LOS ANGELES: Wonder Woman Diana Prince’s first ever standalone cinematic debut had to be good. Heck, it needed to be great, for all the Wonder Woman fans — little girls and boys turned adult women and men of varying nationalities and backgrounds — who devoured the comics and looked up to her as the quintessential icon of justice, feminism and love.
And trust that it took a woman — Patty Jenkins is the first female director to helm a big-budget superhero film — to rise above the noise and heavy expectations and deliver a film that is undoubtedly the best DC superhero entry since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy.
As the first major studio film centred on a female superhero in more than a decade (Catwoman and Elektra who?) and helmed by a woman, it’s obvious Wonder Woman carries massive weight on her slender shoulders. Both the cast and Jenkins’ dogged resolute to go with virtue, sincerity and integrity counters that very encumbrance and emerges victorious from the previous bleak entries in the DC extended Universe franchise.
The combination of the superheroine’s backstory, gender politics set against the World War I period setting as well as her subsequent fish-out-of-water antics, gives Jenkins a chance to tackle this typically formulaic genre with different perspectives and tone. The result? A film that flows with far more ease than one would expect, with surprisingly unforced chemistry and pathos. It succeeds because it gets the audience caring about the characters and getting involved in the emotional consequences, while brassily leaning into embracing the cheese and humour, two aspects sorely absent in all other DC comic book films.
And then there are the fight scenes. Diana Prince rising out of the trenches and striding with shield and sword onto war-torn territory for the first time in full Wonder Woman costume ready for battle — that alone is worth the cinema ticket price 10 times over. It’s the ultimate goosebump moment, 76 years in the making where the hopes and dreams of Wonder Woman fans worldwide crystalise into a singular sublime image that transcends cultures, egos and age. It is the picture of pride, of strength, of feminism and of representation.
Having stolen the show in Batman V Superman, Gadot proves even better here. Picture-perfect looks and body aside, the actress manages to flesh out a superhero with a magnetic mix of empathy, dignity, righteousness, stubbornness, and self-determination. She carries an infectious sense of optimism and wide-eyed wonderment, while ensuring it never once devalues her sheer power and ability to fight. And fight she does, delivering her superhero moves with poise and grace despite the obvious computer-generated help.
The big surprise here is Chris Pine (you forget he is cocky Captain Kirk in Star Trek) by providing a solid dandy foil, a square-jawed rouge that is all at once stoic, funny, sympathetic and likeable. The palpable chemistry between him and Gadot will have them in the running for best screen couple in a superhero film.
It must be said that it’s not a perfect film. The film runs a tad too long at 141 min, resulting in sporadic lulls in energy. The CG work felt over-relied on, the slo-mo button unnecessarily over-used and the villains forgettable. The brilliant Robin Wright who cuts a splendid figure as General Antiope, and regal Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (Wonder Woman’s aunt and mother respectively) were also sorely underused.
But, even as Wonder Woman does not reinvent the superhero genre, it most certainly reinvigorates it. It succeeds in a way that so many others fail because it gets the heart, the cause and the emotions right without once pandering to the base.
Wonder Woman is the superheroine movie we’ve been waiting for, more than ever in this especially crazy world we currently live in. One where it’s not about imposing superhero ideology on our wrecked cultural climate but about being able to rise above our imperfections to look for the best within and in each other. One that is just as much about hope, inspiration, empowerment and compassion as it is an entertaining popcorn action-blockbuster. One with a rallying symbol that comfortably straddles the line between pin-up warrior-princess and Utopian feminist. And one with a hero we can all look up to and identify with in mankind’s darkest hour.
Genevieve Loh’s rating: 4/5 stars