Films of the year: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman takes up fifth place in our films of the year countdown...

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Films of the year: Wonder Woman (5th place)

The environment into which Wonder Woman was released was, to put it mildly, a bit uneasy. The DC Extended Universe had received a mixed response to Batman Vs Superman and a generally negative response to Suicide Squad (although neither of the box office figures for those films reflects that). Gal Gadot was a relative unknown to the vast majority of movie goers and Patty Jenkins previous feature film as director was Monster, released 14 years prior. She had no experience with a high profile property such as this. In short, the whole project had a bit of a question mark hanging over it.

How brilliant then, that Wonder Woman has been a resounding success.

Wonder Woman is a great superhero movie, a gorgeous period piece that still has a very contemporary sensibility. It’s action packed, fun but deeper when it needs to be, has a message of compassion at its core, all delivered with courage of conviction that’s carried through by its brilliant central performance and stellar direction.

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The film has proved a star making vehicle for Gal Gadot. Earnest, kind and fierce as hell, there’s no other way to say it, she simply is Wonder Woman. She’s backed up by some great supporting performances. Chris Pine is channelling some old Hollywood heroism into dashing pilot/spy Steve Trevor and his and Gadot’s on screen chemistry fizzes. The Amazons make a huge impact (Robin Wright’s Antiope in particular) and there are some lovely sidekick parts; Etta Candy and Steve’s teams of rogues-for-hire are fun to spend time with and all of them complement Gadot’s role as the lead of this movie. 

There has been much talk over the past four or five years about ‘superhero fatigue’, particularly in regards to superhero origin stories and it feels like Wonder Woman puts paid to that notion. The key lies in Allan Heinberg’s script and Patty Jenkin’s direction, everything is played with sincerity, bucking the recent trend in superhero movies to make endless subversive jokes and poke fun at their own worlds. That kind of sardonic humour can be great, but it shouldn’t be the only thing there is. Instead the film leans on its fish out of water story to provide laughs and the movie and lets its characters be quick and witty but never allows our hero to be the butt of the joke.

The zenith of Wonder Woman is undeniably the No Man’s Land scene and the ensuing fight in Veld. It is a perfect cinematic moment; the story has built to a tipping point where Diana is forced into action. She cannot stand on the side lines and watch people suffer so she climbs out of the trenches and crosses the battlefield. In that scene, in full costume for the first time in the movie, Diana is embodying the purest sentiment that a hero can represent; she needs to save people, not to right some tragic injustice in her past but just because she can and she believes humans are inherently good. It’s a bold and beautiful piece of film making that brings tears to my eyes every single time.

As much as cinematic heroes are for all of us regardless of gender and it’s unfair to hang the future of female representation in movies on one film, it’s important to understand what Wonder Woman means to female audiences. Diana is a total badass (I could watch that gif of her flipping a tank all day long) but her emotional intelligence is just as important to the story as her physical strength. Yes, there have been ‘Strong Female Characters’ who’ve kicked ass before Wonder Woman, but ones that embrace their femininity as wholeheartedly as Diana does, I’m not so sure. Outside of the film itself, seeing Gal Gadot meeting fans, especially little girls, is really heart-warming and so important. There is such power in seeing someone who looks like you saving the world; it’s the pebble in a pond and the ripples it sends out could inspire our daughters to reach further and push harder and that is no bad thing.

There is just so much to say about this movie; to succeed in an arena where the deck is so heavily stacked against you is impressive enough, to do it with such humour, positivity and clarity of vision; we should be carrying Patty Jenkins around on our shoulders like she scored the winning goal in a football game.  Everything looks and sounds gorgeous, I’d love to hug everyone involved but I can’t so I’ll just say “It’s wonderful, you should be very proud”.

Wonder Woman raises the bar not just for the DCEU but for superhero movies in general. DC and Marvel bigwigs should take note, sometimes it’s nice when your heroes are an unapologetic force for good. We live in a cynical age but compassion, hope and speaking truth to power are still worthwhile lessons to learn, even if that truth is spoken by the tip of a sword and the whip of a lasso.