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Sunday, 4 June 2017


Here's a slight change of pace: WONDER WOMAN. I went to see this with a group of friends (mostly ladies) last night and the general consensus was it was really good, despite stretches of tedium. Watch out for my opinion!

The film opens with an overlong and overfamiliar 'origin' of Diana, Princess of Themiscyra (Gal Gadot, actually really good as the character this time around), learning to fight and revealing she has an extra 'power', the exact details of which are needlessly hidden from her by her mum, Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons. To its credit, the film does keep her actual origin as being created from clay, which suggests the weirder aspects of this particular mythology will get an airing (and it does, thanks to a painterly flashback/infodump about the Greek gods).

The island the Amazons live on is protected by a forcefield that renders it invisible to the outside world (and apparently keeps the weather just right, too). However, this doesn't stop a German fighter plane from barreling through it into the sea, which Diana witnesses. Without hesitation, she dives in and drags the pilot to safety - it's Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and he's an American spy who stole the plane in a recent attempt to deliver vital German info to his superiors in London. Unfortunately, he was followed and German soldiers storm Themiscyra, to be beaten by a small army of female warriors (who themselves aren't, unfortunately, bulletproof). As a result of this skirmish, Hippolyte is extremely reluctant to let Diana go with Steve back to the world of man and war, but obviously this plea falls on deaf ears as Diana can't stand by and do nothing, knowing she has the ability to help. 

It's this core belief at the heart of the character that really sells WONDER WOMAN, as she clearly enjoys fighting, but is raised to believe peace is more important than war. However, (as far as she knows) conflict exists thanks to Ares, the god of war, and the main plot of the film sees Diana on a course to find and kill him, thereby (from her viewpoint) ending the First World War and removing Ares' corrupting influence from the heart of all men. Steve Trevor, despite witnessing the Amazons and Diana's superhuman powers, is still convinced (and tries to convince Diana) that war exists, not because of an ancient god pulling our strings, but because some men are evil, and that's an unfortunate fact of life. It's an interesting idea, as both Steve and Diana want the same thing, but come into conflict themselves over the best way to deal with the situation.

I enjoyed the specatcle of BATMAN V SUPERMAN, but thought the overall film a mess - I also thought Gal Gadot's performance was rather wooden. Thankfully, WONDER WOMAN does far more right than it does wrong, and is a marked improvement on the preceding DC film. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Gal Gadot is excellent, as he counters all her strange behaviour and sincere naivete with a bemused "Well, alright then" but, importantly, doesn't doubt or undermine her. As this early version of Diana, Gal Gadot imbues the 'fish out of water' sensibilities (dealing with early twentieth century society) with a fierce determination to succeed and, above all, do the right thing. There are some really well-handled scenes in which she witnesses the horrors of war and wants to help, but comes to realise it is actually impossible to help everybody, despite her amazing abilities.

Let's talk about those abilities. She has super strength and enhanced speed, can deflect bullets with her wristbands, is handy with a sword and shield, and uses a lasso that compels anyone caught in it to speak the truth. All of this stuff is used brilliantly, particularly in an extended scene in which she removes German soldiers from a village. WONDER WOMAN, in its action scenes, is a film that made me grin like a loon, as she powerslides her way through opposing forces and superleaps into a building with enough force to demolish it.  There are a couple of other things she can do that aren't really explained and seem to only exist as plot devices for when she needs to gain a much-needed upperhand, but I won't touch on those for fear of spoilers.

The villains are interesting. Danny Huston has now popped up as a bad guy in Marvel and DC films, as here he plays a German captain/commander/higher-up, working in tandem with 'Dr. Poison', a female chemist who develops an horrifically deadly gas. These are, basically, normal humans, responsible for killing thousands of innocent people. There is the suggestion that Danny Huston's character may be some new personifaction of Ares, but I'll leave that up to you to find out. I will say that I really liked the way Ares is handled overall in this film, even if things devolve into a CGI slugfest at one point (but that seems inevitable with these DC films).

Steve Trevor's actual mission is to stop this gas from being deployed, and he enlists a few friends to help him: Sammy, an actor/con-man; Charlie, a melancholy sniper; and Chief, a Native American smuggler. We get just enough flavour to these chaps to get a decent idea of why they'd stick by Steve's side, even if they're not getting paid. And seeing their bemusement at Diana's determination to fight, followed by horror as she launches herself into the firing line, and then surprise as she reveals her incredible powers, is excellent. 

WONDER WOMAN is getting a lot of praise solely by virtue of it featuring a strong female lead, and it's a bit sad that that has to be 'a thing' in this day and age, rather than simply commonplace by this point. I really like the fact this is a superhero film I had female friends actively interested in (given that the general view is that they're "boys' films") and that Wonder Woman herself is set to act as a very positive role model for a whole new generation of girls. Maybe the gender politics within the story itself could have had more of a focus, but ultimately I'm glad they're used as theme rather than potentially hamfisted political statement, as this means the film remains fun - which, given the dour nature of the cinematography, historical setting (and current events in real life), is worth celebrating above all else.

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