2017. Directed by Patty Jenkins.
Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is two films. On the surface, it is the most Marvel-esque of DC’s cinematic universe, using all of the tried and true blockbuster clichés to present a feel good origin story in which love triumphs over evil. However, beyond the expected trappings of the genre, Jenkins’ unique directorial style and Gal Gadot’s larger than life performance take the narrative beyond costumed mayhem into a thrilling exploration of sexual politics and morality that almost escapes the constraints of its three colored origins.
Wonder Woman is thrust into the Great War when a British spy crash lands on her island sanctum. Believing that Ares, the god of war, is responsible for the carnage, she sets out with a group of unconventional soldiers to bring an end to his reign of terror and restore peace to the world. Jenkins balances the fantastical elements of Wonder Woman’s origins with the plight of the trenches in a remarkable dance. There are stunning scenes of otherworldly bravura mixed with gritty war sequences that conjure a feeling of epic adventure that never loses steam. Gal Gadot’s emotional turn as the titular hero is one for the ages, bringing gravity and vulnerability to a role that could have easily misfired. Although she is not mortal, her basic, possibly naïve, understanding of the heart of the human experience is what carries the film.
Chris Pine does an admirable job as the love interest, codifying the human experience through genuine exchanges with Gadot and outstanding scenes with the supporting cast of misfit soldiers. One of the film’s best surprises is in its candid approach to the cost of conflict, both in the heart and soul. Gadot approaches moral dilemmas with the benefit of not only being an outsider, but with a level of innocence that springs from never experiencing inequality. The ramifications of this play throughout the narrative, both playfully and with serious intent. While Wonder Woman plays to the Marvel formula with perfection, it transcends the entire MCU catalogue with conviction through its acknowledgement of these truths and its doubling down on the hero’s story. While there’s nothing immediately new, what Wonder Woman does, it does exceptional well.
Matthew Jensen’s cinematography approaches the combat with an intriguing mix of gentile splendor and brutal omnipotence. The bird’s eye capture of the No Man’s Land sequence is flawless, delivering an action extravaganza that builds upon the notion of hope in desperation that propels Gadot’s heroine into an iconic status. While the slow-motion captures become tedious as the film winds on, there’s so much to digest that the painfully long running time isn’t a factor until the clunky, CGI bonanza of the finale. Die-hard fans will not be able to unsee the glaring similarities with The First Avenger, however, the recipe is one that continues to prove, time and time again that it works and Wonder Woman simply does it better.
The importance of a female focused superhero film cannot be understated. This is a unique film because of its treatment of the complex issues of gender, violence, and heroism. However, as a sum of its parts, Wonder Woman stays regrettably in bounds, offering nothing fresh to the summer blockbuster and while this may disappoint viewers looking for the next best thing, it’s important to remember that films are meant to entertain, and Wonder Woman not only eclipses this humble goal, it also inspires.