Wonder Woman finally solves the DC problem.
I’m clearly a little late to the discussion here, after all, as I write this, Wonder Woman is not even in cinemas anymore, and everyone and their mother has already raved about the brilliance of this film. But they aren’t me, so I don’t care. On with the review.
DC has for a while now, been struggling to replicate the success of Marvel Studios. Certainly, their films are commercial hits, but until now, their output has been met with incredibly mixed receptions. It reminds me of when I was six and would pretend to be playing in my church’s band to emulate my Dad. As the drummer tapped away I would try to mimic him using pencils and some upturned paint pots. DC has lacked the patience or the right motivation to do the source material justice.
In short, DC only started their shared universe to ape Marvel and share in their success. So most of the films made at their core have been trying desperately to set up the new DCU, to the extent that they fail to put entertainment first. Wonder Woman is the first DC film that tells a coherent story, and despite a few references to Bruce Wayne, the film isn’t bogged down in connections to the wider DCU and future sequel bait.
The film isn’t perfect, the story is a rather generic hero’s journey, and the action is standard, and yet there is something surprisingly fresh about Wonder Woman. Perhaps it is the way the film avoids cliché, by looking at things from a new angle. It is a tale about a naïve hero joining a world war, which draws obvious comparisons to Captain America. However, by setting the film in the 1st World War, Patty Jenkins allows the themes to become apparent.
Diana has a simple view of the world; there is good and evil, and good needs to destroy evil. She spends most of the film thinking that if she kills Ares, all war will end, forgetting that Ares is not the cause of all war, but the embodiment of it. By putting her in a war where no side is outright evil, and the reason for it starting in the first place is complicated, we can see her come to terms with the more complex morality of the world of men. It also helps to separate the film from the events of the rest of the DCU, and keeps the focus on Diana’s story, which even Man of Steel struggled with.
At its core that is what makes Wonder Woman feel so fresh, it is a standalone film. If Marvel has a major flaw which DC should exploit, it’s that they can’t resist slipping in a lot of references, Easter eggs and hints towards future films, and this can be at the expense of the story they are trying to tell. Wonder Woman is the story of Diana joining the war, and her desire to save people. This is what drives her throughout the film; not revenge, not fighting other superheroes, saving people.
It never ceases to amaze me how many superhero stories involve half a city being destroyed, usually with hundreds of civilian casualties. Heroes disregard actual crime fighting as they battle cosmic entities, and this has its place, but Wonder Woman manages to do both. She fights a literal god, and on the way, saves French civilians from trench warfare, not for any other reason than that she wants to help, mirroring Trevor Noah’s reason for joining the war. Gal Gadot brings a wide eyed innocence, and yet battle-hardened confidence to the character which fits the tone, and never seems gullible.
That is what I love about Wonder Woman, that along with some stellar film-making and brilliant performances, Patty Jenkins has something genuinely new and interesting to offer, and she doesn’t feel bound by the failing DC formula. There are strong themes, decent story-telling and interesting, human characters. What more can you ask for?