When comparing superhero film universes, namely the DC Extended Universe of Warner Brothers Pictures/DC Films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe of Disney/Marvel Studios, a quick opinion would have the latter over the former where box office and (arguably) critic reviews are concerned. The general consensus about the movies featuring Iron Man, Captain America and friends is that they’re bright and sunny (despite serious plots) as well as healthily funny. Over at DC/Warner’s “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman”, it’s all shades of gray and black, with pretty grim and near-unsmiling characters. Not even the anti-heroic team movie “Suicide Squad”, with the zany super-villain covert ops team, could alleviate the heavy atmosphere of the DCEU.
But not everything is grim-dark here. One shining spot of the depressing 2016 “Batman v Superman” epic encounter was the surprise appearance of the one character that, with the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight, forms the “Holy Trinity” of DC Comics superheroes. This is none other than THE definitive super-heroine, Wonder Woman. And this year she jumps (not flies, but still very high) into action with her solo movie. And to quote the lyrics of the 1970s ABC (then CBS) “Wonder Woman” TV series, “All the world is waiting for you.”
So let’s get into the DCEU version of Wonder Woman, played to absolute perfection by Israeli model-actress Gal Gadot. Her credentials are a tad similar to previous iconic Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter; at age 18 Gadot won the Miss Israel beauty pageant, in which she represented her country in the 2004 Miss Universe competition. About the only additional perk that Gadot has over Carter is her two years of mandatory military service in the Israeli Defense Force. It was this experience that got Gadot cast in the fourth “Fast and Furious” film alongside Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker. She reprised her role there up until the sixth movie (and was in a deleted scene of “Fast 7”).
As a character engaged in physical action, Gal Gadot is remarkable. So when she first appeared as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in “Batman v Superman”, she acquitted herself very well in the superhero-scale action sequences. It also gave her a chance to stretch her acting muscle with her portrayal of a jaded superhuman. The reason for her character’s dented-steel personality gets elaborated on in her solo film, and it is magnificently explained.
“Wonder Woman” is a whole-film flashback that takes us all the way back to the heroine’s childhood as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, hidden island home of the mythological Amazons and daughter of their queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Raised in stories of their people’s role in protecting mankind from being destroyed by the hateful God of War Ares, Diana is also trained – reluctantly on her mother’s part – as a mighty Amazon warrior, and all her knowledge and skill get put to the test when the outside world enters her home in an epic fashion.
This comes in the form of American pilot and Allied spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who crashes his plane off the shores of Themyscira. Diana saves him, and after hearing his tale of the horrors of the ongoing World War I, she defies her mother’s prohibition and accompanies Steve back to Man’s World, after stealing some mythical equipment from their armory. This includes the iconic red-gold-blue armor, unbreakable truth-telling rope, and a sword said to be able to kill a god, as Diana is sure that Ares is behind the “War to End All Wars”.
Trivia part here. The Wonder Woman character was actually created by William Moulton Marston for comics in 1941. That’s World War II, and her adventures were set in that period. Just like Captain America for Marvel. The decision to shift from the Second World War to the first was both pragmatic (avoiding comparisons with the MCU Cap), and very inspired as seen in the movie.
Diana looks at the modern world around her with innocent wide-eyed wonder, but is also stricken by the suffering she sees of the first mostly machine-driven war in history, as she and Steve try to stop the fighting ad save lives in spite of obstructive politics from enigmatic British cabinet speaker Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis in a dual role), and the threat of more intense chemical warfare from warmongering German general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his chief henchwoman Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya).
The resolution of a dire secret development that could have made World War I even worse than in history, and the character development that stripped away Diana’s naiveté for a more realistic understanding of human nature, is all laid out in a straightforward narrative that is beautifully spiced up with fluid fight choreography, brilliantly orchestrated mass action sequences, and effective CGI work. Kudos go to Gadot and Pine for being believable war combatants (of differing power levels, naturally) while dazzling viewers with some pinnacle acting not usually found in super-movies like this.
Despite the deliberate setting change from its source, “Wonder Woman” hits the same beats of ideal heroism, fighting with compassion rather than hatred, and period nostalgia that the first “Captain America” MCU flick generated with film audiences years ago. This directorial masterstroke of Patty Jenkins, the first female director for a female superhero film, is most definitely an astounding success in this reviewer’s opinion. Quoting the retro song again, “Wonder Woman” is the woman of the hour, and we’re all glad she’s on our side.
Photo courtesy of manapop.com