Wonder Woman


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
"Sometimes a film is more, much more, than the sum of its parts."

I expected to be disappointed by Wonder Woman. Not because it was a bad film, but because the anticipation of it had grown from small spark last year, when she first made an appearance in Batman V Superman to all-consuming inferno in the last couple of weeks.

Something on a par with Star Wars mania had afflicted the various geek girl circles I frequent, although with this difference: that while the Star Wars phenomenon has, historically, been a lads thing – though that may have changed somewhat since the prominent part played by Rey in last years reboot, The Force Awakens – Wonder Woman was exciting the women. For the first time, a film in the superhero genre, traditionally the preserve of awkward teen boys, was creating a buzz amongst women of all ages, all backgrounds.

I was nervous: after all, every so often, Hollywood claims to be “getting” race, or LGBT, or women, only to deliver something so cheesy, so obviously not getting it, as to leave a very bad taste behind.

In one sense, Wonder Woman is nothing special. It is an origins movie, explaining how Amazon princess, Diana, from Themiscyra, a magical island inhabited solely by women, and hidden away from the mortal world, leaves home, comes into her powers and becomes Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot).

Early days Diana is a gutsy young girl (Lilly Aspell), who, much to the disapproval of her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), just can't wait to become a warrior. Back story includes mythologising over Diana's origins as well as a legend of how the Amazons live on their island, apart from the world, waiting the return of evil deity Ares, whose posterior it is their duty to kick whensoever he does show up.

And then the outside world arrives, in the form of downed pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) plus a bevy of German soldiers, who slaughter a number of Amazons, including Diana's aunt and mentor Antiope (Robin Wright), before they in turn are killed. On learning about the Great War/WWI, which has been raging outside their magic barrier, Diana decides Ares must be back and therefore the time has come for her to go out into the world and restore some balance.

It's all pretty predictable stuff. Initially, the tone is light, even humorous, as it always is when films sink their teeth into clash of cultures and innocence abroad. In a scene that almost, but not quite, descends into bad taste, Diana gets her first glimpse of male nakedness which, Steve assures her, is “above average”. There's some gentle sparring about whether men and women who are not married can “sleep together” - and yes, Diana does mean sleep: but this is 1918! And there is lots of fun to be had inserting a no nonsense warrior princess into an era when women don't fight, don't speak and their mere presence is sufficient to render a caricature moustachioed general apoplectic.

There's also the annoying continuity issue, as the two of them go to sleep on a boat in the Eastern Mediterranean and wake up, apparently the next morning, sailing down the Thames. But I will forgive them geography.

Then it's off to the front for Diana and Steve, alongside what is now pretty standard film trope, the band of misfit comrades, including drunk Scotsman and sniper Charlie (Ewen Brenner), middle eastern charmer Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) and a Native American identified solely as the Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). Once there they meet and do battle with Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and the evil scientist (Elena Anaya). There's heroism and sacrifice and, as Ares' true identity is revealed, a final incredible battle between him and Diana.

What is interesting – and interestingly different – is not just the relationship of this band of heroes with Diana, but also her own personal journey of growth in power – because like most heroes, when first she meets her nemesis, she is not up to the task of defeating him – and in understanding and self-knowledge.

And that, oddly, helped me to understanding better how I regard film: both this film in particular and film in general. Elsewhere I write at greater length about the “meta-narrative”: the importance this film contributes simply by virtue of existing. First, because even if it is not perfect it most assuredly is a new frontier for women in film: the first A-list woman superhero to get her own film; and the fact that even while aiming for a mainstream audience, it is more sensitive to women's sensibilities than I would have expected from such a film even five years back.

And second because, as role model, Wonder Woman is not like every other male superhero. Her focus is on bringing peace and – hippy alert! - love to the world. She is aware that evil is not something done by “those evil people over there” to good people, but is something potentially within all of us. And so her keynotes are empathy and mercy.

I like it. No, I love it. And if all that sounds a bit high falutin, I also love the different stages of her coming into herself. Not all at once, because that would be too easy. But iconic scenes: the one where she steps out into no-man's land to face a hail of bullets; and the end – the spectacular end – where she at last realises she is Ares' equal in combat. Just: phew!

Which brings us back to how I regard film, and the realisation that sometimes a film is more, much more, than the sum of its parts and that taking everything into consideration, it is its impact, sometimes on a small community, sometimes a larger one, that counts.

This is a pretty good film all round. But I suspect, in time, it will come to have added significance for the women in the audience because it includes so many important firsts in terms of on-screen representation.

Which is why, for the first time ever, I am dishing out five stars to this flawed, but still incredible film.

With many thanks to the independent Broadway Cinema, Letchworth, without whom this review would not have happened.

Reviewed on: 01 Jun 2017
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Wonder Woman packshot
An Amazon princess ventures into the outside world to try and end a war.
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Director: Patty Jenkins

Writer: Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock

Year: 2017

Runtime: 141 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


EIFF 2018

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