WONDER WOMAN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Patty Jenkins

Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewan Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lilly Aspell.

Marvel Studios have created their own universe in which their stable of superheroes tend to pop up in each other’s films, and for a long while they have had the edge over DC comics with their lighter touch. The Marvel films have usually been more colourful, with plenty of action and humour, while the films featuring DC superheroes have, of late, tended to be darker, more dour affairs. Wonder Woman changes that perception. This is the fourth film in DC’s thematic extended universe, and it is arguably their best film since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Created by William Mouton Marston in 1942, Wonder Woman is one of the first female superheroes. While there was the popular television series starring Lynda Carter as the eponymous heroine, which ran from 1975-1979, it has taken over 70 years for the character to be given her first big screen outing. Wonder Woman, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, briefly appeared in the disappointing and ponderous Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. That film gave us glimpses of some of the other superheroes, like Aquaman and The Flash, who will come together to form the Justice League, a union of superheroes to rival Marvel’s Avengers.

Although the original comic character was a product of WWII, here the producers have changed the setting to the tail end of WWI. Here the writers also give us an origins story for the character, with a detailed backstory that shows us her childhood on the sheltered island of Themyscira, the home of the Amazon warriors. As the only child on this island of female warriors, Diana, as she was known, was fascinated with watching the Amazons regularly practice their fighting skills. But then in 1918 the outside world comes to her world.

A plane crashes into the sea off Themyscira, and Diana (Gadot) dives into the water to rescue the trapped pilot. The pilot is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, from the rebooted Star Trek series, etc), an American spy working with British Intelligence. He has infiltrated a German laboratory and stolen a diary containing the secret formula for mustard gas, the supposed superweapon being created by the disfigured chemist Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) that will wipe out thousands and win the war. Dr Maru is working under the orders of German commander General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) to perfect this biological weapon of mass destruction. Trevor manages to destroy the laboratory before escaping in a stolen German fighter plane.

He is pursued by Germans, and they follow him to Themyscira. There is a pitched battle between the German soldiers and the Amazon warriors. Trevor is the first man that Diana has seen. When he tells her of the great war waging in Europe, Diana decides that she must go and fight and finish the war to end all wars. Diana believes that Ares, the legendary God of War, is behind the war and sets out to find him and stop him, thus saving humanity.

She accompanies Trevor back to England before heading off to the battlefields of Europe and the Western Front, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting. There are some great moments of humour as the naïve Diana tries to adjust to life in England in the early 20th century; these scenes play like a wonderful variation of the familiar fish out of water scenario. But then it’s off to war, as Trevor mounts a small force of misfits to help him and Diana stop Ludendorff and his plans. There is Sameer (played by Moroccan actor Said Taghmaoui, from American Hustle, etc), Charlie (played by Trainspotting’s Ewan Bremner), and the enigmatic Chief (played by Eugene Brave Rock). They head off on a mission to find Ludendorff’s new secret laboratory and destroy it.

Wonder Woman is that rarity of big budget, special effects driven action films, as it has been helmed by a female director. Patty Jenkins is best known for her film Monster, which starred Charlize Theron in her Oscar winning role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, but her muscular direction of the action set pieces will remind audiences of Kathryn Bigelow. The kick arse action sequences are well choreographed and directed in fluid style. She brings real flair and energy to the action, and a highlight features Wonder Woman leaving the trenches and advancing across a no-man’s land under withering fire from a German machine gun, deflecting bullets with her shield and bracelets. The film looks great too thanks to the superb cinematography of Matthew Jensen, who hails from a background in television having worked on series like CSI, Sleeper Cell, True Blood and Game Of Thrones, etc.

For the most part, Wonder Woman is an enjoyable action yarn that holds the attention. It is let down a little by the third act, a special effects driven climactic show down between Wonder Woman and a powerful demonic looking supervillain with great powers and strength of his own. This superhero smackdown is eventually overwhelmed by the barrage of special effects and large-scale destruction, with lots of banging and crashing and it quickly becomes tedious and familiar. And at 141 minutes it seems a little too long and unnecessarily bloated.

Gadot proved her physicality with roles in the later instalments of the Fast And The Furious franchise, and she brings strength and agility to her role here, making it her own. She is equally tough and charismatic while retaining a semblance of her femininity. There is a good rapport between her and Pine, and there is a palpable sexual tension between the pair that crackles at times. The pair share some great chemistry, and play off each other effectively. There are plenty of great humorous moments. Pine is great as the heroic Trevor and he is one of the standouts with his easy-going charm and sly wit.

Lucy Davis (from Shaun Of The Dead, etc) also brings some great touches of humour to her role as the wonderfully named Etta Candy, Trevor’s diminutive but loyal secretary. The strong supporting cast includes Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother Hippolyta; Robin Wright as General Antiope, who trains Diana in the martial arts; and David Thewlis who brings a touch of gravitas to his role as Sir Patrick, a high-ranking politician within Britain’s war office. Huston hams it up as the villain of the piece.

With this origins story and first feature film adventure featuring Wonder Woman, Jenkins and her team have set the bar high for the inevitable sequel. This is one of the better films in the DC comics stable.

★★★☆

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