Before Wonder Woman, whenever I think of films in the DC extended universe, I am hit by a storm of awful memories: sitting alone in a cinema rolling my eyes at Kevin Costner on a mountaintop; bursting into laughter at “Martha! Why did you say that name?!” (admit it – we all laughed at that); and slogging through my first and only viewing of Man of Steel. There is no denying the obvious truth: the DC cinematic universe has been a bleak, joyless, narratively-clunky, giant CGI-sized mess. Superhero-fatigue was not the reason behind these films’ critical failures; the films simply weren’t very good. So when I first heard of Wonder Woman (directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Godot in the title role), I was apprehensive. We were all apprehensive. A little excited, of course – after all, she is the first major female superhero to headline her own film in a while – but apprehensive all the same. We female ‘film nerds’ know how it would go. If the film is deemed a failure, it would not simply be a failure for DC or the superhero genre. It would also be a setback for other female heroines – with super powers or otherwise – harbouring dreams of getting their own solo films. Such is life in the Hollywood patriarchal bubble.
We are first introduced to present-day Diana Prince in the Louvre museum, opening a briefcase sent by Bruce Wayne himself. Inside is a photograph, already shown to us in Batman V Superman (via a pathetic, laughable email), of Diana in full-warrior gear, flanked by four soldiers amidst the ruins of World War One. This film is a story of how this photograph came to be. We follow Diana from her childhood as an eager, adorable little girl growing up in Themyscira – a paradise island occupied by female Amazon warriors – to the bloody, war-torn fields of Europe. Diana is determined to carry out the Amazons’ purpose of defeating Ares, the God of War, and restoring peace to the world. Despite her mother the Queen’s (Connie Nielsen) reluctance, she begins training with her aunt, the fearsome Antiope (Robin Wright). But the Amazons’ peaceful existence is shattered forever when an American soldier, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands on the island. Diana, upon hearing of the Great War from Steve, decides to accompany him back to the front, armed with her Lasso of Truth, her Bracelets of Submission, a magical sword, and an unwavering, although somewhat naive belief, that she could end the fighting simply by finding the mythical Ares and slaying him in battle.
I am immensely relieved and happy to report that Wonder Woman is the best film in the DC extended universe so far, not counting the Nolan Batman films, of course. This is not only because it has the vibrancy, the lovable characters and the humour which are sorely lacking in recent DC films. But it also has real heart and purpose – things which help make its narrative plot holes rather inconsequential. Gal Godot is extremely winnable as the innocent, bright-eyed and incredibly strong Diana. Diana’s understanding that men are inherently good is at the heart of her journey. It gives her character depth, layers to explore, and serves as a chink in her nearly perfect armour of goodness. The film excels when her character gets room to breathe, to explore new surroundings and new relationships. One of these relationships is the romance she has with Pine’s Steve Trevor, the first man she ever sees. To say Pine’s dashing spy is false-advertisement for men everywhere is an understatement; Steve’s dry humour and his support for Diana bring bucketloads of charm and heart to every scene. This romance becomes the emotional crux of Wonder Woman and is, surprisingly, very memorable as far as superhero romances go.
There are some Captain America: The First Avenger vibes about Wonder Woman. Both are solid period pieces with a good-hearted protagonist who is all about ‘doing the right thing’. Unfortunately, the flaws in the narrative of Wonder Woman are more apparent. There is still a few clunky plot points, a final battle which dissolves into a CGI fest, and the World War One premise can be uncomfortable for some viewers. (Diana’s reasoning for sitting out World War Two is also not well-explained.) However, all these minor gripes automatically fall away whenever Wonder Woman herself takes centre stage to handle the action. When she climbs up that ladder and steps onto no man’s land to face a litany of bullets, she is in full armour with her shield braced, a sight to behold. She takes the first step across the desolate earth where men fear to tread, and we all step with her in that moment, in awe and inspired. For there is always something remarkable and powerful about the fortitude of women.