Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis
When I think of Wonder Woman now, I see a blur of colour whizzing through a sea of greyness. A splashy cartoon in a dreary live-action landscape. A wide-eyed baby in a depressingly grown-up world. And I’m not just talking about the character.
The DC Universe went from Tim Burton’s gothic goofballery to Christopher Nolan’s stark realism, and then, led by Zack Snyder, got involved in a surrealistic, godawful, ill-fated and computer-generated pursuit of ‘humanizing’ an alien like Superman (Man Of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). I’m not even going to count Suicide Squad as a legitimate movie. But it was mostly Snyder’s deathly serious visual palette, devoid of pigmentation and any joy, that really grinded to dust the basic DNA of this genre. He had taken a fun comic and turned it into a lifeless graphic novel. Even the redness of the cape had lost complexion.
Which is why Wonder Woman, the film, is important in context of where it occurs as much as what it stands for. It remains loyal to that familiar palette, the bleakness and dullness of human civilization. But this time, it has reason for its environment to look so industrial. By integrating World War 1 into an origin story, it combines the best of both worlds – fusing unsaturated imagery with the bright colours of an old school superhero. In effect, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot; a real-life superhero moniker if there were ever one) herself represents that kind of striking innocence, the sort of foolish idealism that had long been snuffed out by the cynicism and self-awareness of the modern-day superhero horizon.
Think the famous shot of the little girl wearing red in the desolate, black-and-whiteness of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List – except this girl genuinely believes she is strong enough to change the course of history. She believes that peace can be simply thrust upon mankind again. She believes that it is as simple as good versus evil and one single villain (Ares, the God of War), and not as existentially complex as humans make it out to be. This, in essence, is who she is. This is also who director Patty Jenkins is, as far as her language of this franchise is concerned. She gives us something new merely by re-adopting the long-lost oldness of the genre. The world may be a complicated place, but that doesn’t always mean it deserves a complicated savior.
Gadot’s getup is vivid, rich and as outlandish as Christopher Reeve’s in the first Superman movie ever – which is just as well, given that Jenkins (Monster) was inspired primarily by that title as an upcoming filmmaker. But unlike Clark Kent, the little girl grows up not amidst humans but as Amazon Princess Diana on an island populated only by those of her own kind. So when Diana goes out into the real world, she is not familiar with its workings, and is often stumped by the glaring male egotism of war, despite being accompanied by her very own ‘Lois Lane,’ a British spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). She wears the bemused expression of someone like Aamir Khan’s PK – which you’d imagine any guest would, if suddenly dropped into the blinding boiling pot of this fragile planet.
Her mission sounds adorably outdated and wonky to all men (including this one): to find and destroy Ares, after which she thinks peace will magically appear as if it were a physical entity. For soldiers who don’t know if they will ever have another meal, Diana is little more than a kooky distraction. At first, nobody takes her seriously. One can sense the way Jenkins positions her purity beyond the male gaze; she is basically a simple sword in a ground full of machine guns, a straight-thinking woman in a man’s jaded playground, and a frumpy tradition on a modish ramp of cutthroat styles.
Gadot has something astonishingly sincere about her physicality – enough to make us believe that it’s the rest who’re being the fools and wasting her time
She doesn’t play the fool, though. Gadot has something astonishingly sincere about her physicality – enough to make us believe that it’s the rest who’re being the fools and wasting her time. Once she starts getting involved in the politics of wartime, the battle sequences against the Germans flow thick and fast. She wears the gait and rhythm of a God being forced to swat away some mortals to play ball. All through, we’ve been so conditioned to accept the contemporary realness of superhero environments that it takes a different kind of bandwidth to fathom the presence of good ol’ magic and divinity.
Maybe that’s why I got a little annoyed with the last twenty minutes – again a blur of deafening CGI violence. Irrespective of this exhaustive template, it only dawned upon me later that this final part was effectively where Diana stopped being a baby. It’s where the film, too, is about to turn into an adult – the dark, brooding adult we’ve become so wary of in the last five years. It’s when she is turning into a smile-less Wonder Woman, so that she can join her scowling male pals in that ominous Justice League film. I’m afraid she has now originated. The honeymoon phase of our relationship with her is over. And even a sequel to this might miss the kind of singular chastity that made this one largely enjoyable.
I also suspect that much of this film’s power and likeability is partially down to the DC terribleness that preceded it. Would this have been equally enjoyable if, say, we didn’t know that both Batman and Superman had mothers named Martha? Or if we didn’t feel embarrassedly suicidal about Suicide Squad? I suppose not. But, keeping with the deluded optimism of Jenkins’ unabashed voice, I’m going to just cherish this moment and put up my shield. And hail Gadot.
Watch the trailer here: