I’ll keep this extraordinarily brief as I feel slightly unable to put into context what I saw last night to a packed audience in the Cineworld IMAX in Dublin.
Gal Gadot was born to play Wonder Woman. She extrudes grace, power, strength, sincerity in a way that makes me glad David E. Kelly’s unrealised Wonder Woman TV show never got off the ground. Diana comes from a long line of powerful women and we spend just enough time with the Amazons to realise just how powerful they actually are. Patty Jenkins works wonders with a very complicated setup, getting through the kind of exposition that Peter Jackson would have felt needed an extra film to explain. Chris Pine is really good, channelling his Captain Kirk in reverse, becoming the perfect ally and foil to Diana as Steve Trevor. Into this, we get the perfect villains in the form of Danny Huston as the amoral and glory-obsessed General Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison (no, really that’s her name). Humans bent on conquest and a perverse need for validation, they will find a worthy adversary in Wonder Woman. The setting of the First World War is inspired, setting Diana’s quest to stop the God War, Aries, whom she believes is behind the war in a conflict where men killed each other for purely ideological and pointless reasons.
The film uses camera moves, shot composition and scene flow in ways that should be required viewing in film school. Gadot throws herself completely, headlong in some cases, into each action scene making her Wonder Woman from BvS not a fluke but a validation of her performance that if ever there was a woman born to portray this generation’s Princess of Themyscira, it is her. She is the actor who can do it all in the role: empathise with the innocent, battle against evil, understand and help those who need to find their worth and love all of humankind despite its failings. It’s a nearly impossible task but she pulls it off. Her cast is there to help her and themselves but she is the star, no question. The camera loves being with her, whether it’s a dance in a snowy town square, repelling invaders from her home or charging across a WWI battlefield. From the bright paradise of Themyscira to the ruins of Europe, Diana can be seen across any of these scenes, precisely because of what she says and does not what she looks like.
Lastly, Patty Jenkins herself deserves full and undeniable credit for this film. It’s Deborah and Zack Snyder’s production and their hand prints are on all of it but it is her film, through and through. Watching the film, I got the same giddy feeling watching the first Lord of the Rings. It was being awesome and revelling in it being awesome. It treated its source material with respect while at the same time found new ways to express modern sensibilities without making it ham-fisted. It said that love and respect are words not to be bandied about while being unworthy of being in a film. It made Diana everyone’s hero and every woman’s ally. By God, how long have we been waiting for this film? It feels like forever. Jenkins needs to be rewarded with more work, not less. Wonder Woman cannot and must not be the only high point in her career. She deserves better. We deserve better than the standard treatment of women directors. We are all made better by the successes like this film and by the failures as well. No one will stop going to see guy films just because the last one sucked. We shouldn’t be afraid to see female-led films just because this one was a success and the next can’t possibly measure up. As Robert Browning pointed out (though his statement applies to all people):
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
Random thought: nobody ever says the name Wonder Woman. Once. 😉