The world’s most iconic heroine finally gets a big screen solo outing in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman; a classic origin story that charts Diana’s journey to becoming Wonder Woman. Raised on Themyscira, an island populated exclusively by superhuman female warriors The Amazons, Diana has lived in complete isolation from ‘man’s world’ her whole life. That is until, American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island whilst fleeing German forces in the midst of World War One. When Steve warns the Amazons that German scientists have developed weapons that will add thousands more to the death toll of this brutal and devastating war, Diana is convinced the Amazon’s nemesis Ares – The God of War – is to blame. Determined to fulfil her duty as an Amazon and defeat Ares, Diana leaves Themyscira with Steve. Thrust into the world of man Diana’s idealism is tested, and she learns that this conflict may not be as black and white as she believed.
Although offering nothing revolutionary in terms of plot or villains – Danny Huston and Elena Anaya do their best as generic war time bad guys and we still get a final act boss battle – Wonder Woman avoids becoming overly complex or convoluted. Diana’s motivations are clear and it’s easy to stay invested in her story. The World War One setting lends some urgency and humanity to the action, Diana is thrown into a world in which the destruction and pain are obvious without the need for a final act full of cities being levelled. The film loses a bit of pace in the obligatory cutaways to bad guys doing bad things to further their evil plans, but it never feels bloated or boring. The action is focused and consistently driven by Diana’s growth and development.
Wonder Woman delivers lots of amazing action. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and work perfectly with Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score. It’s perhaps a little heavy on the slow-motion, but we really get to see the full extent of Diana’s power and skill – and I’ll probably never get bored of watching Wonder Woman kick ass in slo-mo. Diana’s sheer physical strength is highlighted a number of times, and it was amazing to see so much intense, physical combat between women. The Amazons are never shown as anything less than totally bad-ass. Jenkins presents Themyscira as a true paradise, with a real sense of sisterhood that celebrates the intelligence and strength of women – both physical and emotional – without that strength ever being sexualised. None of these skilled, fierce women are ever subjected to the gratuitous objectification we usually see on screen – particularly in action movies – which in itself was so refreshing to watch.
Jenkins also manages to give Wonder Woman a welcome difference in tone to the rest of the DCEU. Wonder Woman is missing that sense of introspection and subtle as a sledgehammer symbolism that littered Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman, instead having lots of genuine humour and some much needed positivity. Steve Trevor’s rag-tag band of soldiers make a nice foil to the wartime setting, and Chris Pine seems totally at ease being the damsel in distress. The fish out of water aspect of the story works particularly well; Gadot proves she has some decent comedic timing and Diana is never the butt of the joke, she’s naive and curious but never infantilised or ridiculed. Gadot and Pine have convincing chemistry, and Gadot is able to balance Diana’s physicality and empathy to convey Wonder Woman’s essential sense of power and justice.
Diana’s characterisation stays true to so much of what Wonder Woman stands for. Diana is given space to be complex and imperfect – she’s headstrong and naive but she grows without just reacting to the men around her. It’s clear throughout that Diana is inherently good and a strong believer in justice, but her empathy doesn’t come at the expense of her power, it only adds to it. Diana is a warrior, immensely physically powerful and unafraid of it. Wonder Woman give us an amazing depiction of female strength, in which Diana’s competence is never questioned or undermined, which we rarely get to see on screen.
Wonder Woman is not some kind of feminist masterpiece. As with many films touted as great leaps forward for women’s representation there’s a clear absence of women of colour, with white women dominating the key speaking roles. Issues of race and sexuality are touched on or hinted at throughout but never fully developed. Saïd Taghmaoui’s character makes a brief reference to racism he has faced and Eugene Brave Rock’s Chief fleetingly mentions the impact of colonisation on Native Americans, whilst Diana’s queerness is never explicitly confirmed. But these issues are never pushed further, wasting an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about discrimination and identity that could have clearly presented Diana as a hero who actively fights against all the systems of oppression working in society.
But Wonder Woman doesn’t have to be perfect to be significant. Diana is a hero raised by women and empowered by her femininity whilst being hugely physically powerful, and seeing that on the big screen was a really emotional experience. The film doesn’t flip the genre on its head in terms of plot, but felt truly new in placing a woman at the centre without sexualising or objectifying her. Diana is an unapologetically powerful woman, with a strong sense of idealism and justice that is never presented as a weakness, and seeing her brought to life on screen was undeniably validating. Emotional, engaging and filled with hope and humour, Wonder Woman delivers on so many levels. I’ve been waiting for a Wonder Woman movie my whole life – so my expectations were sky high – but I can finally say it did not disappoint.