only conversation. She just barges in. She’s visibly upset when Steve does not argue with his seniors at the Government about what he knows is the right thing to do.
Diana: “You! Was your duty to simply give them a book? You didn’t stand your ground; you didn’t fight…millions of people are going to die…”
Steve: “We’re going (to the war front) anyway.”
Diana: “You mean you were lying?”
There’s an interesting consequence of Diana’s naivety that Jenkins embraces boldly – her belief that the war would end as soon as she kills Ares. As Diana sails away from her fantasy island towards the world of men, the audience starts wondering if Diana might be wrong about that. There’s a sense of doubt; we’re not sure if Ares would actually show up in the real world. As the story progresses, Jenkins plays with a very fresh theme – a hero with a plan that might actually not work.
Wonder Woman is a marvel of balance and execution (pun intended). The movie is slow when it needs to be, comedic when it needs to be, tragic when it needs to be, romantic when it needs to be, and has terrific action when it is required. Gal Gadot is simply stunning in the movie. She brings out Diana’s curiosity and naivety as adeptly as her ferocity in combat. Gadot, being one of the best things about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, continues to rule the viewers’ hearts in her solo movie. Her iconic, charismatic performance made the viewers care about Diana Prince, and undoubtedly shut the mouths of all those who considered her just a pretty face. Let’s just say, Gal Gadot was born to play the part. Chris Pine did absolute justice to Steve Trevor, too. The duo’s chemistry in the movie is the one of the finest in superhero movies till date!
Another beautiful nitty-gritty about Wonder Woman is that though it was directed by Patty Jenkins, the movie’s story and screenplay writers were all men – Zack Synder, Allan Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs. Wonder Woman is not a superhero just for girls. She is not strong because the characters around her are weak. On the contrary, Steve Trevor is a very strong character, full of courage, self-sacrifice, and cunning. What makes Wonder Woman wondrous is not her super strength, speed, and agility, it is her strong sense of morale, and her empathy. She is ready to fight for “those who cannot fight for themselves.” She “cannot stand by when innocent lives are lost”, thus sparing us a movie where the hero whines, “Why me?”. Wonder Woman is a hero because she wants to be a hero.
Almost all of the movie’s action sequences are also a great departure from conventional superhero movies; they seem very realistic. It’s refreshing to see hand to hand and gun to shield combat between Diana and real men throughout most of the movie. The movie’s climax, the epic fight scene at the end, was a CGI debacle, though, and did not fit in well with the rest of the movie. But sadly for poor Jenkins, a CGI extravaganza is DCEU’s signature climax – DCEU’s idea of what makes an ideal superhero movie. Also, the twist in the end is really clichéd. You won’t expect it, but once events unfold, you’ll find yourself wishing there was a better way to do that. The villain is thinly drawn, and disappointingly acted out. I feel, a stronger, more fear-inducing villain like The Dark Knight’s Joker would have really taken the plot a long way.
That being said, Wonder Woman is definitely a prodigious visual treat. The scenes set in Themyscira showcase a humongous color gamut. It is a movie you should definitely go to the theaters to watch; watch it in 3D!
If I were to give Wonder Woman a one-word review, I would unhesitatingly call it “Magnificent”. With this movie comes a gargantuan paradigm shift in what we expect out of female-led movies. Hopefully, DCEU will carry forward Wonder Woman’s hard earned legacy; fans cannot wait to find out what role Diana has to play in Justice League!
Featured image: This image was originally posted to Flickr by Gage Skidmore. The image has been licensed for fair use by the creator under the Creative Commons license – Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). No changes were made.