Wonder Woman is one of the worst types of films. It is one where you can tell there’s a really great movie hidden away in the dark, just desperate to escape and enter the world of cinema after almost a decade of disappointing or downright dreadful DC products. It’s rather ironic that the story stars Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (or Diana Prince) escaping her isolated island only to be introduced to the battlefields of both normal life in early 20th century London, and the front lines of World War One, coming out of it all victorious. I consider that irony because it almost perfectly resembles precisely how the film feels at times, only in this case the really good version of Wonder Woman never left that prison of an island on which only Warner Bros have the keys to its cell.
I’ll admit that perhaps isn’t the best analogy I could have come up, but I hope it at least makes sense. What I’m trying to say is that Wonder Woman is a great movie trapped in the body of a mediocre one, and its frustrating once that becomes very clear. The first act, however, shows no signs of that. That entire segment of the film is all over the shop. After fifteen solid minutes of sloppy exposition (following two of cinema’s worst enemies: bad CGI and a bad child actor), there’s action scenes with lots of cuts, slow motion and general complete nonsensical rubbish, and a couple of uncomfortable exchanges between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (who plays Steve Trevor), before everything Diana’s mother ditches everything that defines her character because we’ve gotta move the plot along somehow. It’s all so naff, infected with cheesy dialogue and clichés galore.
Following all that, I was genuinely surprised to find myself enjoying the film immensely once they reached the shores of London. While it certainly wasn’t perfect – you can thank the irritating and pointless secretary character and dreadfully paste score for the hiccups – the chemistry between Pine and Gadot really starts to shine. When the film stops being so concerned about Greek gods and destiny or whatever, and instead focuses on the characters, it becomes a lot more engaging and, most importantly, fun. The whole fish-out-of-water scenario is indeed overdone in films as a whole and what they do with that concept isn’t ever particularly original, but it still manages to entertain due to the comedic talents of both Pine and Gadot.
By this point the film picks up momentum and never becomes great, but at least a lot more tolerable than those first 40(ish) minutes. Much of the action, despite some possessing the same problems throughout, is very well crafted and the characters become much more interesting when they’re not constantly quipping or spouting some cheesy lines. The small group Pine accumulates is never one we get to know very well, but their interactions are what cause us to at least care about them, even though they’re never really developed past the first, or perhaps second, dimension.
There is one moment where the film slows down immensely following a victory for the party, where Diana and Steve slow dance, when all of a sudden Ewan Bremner’s character starts loudly singing, to which Steve remarks “I haven’t hear him sing in years”. That one line packed more emotional punch than anything else in Wonder Woman, and for a fleeting moment, I thought maybe, just maybe, that was the moment the film became something great. I liked the characters, I was invested in their plights, and I wanted to see them come out at the end of the tunnel as unscathed as possible…what could possibly go wrong?
And then the ending happened.
Although the proceeding rant only concerns the last ten or so minutes of the movie, because not two minutes before that, it almost seemed insightful and, dare I say it, excellent. Essentially, without spoiling it, Diana believes that by killing one guy, the whole war will end because he’s the one corrupting everyone. A ridiculous oversimplification of the situation of course, and the film is almost inclined to agree with you. Once the villain dies, however, the war just keeps going. Diana is confused by this, and Steve has to explain to her that sometimes people are just bad, and that cannot be helped. There will always be evil, and to simplify such a complex thing as the First World War is simply absurd. It was a huge shock to me, because for one tiny second, I thought the film would end intelligently. What a bold message to end your movie on, similar in vein to the ending of The Dark Knight, where no matter how you look at it, the only real winners are the bad guys. I was ready and prepared to come out of this and proudly proclaim to the heavens:
‘I SAW A DCEU FILM THAT WASN’T COMPLETE AND UTTER SHITE!’
But then the film fucks it, backtracks, and says, to paraphrase, ‘you know that thing that literally defines the conclusion to Diana’s character arc. Yeah, who cares, you actually do only have to kill one guy to win the war.’ And by this point, I lost all care as one final awful action sequence played out where subtlety vanishes and Diana is knocked around so much that all tension is lost as you realise she is essentially invincible.
But I can’t hate on the film that much because, quite frankly, Wonder Woman is not a bad movie. Far from it. It just comes so damn close to being good that it pains the heart. To conclude this review, I think I’ll answer two simple questions I expected to answer once I finished this film:
Is this the best DCEU film we’ve seen so far?
Absolutely, it stands high, high, high above the rest.
However, is this the film to save the DCEU from being a total trainwreck?
I’m not so sure. I suppose we’ll wait a couple years, and wonder if things will ever be better than this.
Here’s to hoping.