Love 'em or hate 'em, DC's cinematic offerings have had the courage of their convictions. Largely criticised for being more downbeat than their Marvel counterparts, Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, did try to offer something darker and perhaps more layered to the superhero blockbuster. Although it may not offer much in the way of superhero subtext, Wonder Woman is just as steadfast in telling a lighter and more colourful story than her brothers.
Setting up the island of Themyscira and the Amazonions burdens Wonder Woman with an exposition-heavy first act. Like the opening of both Thor movies, there's going to be some explaining to get us up to speed of this ancient place and its legendary patrons. To be fair, Patty Jenkins tries to imbue the introduction with a scampish Diana as a child, as she runs amok and escapes her keeper to catch a glimpse of the Amazonian army train. To break up the exposition there's also training montages, moving paintings to explain ancient history and a glimmer of Diana's potential before man literally crashes the empowered female party. As an opening it's perfectly serviceable, but there is an uneven feeling as if the movie is finding its feet. As committed as it may be to offer something less dense and primary coloured, like Captain America: The First Avenger, there's something of a compromise in its mawkish introduction. Even when the Nazi flotilla hunting Chris Pine's Steve Trevor must be stopped by the female warriors of Themyscira, there's still something a little ham-fisted about the first action set piece, particularly when our veteran she-warriors keep using the same flips to out manoeuvre the invaders.
However, the film really finds its feet when it leaves the island. Even before we arrive in London with our newly found heroes, there is a charm to Diana that's much more than fish-out-of-water schtick. While her naivety is misguided, her altruism is on point. It's a dichotomy that plays particularly well as Diana navigates her way through the world of men. At a time when women were barely recognised on important issues, let alone listened to, there's a few exchanges with stuffy and mastachioed men where her innocent defiance completely disarms the most chauvinistic opponent. Jenkins is careful not to get too carried away, ensuring things are kept equal rather than tipping the feminist scales too far into one upmanship.
Probably moreso than Affleck or Caville have so far, Gal Gadot embodies the hero she's plays. Not only does she seize each and every frame she's in, but she walks the very thin line between idiotic dogooder and unhampered compassion. Gadot shapes the subtly of Diana's naivete, delicately detailing a hero to really root for and not just another manufactured mould of heroism. Similarly, Chris Pine brings his a-game roguishness, which results in something more Lois Lane than Vicky Vale. Sadly, it's Danny Houston that draws the short sword as panto-nazi Ludendorff. Relegated to Indiana Jones' goose-stepping template, that nonchalantly executes any comrade that may get in his way.
As much as Wonder Woman may be looking to differentiate itself from its cinematic pantheon, there's one element you just can't avoid: Action. While the first beach blitz may not be the strongest introduction of god-like fisticuffs, it's still something of a tantalising entre. Diana may punch a lout and deflect the odd bullet, but there's little of her alluded prowess for some time. However, when the time comes for Jenkins to unleash the wonder, it's something of a visceral catharsis. Whether it's to show Diana's avoidance of unnecessary violence or a simple tease, the payoff is as well earned as it is executed. While the superhero smackdowns in Man of Steel aren't required, seeing a new heroic skill set, like the lasso of truth, is just as exciting.
Despite its many victories, Wonder Woman is hamstrung by some odd choices. The notion to stage the origin story during The Great War offers an uneasy hypocrisy for anyone looking a little closer, especially given her stance on the evil that men do. For someone that abhors the notion of war, she has no problem slicing and dicing soldiers, even if they are Nazis. Then there's the paint by numbers knock-down-drag-out climax, which seems lazy given the effort to bring some originality to the superheroics. Then there's the bizarrely overstated bookending which seems to lack the confidence of eveything that came before. It's not quite enough to bring the whole thing crashing down, but it does dull the otherwise sharpened blade.
3* - Captainess Wonder: The First Justice Leaguer
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