Forgive me, dear reader, for this review being a bit late. I can’t promise that it’s worth the wait, but as a lifelong DC Fanboy there’s no way I was letting anyone else in the #GeekSquad take this assignment over me; Spidey’s all yours. I promised Darth Hadden that I wouldn’t go over 1000 words here, but you may have to bear with me – Wonder Woman is that good.
Other than Star Wars and Transformers (no, not the new ones – THE GOOD ONE #bahwheeepgraaanaghwheepninibong) the first time I got well and truly obsessive over the release of a major movie was in 1989, as Batmania swept the world in the wake of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton helping to convince the world that the Caped Crusader could fight villains other than Vincent Price and Cesar Romero with a whited-out moustache and have more depth to him than may have been betrayed by the truly profound sentiment that “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”. No Shark-Repellent Bat-Spray here, True Believers, although it does make a welcome return in Lego Batman, but I digress.
Then, as now, “Batman” treated a DC Comics character with care and respect. The same was true of Richard Donner’s “Superman”, and it’s true of both franchises that they fell victim to diminishing creative returns. For every General Zod (KNEEL!!!), we got Nuclear Man. For every Joker, we got Poison Ivy. Then came Chris Nolan to lend even more depth to Batman and set a whole new standard for the character, even if his gritty approach guaranteed that we wouldn’t see any crossovers with the rest of DC’s stacked bench of heroes.
And then, there was Marvel. The MCU fleshed out the idea of a true and fully-functioning shared universe (although DC did it first – Batman Forever’s namedrop of Metropolis and Batman & Robin’s reference to “Superman working alone” may be their only redeeming quality) to spectacular effect, even without Spider-Man as the centre of their plans. Clever casting, an eye for talent and a focus on quality have given us a pretty remarkable cross-platform franchise than can do very little wrong.
Across the street, DC has been looking for similar success, to mixed critical results even if the first few entries in the DC Extended Universe have all been big financial hits. To be honest, I’m a bit sick of fighting the corner of “Man Of Steel”, “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad”, but I won’t stop doing so. Whilst Marvel’s going to have to cope with the unfortunate reality that many of their main characters will shortly start disappearing from their movies unless they reboot or recast and leaning heavily on awesome characters with little mainstream name recognition (even if the movies they’re in are excellent, as Dr. Strange was and Black Panther looks like being), DC have only just got started and have a library of household names like the Flash, Aquaman, Hawkman (yes, HAWKMAN) and Green Lantern (NOT THAT ONE) to roll out and are bringing in heavyweight talent such as Matt Reeves, Joss Whedon and James Wan to bring them to life. Put simply, DC has better toys to play with but have to stop smashing them together for effect.
Which brings me to the point of this bizarre rant. “Wonder Woman” was always going to be a hard nut to crack. Under the weight of expectation of being the debut of a feminist icon and the first truly major superhero movie with a female lead and female director in tow (no, “Tank Girl” and “Elektra” don’t count) and with the added pressure of winning over an audience divided by Zack Snyder’s gothic vision (which I still love – the extended cut of B v S is well worth your time and every bit as good as “Civil War”, the emotional stakes and ideological conflict more than match that airport fight scene) it’s easy to see why Fanboys and Fangirls everywhere were holding their breath for its release, fingers crossed that it’d at least be…good.
It’s far better than that. If you’re reading this, then chances are you know that the MCU is steered by the main vision of Kevin Feige and that DC hasn’t had an equivalent until very recently, probably to its detriment. Enter Geoff Johns (who follows me on Twitter!) and Jon Berg – the long-standing creative genius behind some of DC’s best-ever comic storylines and former Richard Donner protégé and a seasoned producer with a serious track record. Wonder Woman was the first example of what the post-Snyder vision of the Justice League would look like, and after bringing in director Patty Jenkins and writer Allan Heinberg (another comics writer with plenty of history with Diana, Princess Of The Amazons), the future’s so bright you should be wearing shades.
First off, Patty Jenkins clearly has a vision for the character and no fear in directing massive action set-pieces alongside quieter character moments and broad comedy. More than a decade after she led Charlize Theron to Oscar glory with “Monster”, she was an inspired choice to lead such a massive project, equally at home dragging a career-best performance out of Chris Pine with setting up Gal Gadot as Hollywood’s hottest female action star. True visual flair and an eye for human interaction between the spectacle will get her pretty much any gig she wants next, and a far higher price to direct the inevitable sequel.
Then there’s the script; no chest-beating feminism here with a statement taking the place of a compelling story with lovable characters – this is a great movie that happens to be directed by a great female director with a great central performance from a female action star, and it’s all the better for it. I can’t say if it’ll please Germaine Greer or a wider female audience, but one of Gadot’s closing lines about believing in the power of love has me burning my own bra.
As for the actors, they’re as good as you’d expect. Danny Huston is never anything but great, and his sneering General Luddendorff is a great main villain, backed up by another hidden turn that I won’t spoil here by a great British Character Actor. Chris Pine has never been better, even on the bridge of the Enterprise, and Lucy James steals most scenes she’s in as a reimagined Etta Candy.
Which brings us to Gal Gadot. She’s the real deal. Donner’s “Superman” worked mainly on the charm of a then-unknown Christopher Reeve and Gadot has taken a cameo that stole B v S (and perhaps the best introduction scene of a superhero EVER) and built a performance on that foundation that’s by turns funny, vulnerable, strong, endearing and which doesn’t shy away from the physical work you just need to put in when playing a character that saves the world on a regular basis. Expect to see her role in Justice League grow under Joss Whedon’s direction.
Much as I left every DCEU movie very happy, I left this one joyous. So much so, that even if you hated “Man Of Steel” (you’re wrong and we must never speak again) or “B v S” (give it another chance) or “Suicide Squad” (yes, I know the story’s all over the place but the characters are awesome) then this move may well put all of them into a whole new context.
The movie’s funny, touching, thrilling and even a little bit inspirational. There’s a reason it’s still doing so well even a month after release. Do yourself a favour; put aside your prejudice, avoid Transformers and Pirates and invest in sending a message that this is what you want from the DCU going forward – if you do then I reckon you’ll get a very good return. Did I mention I liked it?