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Di hard
Comic giants DC seem to be losing in the cinematic battle with rivals Marvel. Zach Snyder's dark, FX heavy efforts have lacked wit and a lightness of touch. Can Patty Jenkins' WONDER WOMAN buck the trend? Camus heads off to Paradise Island.
 
  "To me, the Amazons and Wonder Woman shouldn't be dressed in armour like men. It should be different. It should be authentic and real – and appealing to women. It's total wish-fulfillment. I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time… And my hero, in my head, has really long legs."
  Director Patty Jenkins quoted on the movie's Wikipedia page

 

We've come a long, long way from "All the world is ready for you, And the power you possess, In your satin tights, fighting for your rights, And the old red white and blue…" with all respect to Lynda Carter's buxom incarnation from 1975. So how can a comic character conceived in the 40s, having been through so many iterations both on the page and on screen possibly be relevant today? That's easy to answer. You can never have too many heroines. For every one Buffy, one real heroine, there are thousands of heroes. We need to start celebrating and promoting women in our culture so that other cultures get the message. That said, Wonder Woman is hardly an issue driven movie as much as two hours plus of light comic book fluff with a few feminist flags fluttering in the background. But it also has an element that transcends its silliness but we'll get to her in a moment.

Wonder Woman features many over-worn strands of comic origin DNA and there are few real surprises in this straightforward 'goodies vs. baddies' tale. But the movie has one element that elevates it to the very top of the DC heap. Forget overwrought lightning bolt visual effects, a charming and rugged hero and some clunky CG synthespians. Pay them no mind. In my opinion, Wonder Woman boasts the most charismatic leading lady currently being showcased in modern mainstream Hollywood. Gal Gadot sits this film on her toned shoulders and it never wants to leave. It's quite the feat to add all of the following into a single performance; naiveté, mystery, allure, comic timing, innate intelligence, stadia of sex appeal, action credibility, naughtiness and innocence. It's fitting that her Israeli accented English places her appropriately from a foreign, exotic land, from an English speaking perspective, of course. The film is buoyed up by Gadot's simple but utterly commanding presence. I couldn't take my eyes off her. I have not witnessed a camera adoring anyone quite like it adores Gadot. At one stage of the film, Chris Pine wants to dress her down so she's not as striking. This is like trying to put out a fire with tissue paper. If anything, each of her costume changes increases her allure. Pine has no choice but to jam glasses on her nose in a vain attempt to make her blend in. It so fails. Gadot couldn't blend in swathed in a camouflage-coloured burka. Those eyes… Yes, I admit that I have probably been affected by the relentless drip feed of images, teasers and trailers, slyly conditioning me into enjoying Gadot's extraordinary face, chocolate dark eyes and millimetre perfect curves (given the narrow confines of media-led 'conventional' beauty). Whether I've been brainwashed or not, she's simply remarkable and the single reason the movie is worth your time.

Wonder Woman

On a mystically hidden island lives a society of Amazons, female warriors led by a Queen with a daughter brought to life by Zeus (yes, stop tittering at the back). We have to lurch into mythical god territory here and it's the only aspect of the movie that seems out of place (by definition, we do not 'know' what gods are capable of and so their presence in Wonder Woman is a little bit of a distraction and their power play simply uninvolving as we cannot know what the stakes are. Lightning bolts exchanged between them mean very little to us non-gods). Diana is the only child of the island and she longs to be a warrior. Everyone seems to be afraid that Ares (the god of war) will be returning and the Amazons want to be battle ready. Literally piercing the enclosed world of the warrior women is a World War I pilot, Steve (a dashing Chris Pine). Rescued by Diana, he tells horrific tales of the outside world. Thinking she is going to battle Ares, Diana joins him back in his world, and the horrors of the First World War's front line. Diana, of course, is not a deluded soul who will soon be taught the error of her misguided beliefs by a cynical, combat hardened spy. She's right about her divine interventions and it's to the movie's credit that it stays true to that deific narrative strand. I just have a very personal problem with the whole 'god' thing so do your best to ignore me on that topic.

Once Diana gets to London ("Hideous!"), she is more properly attired (with a lovely turn by ex-Office actress, Lucy Davies as Etta, Steve's slave – sorry, secretary). Things hot up when Diana proves her warrior credentials by allowing the allied forces to take ground while she deflects all the lead the disbelieving German soldiers can fire at her. Despite the ludicrous nature and neat double entendre of the 'over the top' scene, it is genuinely exciting and relatively original and in so many ways, the centrepiece of the film itself. The action is well staged with lots of ultra slow motion intercut with normal and fast speed (I wonder how many years have to pass for this stylistic tic to become passé?) The one niggling bugbear is almost always the problem of depicting the physical prowess of a superhuman. Human actors can't perform gravity defying actions and as soon as the wires are put away and a CG human takes over, it takes you out of the film like the long toothed cat depositing Fred Fintstone on his own doorstep. We're not talking absurdly digital Halle Berry in Catwoman here but I don't think CG wizards will ever get these characters and feats to look right for the simple reason that we have no frame of reference on how a super woman would move. If there was such a beast and the CG was perfect, it'd still look just odd perhaps even risible. It's why Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man) was never shown, or rarely shown running at the speeds he was supposed to be capable of. He would have looked ridiculous, like Clark Kent-as-a-teen-ridiculous next to the speeding train in Richard Donner's mostly epic original Superman of 1978.

Wonder Woman

DC's ever-present bug in its own system is the depiction of its villains. With one very notable exception (clue, "I'll make this pencil disappear… Ta da! It's gone."), its villains are uninteresting, one note and frankly dull. The German antagonist we can easily hate shoots his inferiors to make a point and is lucky enough to have a nasty, disfigured female chemical weapons expert in his thrall. This means that he can take on super strength with a quick snort from a convenient glass vial he so can at least be, fleetingly, something of a match to Diana whose strength is 'pick up and throw a tank' strong. In some stills of him with his accomplice, I was convinced the poisoner was played by Eva Green with a few plastic face mask pieces. It transpires that Green was considered for the role. It was actually Elena Anaya playing Doctor Poison and very effectively too. It takes quite a lot to render this actress less than absolutely gorgeous. The design and execution of this character is extremely effective and I idly wondered how much fun it would have been to have had a resourceful and layered female antagonist. But in 1918 this may have stretched believability somewhat. Ha! Believability stretched, snapped and died of shock after scant minutes but this doesn't matter. We are talking about a hidden race of Amazon women who have an exceptionally long lifespan, defy gravity and lasso victims with the glowing rope having the effect of forcing them to speak the truth. So in terms of unbelievable things, a female antagonist may have been very low down on the long list.

Wonder Woman is a worthy entry in the superhero canon and will do wonders (sorry) for DC's credibility as a player in Marvel's crowded marketplace. Its entrancing leading lady is the film's principal strength and its secret weapon. The movie's fish out of water humour works very well even though it's somewhat predictable (try going through a revolving door with a sword and shield) but I will flag one rather lovely exchange, the very definition of playful subtext. Chris Pine is relaxing in a super-spa bath on the Amazon island. As he gets up, Diana arrives, presumably taking in his nakedness. You have to remember that she has never seen a man before that day. He mentions his wristwatch, something that gets him up in the morning, tells him when to go to work and when to do things. Diana says innocently, "That little thing tells you what to do?" Can there be a better definition of a male human being than that? If you're up (steady) for two hours of fun with your logic circuit switched to the upright and off position, then Wonder Woman may be right up your street.

Wonder Woman poster
Wonder Woman

USA 2017
141 mins
directed by
Patty Jenkins
produced by
Deborah Snyder
Zack Snyder
Richard Suckle
written by
Allan Heinberg
story by
Zack Snyder
Allan Heinberg
Jason Fuchs
cinematography
Matthew Jensen
editing
Martin Walsh
music
Rupert Gregson-Williams
production design
Aline Bonetto
starring
Gal Gadot
Chris Pine
Connie Nielsen
Robin Wright
Danny Huston
David Thewlis
Saïd Taghmaoui
Ewen Bremner
distributor
Warner Brothers Entertainment UK
release date
1 June 2017
review posted
2 June 2017

See all of Camus's reviews