Patty Jenkins’ second feature is a knockout blockbuster, on a level never before reached by the superhero genre.
By Orla Smith
The DCEU isn’t known for its surprises. In fact, every single film they’d made up until last weekend could be surmised as one big, blob of sludgy sameness. But let’s give them some credit, because they’ve finally pulled it off. They’ve finally pulled off the biggest surprise of them all:
They made a good movie.
Critically, ‘Wonder Woman’ is one of the biggest successes the superhero genre has ever seen. In terms of box office and fan interest, it’s taken over the world. Personally – and as someone who’s not so hot on them – it’s the greatest superhero film that I’ve ever seen. What a coup it is then that the one woman that DC (and the rest of Hollywood, let’s be real) let into their directing boys club happened to turn out a hit with greater power than all of her male counterparts. How lucky are we that this just happened to be the case?
But I’d argue that it’s not luck at all. Women filmmakers (and just women in general – again, let’s be real here) have stood outside the gate for so long. We have looked on at the mistakes made by men in the industry time and time again, and longed to correct them. We have been taught not to expect inclusion. We have never been able to take that as a given, as they have, instead remaining observers. We have waited and waited for our chance, taking notes, begging for the opportunity to do better.
So it makes perfect sense that Patty Jenkins, the first woman that they let through that gate, was the one to rise above them all. She has been waiting for fourteen years to get that opportunity. Women have waited for as long as any of us have been alive.
It’s relief that makes you realise just how big the void has been: it wasn’t until I saw hundreds of world-weary women riding into battle together without ever questioning their own worth that I realised just how much had been missing. It wasn’t until I saw the words ‘directed by Patty Jenkins’ flash onto screen, surrounded by a shimmering golden lasso, that I realised just how long I had waited. I cried at that moment, because she had finally done it, and that meant that maybe I could too.
‘Wonder Woman’ is a full-bodied adventure. Amazingly, it feels whole, like a film that came from the brain and – more importantly – the heart, of one woman. It doesn’t feel like it was made from a checklist, and when moments in the film arise when it’s clear that what you’re seeing is a studio necessity (mostly, as with all superhero films, this can be found in the final battle), Jenkins can tangibly be felt fighting against the machine. CGI heavy action is infused with moments of humanity that are easy to parse from the smoke and mirrors surrounding them.
Most importantly, our heroine Diana is real. While Batman and Superman are, at this point, only vague echoes of people, hidden under all their murk and darkness, Diana is a human being who smiles, and loves, and changes. She is a person with wants and flaws, who needs not only to change the world around her, but also to grow herself. Gal Gadot understands her so deeply that, within her first ten minutes of screen time, it becomes impossible to imagine anyone else in the role – this is ‘Wonder Woman’, played with a strength, conviction and kindness that no-one could better.
The foibles and natural pauses in her rapport with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, perfect) are what makes their connection so true, and it’s a moving part of an epic story, but this is not a romance. Patty Jenkins’ aim is true and the focus never turns away from Diana’s self discovery. More than almost any blockbuster in recent memory, this is a film about a character, not about set-pieces – but you won’t hear any complaints in that area either. There is an early battle scene pitting the Amazonian women against German soldiers, and it’s wonderful, but in that case Diana is kept mostly out of the fray. It takes over half of the movie for her to fully let loose, and when she does, the movie lets itself play too, blasting her electric theme out loud as we get to experience the full might of her powers. You’ll weep, or you’ll want to stand up and cheer – maybe you’ll do both.
Patty Jenkins, who once claimed that she wasn’t interested in action – around the time when she was coming off of her breathtaking first feature ‘Monster’ – has clearly not allowed herself to be lazy on that front, and the results of her immense effort shows. She makes her action deliriously coherent through intelligent speed-ramping that highlights the ferocity of her female fighters, as well as zeroing in on emotional and physical beats that she allows to play out in single shots. She gives her characters room to breathe. She lets them realise things in real time. After all, she’s waited this long – what would be the sense in rushing?
The level of self-seriousness in recent superhero films makes it hard to take them seriously. ‘Wonder Woman’ – which feels like a huge breath of fresh air – argues that it’s not seriousness that matters, but sincerity. Nobody ever refers to Diana as Wonder Woman. There’s no ‘I’m Batman’, no newspaper headlines holding the name ‘Superman’, no Will Smith asking, ‘are we some kind of Suicide Squad?’ Because Diana simply is a wonder woman, and nobody needs to say it out loud for us to realise that it’s true.
‘Wonder Woman’ is showing in UK cinemas now
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