There’s a sense of adventure lacking in some of the movies that derive from the DC Universe. It was something that Suicide Squad sought to rectify, but did so in such a contrived manner it backfired tremendously. But Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, captures that playful tone perfectly – and when the eponymous protagonist finds herself on Earth for the first time, it almost takes on the form of Christmas classic Elf. And yet such irreverence takes little away from the severity of the narrative at hand, in what is a fine return for the studio, and a completely self-contained endeavour that will appeal to pre-established fans and newcomers alike.
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is the Princess of the Amazons, spending her life on an idyllic, exotic island, learning to defend and to lead in anticipation of the eventual arrival of Ares, the God of War. Yet when lone spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) somehow winds up at her sheltered paradise (it’s the first man she’s ever encountered) – she realises her strengths can be best utilised elsewhere, wanting to lend a hand to the soldiers fighting against the Germans in the First World War. So she travels to London, and there she learns of the nefarious plan to release a deadly gas which will kill millions, concocted by the aptly named Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya). Though under strict instructions from the powers that be, Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) is more encouraging to their cause, allowing Wonder Woman to set off alongside Steve, Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) to Belgium, in a bid to stop the release of this weapon before it’s too late. Though she may be treated as a woman who has no place on the battlefield, nobody can quite prepare themselves for the powers that she possesses.
The fact we are embodying a protagonist who is seeing Earth and humanity for the very first time allows for us to adopt her somewhat naïve perspective, and through this almost childlike wonder she can’t grasp the barbaric nature of man, which highlights the futility of war in a striking way. Wonder Woman can’t comprehend the politics behind the conflict, while she is also presented with a fascinating blurring of the line between good and evil – epitomised in the scene when the Native American Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) explains that it was the Americans who savagely murdered his people. The Americans she had originally perceived to be the ‘good guys’.
Such an approach also allows for this production to take a real feminist stance without ever forcing the message. For Wonder Woman comes from an island where women rule, they fight and fend for themselves – and so when she comes to England and realises that women have so few rights, and aren’t allowed to indulge in combat, she can’t grasp it. It’s this simplistic, blissful perspective that highlights the sheer absurdity of these societal norms.
Jenkins comes at this project from a background where very human themes have taken precedence – given her only other feature film is Monster. She’s therefore best equipped to walk the difficult line of blending mythology with the harsh severity of the war, which had initially been a worry. Left in the wrong hands this may have been deemed irresponsible, particularly in the rewriting of history, and this idea that Ares is behind the entire war, almost absolving the Germans of any blame. Yet it’s handled delicately and triumphantly.
The downside to having this elusive presence of Ares working as one of the film’s leading antagonists is that we have nothing physical to pin our fear on. Though there’s fun that derives from the arguments Wonder Woman has with Steve Trevor, as she claims Ares is behind the war, where he is adamant that burden falls on the lap of mankind – the ambiguity means we don’t have a bonafide villain to fear, instead only a myth. This leaves Doctor Poison and her sidekick General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) as the paramount antagonists, but as human beings they don’t pose much of a threat to our hero, as with her superpowers it’s barely a challenge to overcome them. Superheroes are truly only tested against other superheroes.
Thankfully, Gadot turns in a terrific display as the titular protagonist, carrying an infectious sense of optimism and wide-eyed wonderment, while ensuring it never once cheapens her sheer power and ability to fight. She’s inquisitive and curious, and yet if it came down to it, would probably rip your face off. That’s my kind of lady.
Wonder Woman is released on June 1st.