It's not perfect but Wonder Woman still kicks ass

2017-06-04 12:00

City Press film review: Wonder Woman

Johannesburg - It’s a damn shame that it’s taken 75 years for Wonder Woman to get her own silver screen debut (she got a made-for-TV movie in 1974). From the start, studio execs felt that comic book movies should be made for their mostly male audience – and that this audience didn’t want female leads.

The dismal failure of the likes of Catwoman and Electra 10 years ago further doomed the cause. The fact that both of those films were badly made, and that male actors kept leading superhero films despite duds like Green Lantern and Daredevil, didn’t seem to matter.

Thankfully, the recent success of franchises such as The Hunger Games has proven the viability of women leads in action films, and we now have Wonder Woman gracing the big screen in her own blockbuster.

As you can imagine, the movie has a great deal resting on its shoulders. Not least of this is the fact that Wonder Woman, aka Princess Diana of Themyscira, has pretty much become the poster girl for feminism in pop culture.

In 1972, pre-eminent feminist activist Gloria Steinem wrote: “Wonder Woman symbolises many of the values of the women’s culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women; sisterhood and mutual support among women; peacefulness and esteem for human life; a diminishment both of ‘masculine’ aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way to solve conflicts.”

So, after all of that, what’s the movie like? Well, unlike recent characters such as antihero Deadpool and the snarky Iron Man, Diana is the “hero’s hero” – all earnest heroism, gallantry and justice. We live in jaded times cinematically, so getting an old-school pure-of-heart protagonist to rally around is refreshing.

What irks, though, is that this gallantry often becomes naivety, and sometimes Diana just comes across as sort of dumb. Sadly, despite the film being intrinsically feminist simply for centring on a female superhero, the dialogue contains no overtly radical feminist sentiments. She’s the sanitised feminist – strong and sexy yet palatable enough for the mainstream.

The Guardian went so far as to call her “a weaponised Smurfette” in a recent review, referencing the “Smurfette principle”, where there’s only one female character among a massive cast of men.

Israeli star Gal Gadot, who plays Diana, might be breathtakingly beautiful, but she’s also largely expressionless. A furrowed brow is about as far as her repertoire goes, and her dialogue is often stunted and sort of comical. I wanted a Wonder Woman with character – someone more gregarious; more real. Gadot is none of that.

All of that aside, the film has a colour-saturated slickness and big-budget dazzle about it that you can’t escape. The action scenes are gorgeous, the Amazons are kick-arse, the score is goose bump-inducing and leading man Chris Pine is infinitely likable.

What is undeniable is that director Patty Jenkins, who gave us the glorious Monster that got Charlize Theron her Oscar, deeply cares about the character. Jenkins’ Diana is vulnerable but strong, compassionate but fierce, good-hearted but no pushover. This film is a solid springboard for Diana to be fleshed out in further instalments.

If you’re looking for a film that will get your feminist heart beating, Mad Max: Fury Road is still the better bet. If you’re looking for an entertaining escape that goes some way in honouring this enigmatic character, Wonder Woman will tick all the boxes.

Channel24 also reviewed Wonder Woman. Click here to read more!

Watch the trailer here:

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