Comics on Film: 'Wonder Woman' Is a Shot in the Arm for Superhero Cinema

Comics on Film: 'Wonder Woman' Is a Shot in the Arm for Superhero Cinema

Jun 02, 2017

Although she has been an important third of DC Comics' so-called "Trinity" along with Superman and Batman, the iconic superheroine that began life as Princess Diana on the isolated island of Themysicira hasn't always been seen as a culturally iconic equal to her colleagues in the triumvirate of DC Comics' A-list, heavy-hitting heroes. This week, Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Comics are aiming to change that by releasing Wonder Woman, the long-awaited solo debut of DC's feminine icon of power who, frankly, should've had a movie long before now.

Perhaps it's best, though, that we waited until 2017 to see her fully take over the big screen because thankfully the latest entry in DC Films' burgeoning shared universe is the best entry in the series by leaps and bounds, giving service to the power of hope and heroism in ways that 2013's Superman vehicle Man of Steel only talked about. In a direct contrast, Wonder Woman shows us why the powerful figure at its center is worth believing in, which translates to a cinematic experience that arguably ranks, even beyond the films based on DC Comics, among the best that the genre has ever produced.

Barring for a moment all of the importance and necessity this film has as both a representative vehicle for female superheroes and as a solid critical hit for DC Films, Wonder Woman is an effort that largely succeeds on its own because of its primary concern in putting Diana — and the people she surrounds herself with — first in terms of importance within the story. With only a very minor fraction of the overall runtime spent giving any service to the modern world and the larger universe we'll see more broadly this November in Justice League, the primary concern put forward by this film is to firmly establish the mythology of the Amazons, and Diana herself, before we're propelled forward on this adventure with her.

Much of the reason the film is so successful is due to the performance of Gal Gadot as the titular heroine. This movie calls upon her to give a very emotionally attuned performance to react to the ways in which her own world changes over the course of the movie, while also calling on her to react to the horrors of a world-ravaging war that her character likely could've never imagined living a relatively isolated life on the shores of Themyscira. Perhaps most importantly, though, Gadot's Wonder Woman is very recognizable to this immense fan of the source material, exuding the same flavor of strength, grace, empathy and understanding that define who Wonder Woman is in the pages of DC Comics -- both the comics of today, and some of the most definitive works in her 75-plus year history.

Lending to the truthful performance in the lead is the tone that director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg construct around her. The sheer scale of this film is undeniable, and immediately makes you sit up and pay attention to the stakes the characters are talking about. Beyond that, it also provides a somewhat bleak commentary on the predilections of the human race, while also elevating what we're all capable of if and when the need arises. As much as both the film and the character of Wonder Woman are about love, the film itself is also about duty and responsibility. It juggles this while also having a beating heart, displaying humor that, unlike some other, recent comics-based films, arises organically out of the situations instead of drawing undue attention to itself and crippling its tone. Really, Wonder Woman is one of the most earnest superhero films ever made, perhaps second only to 1978's Superman: The Movie directed by Richard Donner.

All of this is tied together by a wonderful supporting cast. Chris Pine serves as a paradoxical foil, damsel, and equal to the lead heroine, while roles filled out by actors and actresses like Robin Wright, Elena Anaya, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, and Lucy Davis help Wonder Woman to succeed in building characters from the ground up that are easy to care about: whether they're heroes or villains. The way the film handles the primary antagonist is particularly enchanting, because it's much more of a concept than a character. Still, there's a satisfying conflict for Diana to very visibly overcome, and it helps to communicate to the uninitiated exactly who Wonder Woman is, and what she's about.

 

While some have criticized the third act as another "generic superhero confrontation," we disagree because of the kind of conflict at play here. It would be pretty unreasonable to compare the final showdown in Wonder Woman to the onslaught of faceless enemies the Avengers took on at the ends of both of their films, for instance, and the imagery explored by Jenkins in the final action sequence (and really the images she showcases throughout the entire film) warrant more than a "brush off" by people disappointed with the employment of CGI. Besides, if you were somehow worried about the level and brand of action on display in this film, don't be: it's the best-looking action that the genre may have ever produced: fast, graceful, visceral and powerful. Seriously.

Wonder Woman is a new high watermark for DC Films' efforts going forward, while also serving as a reminder to both audiences and studios that there's more than one way to make a good film based on the iconic characters of comics. Patty Jenkins was clearly and very visibly the right director for this job, and the character herself goes a long way in showing that mythic heroes need not always conflate bleakness and pessimism with true dramatic weight. Wonder Woman is a testament to the talent of everyone involved, and after seeing it, it's virtually impossible for us to withhold our excitement about where we'll be seeing the Amazon Warrior go next, whether alongside the Justice League or on a future, solo endeavor.

If you're looking for a powerful, ambitious and engaging superhero, you need not look further than Wonder WomanThat is how it’s done.


Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango, and various fan outlets. He's also a regular on podcasts hosted by Batman-On-Film and Modern Myth Media, while hosting his own show called Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at Movies.com, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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