Wonder Woman – Film Review

We’re all agreed Gail Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the best thing about DC’s dour and dispiriting man-spat Dawn of Justice. Amid all the grim soul searching, moody visuals and bludgeoning SFX work, Gadot’s Amazonian goddess strode into view like an ass-kicking, lasso-whipping electric cello riff in human form to brighten up the darkest of hours for DC’s faltering superhero universe. It’s little wonder there’s been so much excitement and goodwill surrounding Diana Prince’s first solo outing. And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that it’s the first female-led (and, with Monster’s Patty Jenkins behind the camera, female-directed) superhero movie.

Feminist triumphs aside, though, Wonder Woman feels like a missed opportunity. While it’s undoubtedly the best movie of the DCEU thus far, brightening the tone and demonstrating a stronger handle on its core characters, it’s still plagued by many of the issues that have held previous DC movies back: over earnestness, mind-numbing action, and a slogging origin story that’s framed around a messy, wildly preposterous plot.

4928.jpg

Having already been introduced as an experienced, battle hardened warrior in the present day, Wonder winds the clock back to Diana’s picturesque childhood on Themyscira, the hidden island of the Amazons. This tribe of athletic, gold-plated female warriors live in a bubble, protected from the corruption of man, as they prepare for the prophesised return of Ares, the Greek god who plans to wage an endless war to destroy humanity. And then Chris Pine’s charismatic American spy washes up on shore, bringing with him a flotilla of German soldiers, and tells of a horrifying war raging in the outside world. After one of the most bizarre action sequences of modern times – a slow-mo beachfront battle between pirouetting women and gun-totting men – Diana decides to defy her mother’s wishes, stealing her trademark sword, shield and lasso before setting sail for the world of men to stop the war once and for all.

As Diana, Gadot is extraordinary. Dawn of Justice proved she has the youthful athleticism to stand toe-to-toe with Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ben Affleck’s pumped-up Caped Crusader, but Wonder gives her a chance to explore the nuances of an impulsive, idealistic young warrior who has a disarming belief in doing the right thing. Gadot infuses Diana’s sweet innocence with a ferocious defiance that helps to keep the more hokey moments in the script from sounding too goofy. She’s funny, too, especially during the fish-out-of-water scenes in a civilised London where she attempts to tackle a revolving door armed with a shield and sword.

FJorKbM6bxMsHeNjYt9FJ9-650-80

Using World War I as the backdrop for a highly-stylised action movie might make some people uncomfortable. Yet it allows Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg to explore themes of feminism, oppression and the evil that men inflict upon each other. It also neatly sidesteps the issue of needing to find a villain capable of facing-off against a near-indestructible warrior created by Zeus, by making Diana’s unshakable belief in the power of good the thing that’s tested rather than her physical prowess. Jenkins sensitively captures the devastation of the conflict, bringing a grim tangibility to scenes of wounded soldiers and bloodied refugees trudging though the mud and charred remains of their former lives.

With so many positives here, it’s a shame the movie is hobbled by a clunking, sloppy script. Like Thor, this is supposed to be a story about a naive demigod coming to terms with the harsh realities of the world. Instead, much of the focus is on a clumsy love story between Diana and Pine’s Steve Trevor. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of romance, but its use here only serves to sideline Diana for much of her own movie. With no experience of the modern world, she’s largely useless once we’ve left Themyscira, which means Steve steps into the valiant hero role, leading the mission to stop the war and making the noble sacrifice that saves the world. Diana is essentially his MPDG, using her optimistic innocence to undercut his early cynicism so that he can find his inner hero. It’s hardly a fair dynamic, especially when you consider she has the power to break him like a twig.

7952.jpg

It’s also poorly structured, spending far too much time milling around Themyscira and period-era London despite events there having very little to do with the actual plot – which involves stopping Elena Anaya’s intriguing but underused German scientist and Danny Houston’s military chief using a deadly gas to prevent the armistice agreement. That leaves no time to explore Diana’s world view, which goes unchallenged for much of the movie, as we rush towards yet another weightless, overblown finale where two CGI beings levitate at each other. Wonder Woman might be a Diana Prince-sized leap in the right direction for the DCEU, but it still has a lot to ground to make up if it wants to match the sparkling triumphs of its Marvel peers.

Runtime: 141 mins

Director: Patty Jenkins

Scriptwriter: Allan Heinberg

Stars: Gail Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Danny Houston

Advertisements

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Film Review

“The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world.” That’s how Jesse Eisenberg’s maniacal genius Lex Luthor describes the super-powered slugfest at the heart of this sort-of follow-up to 2013’s Man of Steel.

It should be an understatement. Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman is a question argued over by kids in playgrounds since 1939. It’s bigger than King Kong vs Godzilla. Bigger than Foreman vs Ali. It’s even bigger than Joe vs The Volcano. The answer should be epic.

Unless, of course, you put it in the butter-fingered hands of director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer who somehow manage to turn this superheavyweight bout into a dour, powerless bore unworthy of America’s most iconic heroes.

If you thought Man of Steel was grim, prepare for things to get a whole lot darker. Dawn of Justice is a Superman film containing barely a shred of sunlight – despite the fact it’s the source of all his power. No wonder every character walks around bearing the same mirthless grimace when all they get to do is skulk in the shadows fretting over the fate of humanity.

Even the rare action beats lack any sense of fun, with Snyder’s increasingly overbearing infatuation with speed ramping and colourless tones failing to liven up what amounts to a miserable whirlwind of CGI carnage.

The seeds of a powerful story are all in place. Having watched helplessly as Superman’s battle with General Zod destroyed his employees’ lives 18 months prior, Ben Affleck’s ageing Batman embarks on a reckless mission to take down what he sees as an alien threat, fearing the damage his power could wreak if left unchecked. Meanwhile, an awkward young billionaire named Alexander Luthor sets in motion his own plot to destroy Metropolis’ ‘false god’ once and for all.

While there is a compelling story to be told around how fear can turn good men cruel and the dangers of absolute power, the script is too unfocused and underfed to do it justice. The presence of an older, battle-scarred Dark Knight should be intriguing, his fear pulling him further down to road from vigilante to villain, but the motivation behind his actions is never made clear – all we know is it relies on a very shaky understanding of percentages – which makes it hard to accept his choices.

Without this driving force, the tension between our heroes and their opposing methods merely simmers rather than building to the inevitable showdown, which, when it does finally arrive, is as overblown and lifeless as the rest of the film. With no real purpose behind it, we have no reason to care who wins or why they are even fighting, and the clunky choreography ensures it’s not even an entertaining spectacle for the eyes.

The actors involved are almost entirely blameless. Far from the catastrophe his detractors predicted, Affleck is a worthy Batman, possessing all the necessary playboy charm and seething intensity to play the Caped Crusader and his billionaire alter-ego Bruce Wayne. And pairing him with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred Pennyworth proves a masterstroke; the latter’s sardonic put-downs providing many of the film’s few moments of levity.

Henry Cavill, sadly, is once again wasted as the Man of Steel. Lacking both charisma and personality, Cavill is given very little to do other float around with a look of moody introspection as both Superman and Clark Kent. So much so, when his big emotional beat comes towards the end it feels more like a gentle stroke than the gut-wrenching wallop intended.

And while Eisenberg’s eccentric, Mark Zuckerberg-esque take on Superman’s primary foe might be an acquired taste, he at least attempts a different interpretation of the character and still packs the required menace of a true supervillain – even if his grand plan is complete bunkum.

The film’s brightest spark is Gail Gadot’s introduction as Wonder Woman – who is set to become the first female superhero to headline a film when her origin story hits screens next year. That Gadot stands out despite her limited screen time says a lot about the film’s wider characterisation flaws, but it’s also testament to her strong performance as she excels in the fight scenes and poses an elusive, formidable challenge to Affleck’s Wayne.

But while we can all now look forward to Wonder Woman with a sense of hope, the same cannot be said of the forthcoming Justice League movie. Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman are all teased here, but the film doesn’t give us a reason to want to see them team-up. It just tests our patience and bores us senseless – hardly the stuff befitting this Clash of the Titans tale.

Runtime: 151 mins; Genre: Superhero; Released: 25 March 2016

Director: Zack Snyder; Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer;

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams

Click here to watch a trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice