Directed by Patty Jenkins
During the production of 1978's Superman everyone involved, from director Richard Donner to the actors, from the set designers and costumers, from the grips and cameramen to craft services, from the extras to the guy who laid down tape to keep the electrical in place, they all knew they were doing something Important. Even Brando in his own odd way. And somehow Superman never once announces its Importance. It's a hell of a magic trick that Richard Donner and his team achieved.
The risks were huge. A movie based on a comic book? That wouldn't appeal to just kids? Casting acting legends to play supporting roles with a near-unknown as the lead? Convincing Marlon Brando that Jor-El wasn't a bagel? The risks were huge and they paid off in ways that are still awe-inspiring. Here we are nearly forty years later and movies based on comic books are the predominant movie genre worldwide.
In the thirty-nine years since Richard Donner talked Marlon Brando out of playing a bagel there have been two female-led major comic book films. Catwoman, an incomprehensible and boring mess, and Elektra, a dull film but no-where as bad as its predecessor. Thirty-nine years of this genre and dozens of these films later and exactly two have been led by women. Two. And they were both legendary box office disasters. So there is a risk in bringing Wonder Woman to the multiplex. She's an unknown quantity. The last time the character was in a film was Batman v Superman and that was for all of, what, seven minutes. Outside of the DC animated properties, the last time Wonder Woman was in the mainstream eye, really, was in the seventies TV series.
And yet, here we are. A director who's last film was 2003's Monster. A near-unknown in the lead. An untested property. On paper it seems like a project being set up to fail. But there are those seven or so minutes in Batman v Superman, those few moments when audiences sat up from their boredom and frustration to say with one voice "who is that?" Gal Gadot brought an X factor to that film, a something that few could put words to. In a grim and dark film full of murder and little sunshine, Gal Gadot seemed to be having fun. She brought joy and life to a singularly joyless and lifeless film. She won me over during the battle scenes, when she gets hit and knocked back by the Bad Thing she looks up and… smiles. In that one smile she brought me out of the drudgery of the film and I found myself, against all odds, having fun. In that one smile she made me hopeful.
From director Patty Jenkins to the actors to the set designers and costumers, everyone from the grips and cameramen, from the extras to the guy who laid down the tape to keep the electrical in place to craft services, everyone had to know they were working on something Important. Something that had to transcend the genre while still bringing the joy of the genre. This would be the film that would to not only bring an icon to cinematic life but would also bear the responsibility of representing her to entire generations that have never seen Wonder Woman in any kind of live action situation. And the film would have to do something that Warners/DC have failed to do since setting off down this path of creating the DC extended universe - it would have to not only be a box office success, it would have to be something to be proud of. The film would have to live up to those seven or so minutes.
And it does, oh, baby Jesus on a waffle it does. Wonder Woman is the film an icon deserves, especially this icon. And the film is that rare magic trick, it never, ever once announces itself as an Important Film. Everyone involved is in deep everlasting love with the source material. How can I say that? 'cause it's there in every single frame. This film understands what is important about its title character. There is a scene in this movie when I realized that there were tears on my face. Not out of sadness, nope. Because I had been waiting for 39 years to see that moment, that there were some in the theatre who had been waiting 75 years to see this moment. It is, without hyperbole, the single greatest moment in any film in the genre.
Gal Gadot's performance captures all of those qualities that make Wonder Woman special to so many. The reason she decorates offices and classrooms and is one of the few unironic Halloween costumes. Her Wonder Woman, her Diana Prince, is tough and compassionate and fun. As a friend recently told me, she brings a joy and a lightness to the performance that has been missing since Christopher Reeve grabbed Margot Kidder and a helicopter out of the air. She's never ironic, she's never playing dress-up. Ms Gadot takes this deadly seriously but never lets that weigh down her performance. She brings a lightness to the role, she allows Diana to breathe and because of that she feels real.
It would have been so easy for the film to turn the relationship between the two leads into some kind of romantic reversal, her the hero and him the damsel in distress. Instead it never goes there. He has his skills and goals and motivations and she has her's and they mesh, they're a team. And their banter is something rarely seen since, well, I don't know when. It almost has a screwball comedy era quality to it, with the flirting and the teasing and the back and forth while also feeling real and light.
Even the supporting characters have back story and depth. The villains are villainous but are actual real threats to the heroes. Unlike most of the genre, there is a real weight to the odds that are stacked against the heroes. The twists and turns never feel anything less than organic. The philosophical arguments of the film never weighs down the action but instead contextualize it, give it meaning. Heck, Wonder Woman even turns the genre's obsession with Ghostbusters on its head.
Is Wonder Woman perfect? Nah, it's got that overblown climax issue that hinders most of the genre, that whole orgy of CGI, the dance of the ones and zeroes while actors wave their hands convincingly. But… You see, comic book films seem to work better when the odds are personal, not global. And though Wonder Woman does erupt into craziness and the special effects houses that build this stuff will be paid handsomely, the odds are surprisingly personal. Which is a nice change of pace.
So, again, is Wonder Woman perfect? Damn close, friends and neighbours, damn close.
Quick note before I sign off - there is no end credit scene. See, I saved ten minutes of your life. Now go out and do something with it.