There is a scene in Wonder Woman portraying the two leads, Diana Prince, also known as ‘Wonder Woman’ (Gal Gadot), and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) slow-dancing in a square. It is during a moment of peace: there are no bombs falling, no explosions erupting, no gunshots booming, just silence and the sound of music drifting through the barren streets. As Diana and Steve dance, it begins to snow, the first snow Diana has ever seen. She is awestruck by the beauty of that moment, as was I as I sat in the darkened theater. Diana then asks Steve whether this is what people do when they are not at war. He replies with “Yes,” and she asks what else his people do. Steve replies, “Well, we eat breakfast.”
Throughout Hollywood’s recent obsession with the cinematic universe concept, it is scenes like this that have fallen by the wayside. Studios and filmmakers have become far too concerned with teasing upcoming films and adding new characters and forming a continuity that they have lost sight of the true beauty of cinema: it is a way for people to revel in unconditional feeling. While franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe can more than compensate for modern audience’s hunger for action and spectacle, there is very little room left for the intimacy of a scene such as the one between Diana and Steve. It is unabashedly melodramatic, quiet, romantic, and so incredibly real.
Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gets to the essence of why superheroes have continued to be the strongest cultural icons for the past 100 years, just as The Dark Knight, Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films, and even bits of Man of Steel did. Jenkins weaves a multitude of stores into each other, crafting an epic, heroic journey that feels both old-fashioned as well as brand new. This is the Wonder Woman film I and many, many others have been dreaming of.
The film begins on the island of Themyscira where a tribe of Amazonian women reside, one of them being Princess Diana, who will later be referred to as Wonder Woman. However, the Amazonian utopia is disturbed by an unexpected visitor in Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, a handsome American pilot who is rescued by Diana after his plane crashes into the ocean off the shore of Themyscira. He is the first man Diana has ever seen, and her response to his presence is equal parts confused and inquisitive. Diana asks Steve, “You’re a man?” and Steve replies, “Isn’t that obvious?”
This sets the tone for Diana’s persona, which is far from the haunted, demoralized portrayal we got in last year’s Batman v Superman, not that this development doesn’t make sense. Diana is intuitive, intelligent, funny, charming, compassionate, both intimidating and as cute as a button–somehow–and, most importantly, badass. This interpretation encapsulates exactly what the character represents: a powerful, beautiful force of incredible strength and courage, and Gal Gadot gives a performance for the ages.
Not unlike Charlize Theron’s Oscar winning turn in Jenkins’ 2004 film Monster, Jenkins forces a powerhouse performance out of her female lead. Gadot, who was initially a model, not unlike Theron, cements herself as a true talent here, not that she didn’t have any before. Many were on the fence about her managing the role, and it is a larger-than-life role, even despite a truly breathtaking performance in Batman v Superman; nonetheless, she is the highlight within a film with numerous outstanding performance, especially that of Pine who projects the perfect, dreamlike sensibility while also gracing the audience with his signature dry sense of humor. Gadot expels a warmth through her character; a gentleness that is almost enough to carry the film all by itself, but Wonder Woman is more clever than to gyp the viewer on quality story or writing.
What Jenkins ultimately gives us is a very intimate, character-driven journey. What I have really appreciated about the DC Cinematic Universe is its understanding of superhero psychology. These films are not simple, visceral escapism, but far deeper than that. These are character-driven stories, each action motivated by the character’s ideas, concepts and understanding of the world around them. Wonder Woman fits perfectly into that template. This is a character study on the Wonder Woman persona, and the individual beneath.
The movie begins as a colorful fantasy about Diana’s roots, transitions to a fish out of water story based on Diana’s curious nature and her process of adapting to the world humans have created, switches to a quasi-dystopian war film with Diana front and center as a symbol of hope in the face of devastation, and, finally, it ends as a meditation on the strength of human nature and how easily it can be manipulated, with Diana acting as the exception to the rule. Jenkins presents these chapters through the changing of the color template. The utopian world of Themyscira is colorful and bright with a very lush, saturated color scheme; the stunning blue of the ocean and sky only contrasted by the intense green of the vegetation and the shimmering white of the sandy shore. However, the war-torn cityscape of London is a bleak, dark desaturated grey. At first sight, Diana even says, “It’s so ugly.” Steve really can’t disagree.
The final sequence of Wonder Woman has attracted some controversy. Some have criticised it for its compliance with traditional blockbuster formula, that being the big, loud, CGI battle to end the film, and I can’t completely denounce that critique as there is a large battle between Diana and the antagonist; however, the battle is of a much lesser scale than most other superhero films that’s battles span entire cities, but, more importantly, it’s also an incredibly intimate, character driven showdown. An emotional standoff between two polar opposite mindsets, not unlike the brutal battle between Batman and Superman in BvS or the catastrophic final fight throughout Metropolis in Man of Steel. The stakes are far greater than just the world’s destruction, but the hero’s psychology and morality is also tested. Diana is a victim of temptation, maybe for the first time in her life, but she persists. This is Wonder Woman.
5 out of 5