By Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96)
The general mantra among comic book and movie fans at the announcement of a new DC movie these days seems to be “please, don’t suck”. That mantra was amplified tenfold with the announcement of Wonder Woman. Not only has DC had a mixed reception with audiences and a fairly poor reception with critics since Christopher Nolan’s Batman days, but this is the first time DC was finally putting their biggest heroine front and centre on the big screen.
There’s been a long debate about female-led comic books movies and how few there are and how the ones that do exist tend to be on the terrible end of things (see; Catwoman, Elektra, Supergirl (the movie, not the well-received tv series) etc.). There’s obviously been plenty of bad adaptations of male superheroes as well but that still hasn’t stopped them being made on a consistent basis, whereas developers and focus groups seemed to determine the tired stereotype that female-led superhero movies don’t do well because the focus was on a female character and not because the movies themselves were simply awful and poorly made. So there was a lot riding on this movie; not only for DC to redeem themselves with critics and audiences but to show that a profit could and would be made from a film about arguably the most well-known female superhero of all time.
Despite only having a small role in one of DC’s previous films Batman Vs Superman, many audiences and critics who disliked the film admitted that Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was easily the best and most exciting part of the film and it reawakened the desire among fans for her to have her arguably long-overdue solo movie. Come June 2017, it finally appears that DC may have cracked their questionable track record and for the first time in a while have delivered a truly great superhero movie.
The key element of what makes this film succeed where previous DC films have failed is all in the tone and presentation. DC have received a lot of criticism in their previous films for being too focused on being edgy and dark and as a result coming off as unpleasant and boring. With this film, however, the lead character’s idealism and strength are what drives the narrative. The tone is lighter, incorporating some genuinely humorous elements in the first half but the darkness and grit are still there, distancing it from its competitor Marvel. The film is set during WW1 and doesn’t shy away from showing that, with both the visuals and themes of Diana’s (Wonder Woman) character arc as she learns about the nature of humanity and war when she leaves her peaceful life among the Amazons to help the people of Earth.
And yet, this darkness does not swallow the film due to the spirit of the character. Instead of annoyingly edgy and nihilistic, the film opts for being actively hopeful and inspiring. It looks at this darkness and actively rejects it, which is far more inspired than any preachy rant about the dark nature of humanity which has been heard umpteen times. Just the visual in the scene of Diana rising and walking through no man’s land against soldiers and gunfire feels like a powerful sigh of catharsis to those who claimed this film couldn’t work. It perfectly exemplifies the strength, nobility and justice that Wonder Woman stands for and it’s played as a straight, cheer-in-your-seat cinema moment.
Gal Gadot is perfect in the lead role. Any doubt from her previous appearances for her ability to hold her own movie is completely dashed. She perfectly captures Wonder Woman in every enjoyable light she can be seen in. She’s an incredibly strong, one-woman army who will show no mercy to who she is up against and the film doesn’t play this down, which is wonderful to see. And yet at the same time, she shows such a strong sense of empathy and desire to see the right thing done. Therefore, when her morality is questioned and she goes through an arc of discovering the humanity and inhumanity of war, it’s a legitimately engrossing struggle, almost like it was being told for the first time. At the same time, her charm and enthusiasm are so endearing as she learns about the world of man and how different it is to the world of the Amazons. While she gets some strange looks, the characters around her don’t sneer or belittle her; they instead explain how this place is different to her home and what is simple differences in culture and what legitimately makes no sense in the time era (such as gender roles, expectations and even racism).
She also has a strong supporting cast to work with, with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor (an American spy attempting to stop the German weapons of war) and a later group of misfit soldiers who join them in trying to take down the German General Ludendorff (whom Diana thinks is really the God of War, Ares) to stop him using gas to wipe out the allied forces. Diana and Steve work well off each other and the team assembled feel a genuine connection that makes them enjoyable to watch. There is also a twist at the end concerning the villain which actually ties very well into the core themes of Diana’s moral struggle and, while the ending battle can feel a bit fatiguing, the execution is done well enough and wraps up the arc nicely.
Whether this is the start of a true redemption for DC in movies or simply a combination of all the right things at the right time remains to be seen. Both this and Lego Batman are being taken as signs that the criticisms are being listened to and improvements are being made. But in any case, Wonder Woman stands as the best DC film of the decade and the adaption the character always deserved. It blasts through all cynicism and delivers a great helping of idealism and hope. Despite the valid criticism of their past projects, DC can hold this film up proudly as a true example of “that’s how you do it”.