Wonder Woman, the new comic book film set in the DC Universe, has charm to burn. That’s not a back-handed compliment. It’s genuine praise. The comic book genre has suffered from a case of self-importance ever since Christopher Nolan perfected his “heavy is the head that wears the cowl” theme in The Dark Knight (2008). The revisionist western angle taken by Logan earlier this year yielded a quality comic book film, but in the end, even it was more melancholy than fun.
So, where’s a guy or gal (sorry) to go for a little popcorn fun these days? For this weekend at least, you can head to the local multiplex for a dose of warrior Amazons, clashing Greek gods, trench warfare, mad scientists and the Lasso of Truth. If that all sounds a little corny, you didn’t spend enough time actually reading comic books as a kid.
In my day, comics had more evil twins, bouts of amnesia and unexpected parentage revelations than a season of Days of Our Lives. But, they were a blast. Thankfully Wonder Woman channels all of that energy onto the big screen and leaves behind the Batman-as-angst-ridden-Kurt-Cobain-in-a-leotard approach that the DC Universe has tried unsuccessfully to mine for the past ten years.
As with most first-time lead appearances in a comic book film, Wonder Woman is an origin story. It’s set during the final days of World War I. When an American spy crashes into the ocean off the coast of an island populated by Amazon warriors, young Diana (Gal Gadot) wants to return with him to the Land of Men to put an end to the “War to End All Wars”. Her mother forbids it. So like every headstrong caped crusader, she goes anyway, and adventure ensues.
Gal Gadot amazes with her performance. Her screen presence is undeniable. She combines the regal beauty of old-school film legends like Grace Kelly and Sophia Loren with the butt-kicking martial arts skills of Jet Li and (young) Steven Seagal. Gadot is a former combat instructor in the Israeli army, and she looks right at home kicking and slashing her way through dozens of enemies. Don’t tell her she punches like a girl, or she may knock you out.
Director Patty Jenkins (Monster) keeps the film moving at a steady pace. Much has been made of Wonder Woman’s compassion in the film and the attention paid to the human costs of war. Many critics have attributed these thematic elements to the guidance of a female director. That assumption seems a bit reductive. Emotions are only a female thing? Examining the price of violence is something only the “fairer sex” would do? Give me a break.
Jenkins is a talented filmmaker, and she’s working from a solid script written entirely by men. So, the thematic content of Wonder Woman can’t be attributed to just one gender, but rather a melting pot of viewpoints. And it’s all the better for it. (Maybe making a film by committee actually worked this time?)
Wonder Woman certainly isn’t perfect. It suffers from some of the pitfalls that a comic book film seems unable to avoid. In the end, it all boils down to one indestructible person versus one (almost) indestructible person in a protracted fight that detours into the Land of Ho Hum. (Gee, I wonder who’s going to win?) The film could lose 15 minutes from its run time, and audiences wouldn’t miss a thing. It seems to be a rule that all summer blockbusters have to break the two-hour mark (even the comedies.)
But, this is nit-picking of the highest order. Wonder Woman is a solid crowd-pleaser, so go join the crowd.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.