My loathing of the DC Movie Universe is Legendary. You only have to mention Christopher Nolan and the red mist comes down, there’s foaming at the mouth, I lose hours to rage… it’s not pretty. As far as I’m concerned, the last good Batman movie was Batman Returns*. And the last semi-decent DC movie was Green Lantern, although that suffered from a weak third act, an annoying lead and an ultimate villain that was an intergalactic all-consuming cloud. Sadly, we’d recently seen one of those of those in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, so it all felt a bit…. ho hum.
After three horrible Bat-Movies and a vile ‘Man of Steel’, I all but gave up on the DCU. Except… I really like Wonder Woman. And with the movie coming out, I knew I’d have to forgo my ire, take the plunge and watch her first appearance in Batman vs Superman. I wasn’t sure whether to go for the theatrical release, and get it over relatively quickly, or to get the Ultimate Edition and get a relatively coherent story. It was a tough call.
Then something entirely unexpected happened.
I got the Ultimate Edition, thinking a relatively coherent story would anger me less, and to my shock I really enjoyed it! Okay, it’s not the best movie ever made and certainly not the best superhero movie ever made. It still contains a little too much in the way of disaster porn, but it’s great fun! It’s nowhere near as relentlessly grim. Affleck is a great Batman, there are moments of genuine comedy and Wonder Woman absolutely stole it.
This, I thought, bodes well.
So today, with a little trepidation, I went to see Wonder Woman – a week late as we were in London seeing Shriekback last week – and I’m thrilled to say, that without any doubt in my mind, this is the best of the DC movies to date.
It starts off being a bit Xena-like, as you’d expect, I suppose. Diana is the daughter of Hippoltya ‘formed from clay’ and having life breathed into her from Zeus. Despite Hippolyta’s resistance, Diana learns to fight. Hippolyta believes that the state of peace they live in will end if she does. She beleives that the more powerful Diana becomes the more Ares, God of War, will notice her and bring the end of the Amazon Paradise. Diana is told of what she thinks is the Ultimate Weapon, a sword, subtly named ‘The Godkiller’. After a plane carrying a spy with a stolen secret – Captain Steven Trevor – crashes into Themycira leading to a catastrophic encounter with the beastly Hun, she is whisked away to the battlefields of World War One. She means to achieve peace by killing Ares, who she thinks is obviously behind starting it.
There are a couple of issues with exactly how old Diana is, the story makes it seem like she has been a child for several thousand years. The time between childhood and being grown up seems like just a couple of years. Her child-like qualities outside of Themycira are entirely apropos, though, given that she has been sheltered from the outside world in a magical bubble with only women for company. That is essential what gives the movie its emotional heart.
The plot is not exactly complex – woman from another land tries to help stop a war, gets overwhelmed by the horrors, finds her true self and batters the shit out of things until it’s right.
Most intriguing was the scene where Diana storms into a room full of Generals to give them hell about killing so many people and Steve goes in to calm her down, try explain and placate her. A wonderful piece of role reversal. It’s a moment of perfect balance, Steve Trevor’s character is strong and well-rounded but is very much secondary to the idealistic Diana Prince. There is no doubt that this is her movie and everything revolves around her. She is absolutely the focus of the movie. To digress a moment, this is the polar-opposite of the recent Mad Max movie where Furiosa absolutely owned it and was the entire thrust of the film, but somehow, despite being a bit part and largely pointless, Mad Max got top billing. This seemed like such a cop out; such a lack of faith in the main character to carry the movie. This was my big fear; that Wonder Woman – although she’s never called that – would be relegated to a bit part in her own movie. None of that malarkey here! We are, without a shadow of a doubt, in Wonder Woman’s territory.
The depictions of the horrors of war were far more realistic than in, say, Captain America and the fate of the saved town is genuinely upsetting. The set pieces are spectacular yet far more intimate and much less ‘showy’ than either Man of Steel or the Batman movies, but no worse for that! There was a feeling of ‘getting on with business’ that was quite refreshing. There was none of the DC disaster porn and the sequence where Wonder Woman shows her true mettle in No Man’s Land is a thing of pure joy!
The sequences at the gala ball felt oddly weighted in favour of Pine when it could have been a great moment of simmering hatred between Diana and Ludendorff; unable to break the polite conventions of the Ball. It sort of happened, but could have been a lot more tense.
In the real world, there’s a little ‘fish out of water’ stuff, some hilarious Edwardian sexism (My God! There’s a woman here!), some fantastic child-like naivete and some rousing heroics from both Wonder Woman and Captain Steve Trevor. The supporting cast were there simply to make a point about lost lands and personal fights which they did adequately, but didn’t dazzle.
David Thewlis – in dual roles of kindly general and The God of war– was excellent, although his moustache troubled me. It worked when he was in Edwardian gentleman mode, but he still had it in God of War mode and once the helmet went on and it started poking through that gap… it was fascinating in the wrong way… moustache aside, he coped with both characters and the CGI action-fest beautifully.
I have heard that some people are disappointed with the ending, but I am pleased that it didn’t go into over-the-top Man of Steel-isms. The relative ‘quietness’ works well and when Ares realises he is about to be beaten, the terror in his face is just perfect. There are two switch and bait moments, that are probably too well sign-posted, but the journeys towards the revelations are so much fun it barely matters
The (very few) misfires – and folicular oddness – are vastly outweighed by good parts, though. I mean, vastly outweighed. It’s hugely enjoyable, hugely engaging and has almost exactly the right amount of comic book cheese. I mean that as a good thing. One of the things that I’ve loathed about previous DC outings is that they have forgotten that Batman and Superman are comic book heroes. Transplanting them into the ‘real’ world makes them look ridiculous. There is a deftness of touch in the direction here that goes right up to that cheese-line but never crosses into the ludicrous or po-faced. For that, Patty Jenkins, I thank you!
A sterling movie and while not perfect, streets ahead of all the other DC movies and bodes well for the future of the DCU.
The one unforgivable thing though, was that although she fought for our rights, the satin tights were absent. Tragic.
(I really wanted to give it an 8, but the moustache was too disturbing)
*Oh wait! Lego Batman outclassed all of the Nolan Movies