Why does Wonder Woman work so well?
By the accepted logic of these things, it shouldn’t. Really, Wonder Woman should suffer from the same nasty disease as Man of Steel: a main character who is literally flawless, who can’t be physically damaged in any relatable way.
The puny humans who surround them can’t do anything to harm them. Bullets deflect off of them and scars heal immediately. Superman, the god-like alien, and Wonder Woman, the impeccably talented warrior straight out of Greek myth. How can we possibly sympathise with these characters? How can we worry about them when we know they’re not actually in any real danger?
Wonder Woman should actually be even more affected by this issue than Man of Steel was – the film begins in the present day, and the majority of the action takes place 99 years ago. So, we know she survives everything. We saw her at the start, in her nice purple turtleneck, and she looked fine. If there was any doubt that Diana Prince would be safe and sound by the end of the movie, the flashback setting eliminates it.
And yet, Wonder Woman is a superb film. It’s touching, it’s funny, it’s exciting. It’s all of the other good things. I not only enjoyed it more than any DC film since The Dark Knight, I also enjoyed it much more than many of the Marvel films I’ve seen recently. Like I say, it works, and it works well.
Much of its success can be attributed to the crew, in particular director Patty Jenkins. Given her control over the action-manic superhero battle sequences, it’s quite a surprise to learn that her highest profile previous directing credit is the Oscar-winning serial killer drama Monster. Hopefully this is the film that finally convinces Hollywood that female directors can handle whatever is thrown at them.
The cast is fantastic too. Chris Pine gets to be funny, which I’m sure he appreciated, and David Thewlis is as great as he is in everything. It’s nice to see Ewen Bremner from Trainspotting repping his homeland in a major role. Particular credit, though, goes to Diana herself, Gal Gadot, who never steps out of time, and to her two eyebrows.
Gal Gadot’s eyebrows could reasonably be argued as the true stars of Wonder Woman. They twitch and angle themselves to perfectly react to stimuli, and they do it completely independently of each other. They are a joy to watch, and if the sequel is nothing but eyebrows, I will be pre-booking.
But the reason Wonder Woman succeeds so definitively over Man of Steel and other films with comparable premises is deeper than its cast and crew (although they certainly don’t hurt). Here’s what I think.
Man of Steel was all about a Christ-like figure coming to Earth, and teaching mankind about love and compassion and all that nonsense. Then he flew into a bunch of buildings and probably killed a load of folk.
Basically, it was the laziest possible plot – extremely good person arrives on Earth and people learn how to be good from him – which served to fill in the time before we got to the action. But the action was boring. It had no effect, because we didn’t care about anyone.
In Wonder Woman, however, we see an extremely good person meeting mankind for the first time, in one of the darkest periods of its modern history, and learning from it. That’s the difference. It’s so much more interesting and less patronising.
The emotions and reactions feel real, and the story is incredibly well-structured. When Diana and Steve share a dance in a small, war-weary Belgian village alongside the locals, it makes you care for the both of them and everyone else in the scene. It’s these quiet moments, that don’t advance the plot but advance the characters, that help us to relate to the unrelatable.
Let’s hope that other superhero movies learn from this one. Until then, get out and see Wonder Woman.