Wonder Woman represents a lot of things to a lot of people.
On an industrial level, the film needs to redeem the crumbling DC Extended Universe (DCEU) of its past sins, to hopefully bring it closer to the heights of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On a cultural level, many demand it to be worthy of the legendary feminist icon she has been historically, and feminism – and all the things it could represent to the individual – is in itself a can of worms. Also, most of us just want a good film. With all these forces tugging at the final product, we understand how tall an order a “good film” may be.
Does Wonder Woman resurrect the DCEU? In short, no, but that’s not the film’s fault. But is it a solidly put together film worthy of the iconic tiara? Sure.
The call of duty
Much like 2016’s excellent Hacksaw Ridge, the plot of Wonder Woman unfolds in two distinct phases. The first is dreamy and pure, set in the female-ruled land of Themyscira that is separated from the rest of humankind. We meet a young Diana (Gal Gadot) training to become a warrior to bring peace to the world. What’s interesting here is how she is educated, based on ancient Greek philosophy that's often black and white – good versus evil, mankind against Aries the God of War. There are little grey areas to her worldviews.
Things are complicated with the arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who enlightens her of the horrible war terrorizing his world. That war is WWI, and Diana is compelled by a sense of responsibility to stop what could only be the work of Aries and to aid mankind in stopping the war.
Everything before was rather sterile and clean, like pre-battle Hacksaw Ridge, which similarly makes a stark transition into a world at war. “It’s horrible!” Diana exclaims as we shift from the luscious greens of her world to the dark greys and muck of a war-torn Europe. It drills home the importance of Diana’s cause and the desperation from a world that cries for hope.
Diana versus the world
A reccurring question is what one woman with a sword and shield can do to repair a global war stemming from the hearts of complicated men. Evil isn't sourced from a single villain like how Diana sees it. Instead, it’s a question that lingers on quite long into the film, as nearing the end, no answers are given.
A lot of the film focuses on Diana’s little quests – she’s unable to simply hack through the jungle of war to get to the end. Her confusion is also echoed through its visuals, as we often see her presented as a singular figure amidst a sea of contrasting characters and landscapes, seemingly alone in this battle. Director Patty Jenkins has employed a sense of visual storytelling rarely seen in its counterparts.
Action that stands for something
Jenkins sure knows how to build up to an action sequence as well, understanding that emotional engagement is key. We wait a while before Diana engages in battle in WWI – this is after countless scenes of innocents suffering and others doing nothing. That pivotal moment where she gears up into the battlefield hence becomes incredibly moving while exciting as well.
The courage to stand up for what you believe in and spur others on is portrayed clearly throughout these action sequences, and its real-world connection – WWI – brings the action that unfolds and little victories she wins very close to our hearts.
DC Problems still persist
Although a tough ask, we could’ve done with more grit and darkness to intensify this vision. We’re not asking for more blood or pretentious darkness like the other DCEU films. The issue here is that too often, heroic music plays in the heat of battle, accompanied with a deliberate smirk from Diana as if she’s enjoying this.
It contradicts with the bleakness of war. And of course, being a DC instalment, we are still plagued with the explosive finale. Without going too deep into it, we could’ve done without the DC villain and instead, focus on Wonder Woman fighting our battles within the hearts of mankind – the true villain of the movie. Clearly too arthouse for DC, but it is that kind of boldness which breaks free from convention that would really get us talking.