Directed by Patty Jenkins. Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen. Running time: 141 minutes. Rating: 12A.
Much has been made of this film’s contribution to the feminist movement, at least in the world of high-budget film. Admittedly, females are pretty poorly represented at the table of lead roles in big-budget action thrillers; despite a general surge in the number of female leads in Hollywood, this is a genre that still harbours a strong preference for male protagonists, with men taking 97% of lead roles in action films in 2016.
Felicity Jones’ turn in Rogue One makes her the most noteworthy member of the remaining 3%, but she didn’t spend half of her screen time beating able-bodied men to a pulp and nonchalantly deflecting slack-jawed male admiration of her beauty. Wonder Woman allows Gal Gadot time to do plenty of both. Would it be cynical to suggest that this may have been a political ploy on the part of DC? Perhaps not. The fact that the film’s opening half hour is taken up primarily by scantily clad (and invariably gorgeous) women roving about on horseback invites the question as to what kind of feminism the film is really trying to appeal to, however. Certainly not the type that would risk alienating male viewers.
Wonder Woman, known in her earlier years as Diane, begins life as the only child on an idyllic island inhabited exclusively by a tribe of female warriors sent to Earth by the gods of Mount Olympus to preserve humankind from its troublesome self-destructive tendencies. Despite the disapproval of her mother (Connie Nielsen), Diane begins combat training with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) and soon reveals unrivalled ability as a fighter. When charming war pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into their midst, bringing a procession of nasty German soldiers in his wake, Diane learns of the horrific ongoing events of the First World War and feels compelled to offer her help. Away they go to the war’s frontlines.
Diane’s first experiences of the outside world are dealt with in predictable fashion, and leap at the chance to work in some safe humour. She has difficulty wearing human clothing, and remarks at the poor quality of “armour” in her new world upon seeing a mannequin sporting lingerie. Her ignorance of the quirks of human society manages to be endearing at times; never less so, however, than when a skittish Pine is forced through a horribly protracted explanation of sex to her.
Pine, for his part, works fine as the boyish love interest, but is not as convincing when required to do the job of earnest war hero. Gadot’s performance is more rounded, but once her character’s naivete begins to come across as dim-wittedness (which, after the fifth or sixth wide-eyed expression of disbelief at the folly of humanity, it does), it becomes more difficult to take her seriously as a credible heroine.
Which is not to say that she doesn’t spend plenty of time dishing out supercharged beatings; Jenkins has quite contentedly gone overboard with the fight scenes. While this is sure to please some, and certainly won’t deter anyone who enjoyed Batman vs Superman or Man of Steel, it can make for boring viewing after a while. There is also a lamentable lack of cut-and-thrust to the action; rarely are we treated to a lengthy session of nicely choreographed fisticuffs. Loud noises and colourful explosions are, however, in no short supply.
It isn’t all bad news. The film’s colossal budget has left an obvious imprint, and the beautiful effects and talented cast make this film a rather pleasant watch at times. Don’t expect a huge amount of substance, however.