The DC cinematic universe has been a subject of tremendous arguments the last few years. Fans either love or passionately hate films like Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, with the release of Wonder Woman, the team at DC films appear to be jumping into new territory. Not only does Wonder Woman stand as the first female led superhero film in recent memory, but is also the first one (coming from the DCCU and MCU) to be helmed by a female director. While many saw the film as an experiment, Wonder Woman is emerging as a entertaining and exciting entry into the DC cinematic universe.
The film follows Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot). The somewhat reluctant princess finds her insulated and idyllic world made much larger when she saves “above-average” spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from a plane crash. Convinced that Ares (the War God himself) is behind World War I, Diana teams up with Steve to fulfill the Amazon’s goal of killing Ares.
A tremendous amount of pressure falls on the shoulders of Gal Gadot to carry the film. When she landed the role of a lifetime, Gadot was largely a newcomer on the Hollywood scene. Prior to her franchise debut as Diana in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gadot had yet to become a household name (despite appearing in later installments of the Fast & Furious series). However, Gadot shines in Wonder Woman. She brings a likable screen presence to the role, which crafts Diana as a “fish out of water”. As such, she is genuine and sympathetic when she finds herself in the unfamiliar territory of London during World War I. While entertaining, she maintains the strength and integrity of the character when the material could easily descend into mocking moments of comedy.
Under director Patty Jenkins’ guiding hand, Diana’s social naiveté becomes a tool to question silly social customs, seemingly engrained in popular culture. Early in the film, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) helps Diana shop for more socially appropriate clothes. Diana stands in front of a mirror, staring at her reflection in an overly restrictive dress. She throws a kick, “How are women supposed to fight in this?”. Later, Steve (visibly taken with Diana) puts a pair of glasses on her. Etta smirks and reminds him the spectacles don’t suddenly make her any less beautiful. The moment is a direct reference to the annoying Hollywood trope of creating an an “ugly” character by putting glasses on a beautiful actress. In the hands of a different filmmaker, little keeps Diana from becoming a subject of ridicule. However, Jenkins and Gadot work together to craft the superhero as an independent and strong character.
Early in the film, Diana seems to subvert the cinematic “male gaze”. Film theorist Laura Mulvey pioneered the idea, which states that the camera assumes the point-of-view of male characters in order to fragment and sexualize the bodies of female characters. Shortly after she rescues Steve from the waters of Themyscira, Diana accidentally walks in as he soaks in a hot spring. She watches curiously as he climbs out of the water and hurries to cover his fully exposed body. The moment is interestingly close to another moment (which also involved Pine) in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
The film struck gold in the casting of Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. The talented actor proves to share seemingly effortless chemistry with Gadot. They are believable, and adorably awkward as their relationship blossoms.
Furthermore, Pine seems to understand Steve Trevor’s role, and his place within the story. He zeroes in on a certain wounded masculinity which is prevalent in popular culture during both World Wars. Steve (as well as companions Sameer and Charlie) are struggling in the ongoing and wide-spread violence of World War I. While the film progresses, Pine puts forward a sense of wide-eyed vulnerability. Steve is supposed to dictate the action as the big-time super-spy. However, he doesn’t have all the answers. As the film plays out, he and Diana achieve a very strong relationship. While there is the lingering specter of romantic feeling, they play off each other like equals.
The most notable problem in Wonder Woman is a common one within the superhero genre. From the beginning of the narrative, Diana’s fight is clearly with Ares. However, the villain is absent for most of the movie. Instead, Diana and Steve are on the trail of German solider Ludendorff (the always amazing Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya). Both characters are superficially fascinating, and are positively crying out for more development. In a movie which is built on strong women, it is a shame to learn so little about the intriguing female chemist, Dr. Maru. This lack of development seems especially noticeable when watching a scene between the two women at the end of the film. What could have been cut out?
During the build up to the summer movie season, Wonder Woman found itself a continual topic of conversation. Would the female led superhero film hit a home run? Would the “gamble” pay off? With the film on-course for a stellar opening weekend, it seems all the worries were unfounded. The period superhero movie proves itself to be a exciting and entertaining entry to the DC cinematic universe. Will the trend continue with Justice League? DC’s answer to Marvel’s The Avengers hits theaters in five months.