Wonder Woman 06.05.17
It started like something from Tolkien, became delightful, and ended with a formulaic series of bangs. Director Patty Jenkins's superhero story to a large part responds with style and no little substance, with Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman a strong and feisty female lead. In the film's hugely enjoyable middle section, when Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince enters the world of men and 1918 Europe, the opponent is as much patriarchy as any arch villain. I really wanted the rest of the film to be like this, simultaneously ironic and upliftingly resonant, with a particularly strong turn from Lucy Davis (previously Dawn from The Office). Davis's 'Etta', a secretary both brave and lacking in confidence, would have been a brilliant foil for Gadot's alpha-Amazon in the latter stages, as indeed she proves during the jarring middle section when the empowered super-woman penetrates a dusty, all-male club of entitled politicians. In the best superhero films, indeed, the hero's back-up support are so invaluable, be it Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman in Nolan's Batman trilogy, or Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges in Iron Man. Yet Wonder Woman jettisons this rich potential as it enters its final third, with Davis disappearing from the action. The opportunity for a genuinely different kind of superhero film, involving several very different female characters, is lost.
The treatment of the villain compounds this marginalizing of a distinctively female style. Early on, we learn of an evil chemical scientist, played by the charismatic Elena Anaya (The Skin I Live In; Van Helsing). Yet Anaya has increasingly little to do, the screen time instead given to Danny Huston's Ludendorf and David Thewlis's Sauron-like Ares. A more nuanced portrayal of Anaya's villain and the physical scars she bears would have given the movie the kind of complexity it sometimes appears to want to engage with, yet invariably undermines with its own contradictions. In Anaya's case, we learn nothing of her backstory or her scars, as she scurries out of the way as the 'real' fight takes place.Missed opportunities, then, make this a film with dabs of brilliant potential, but ultimately of an alpha female kicking arse in an all-male world of war. Wonder Woman does at times challenge the idea of war as a Manichean exercise in good vs evil. Yet its conclusion embodies the very same black and white thinking it tries to critique elsewhere, and during the final battle scenes, I admit I was ready for the movie to end.