Monday, 12 June 2017

WONDER WOMAN : Tuesday 6th June 2017.

'WONDER WOMAN' which I saw last week had her beginnings as 'Wonder Woman' first appearing in the October 1941 edition of All Star Comics #8. Her origin story tells us that she was sculpted from clay by her mother Queen Hippolyta and given life by Aphrodite, along with superhuman powers as gifts by the Greek Gods. The character is a founding member of the Justice League, demigoddess, and warrior princess of the Amazonian people. In her homeland, she is Princess Diana of Themyscira, and outside of it, she is known by her civilian identity Diana Prince. And so now 'Wonder Woman' gets her very own feature length stand alone movie, having taken seventy years to first appear in 2016's 'Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice' although by then Diana Prince was a fully formed bona fide Superhero. This stand alone feature Directed by Patty Jenkins takes us back one hundred years or so to the origins of the character at the time of the First World War, albeit she is an immortal warrior thousands of years old. The film cost US$149M to make, has so far grossed US$436M, and is the first Superhero film to be Directed by a woman with a female protagonist. 'Wonder Woman' is the fourth film in the DC Extended Universe after 'Man of Steel', the aforementioned 'Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice' and 'Suicide Squad'.

Our film opens up in present day Paris, at The Louvre's Department of Antiquities which Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) presides over as Curator.  She receives a special package from Wayne Industries and inside is a hand written note from Bruce Wayne saying that he came across this old WWI era photographic plate and that one day, in her own time, she might tell him her story, and this photographic plate sets in the motion the Diana Prince/Wonder Woman back story. Whilst the photograph is one hundred years or so old, it shows a Diana Prince as fresh, young and attractive today, as she was back then.

Diana was born and raised on the secretly shrouded and hidden island of Themyscira, home to the Amazon race of warrior women created by the gods of Mount Olympus to protect humankind against the corruption of Ares, the God of War. Here Diana is an eight year old girl being raised by her mother Queen Hippolyta  (Connie Nielsen). Diana is the only child on the island, and there are no men - for they were forbidden to ever step foot on Themyscira by Aphrodite's Law. In the past Ares turned against his Gods and slew them all, but he was struck down by his mortally wounded father Zeus. Before dying of his sustained injuries Zeus left the Amazons a weapon that was capable of killing Ares - a sword, 'The Godkiller', for fear that one day he might return. Despite the young Diana being a feisty, energetic, and overly enthusiastic child she is forbidden by her mother to attend warrior training school with her Aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). We then fast forward to Diana as a twelve year old, still feisty, still energetic and still enthusiastic but ever more determined to take up warrior training, for which she shows a keen aptitude. We then fast forward again and Diana is a fully grown woman and by now has enjoyed years of warrior training with her Aunt and with the reluctant blessing of her mother.

One day after contemplating another good day of warrior training, Diana witnesses a plane hurtling through the sky above the island, and sees it ditch in the ocean off shore and begin sinking to the depths below. She rescues the pilot, a Steve Trevor, (Chris Pine), a Captain with the American Expeditionary Forces who was working undercover to infiltrate a German deadly gas programme led by Chief Chemist Isabel Maru aka Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), under the command of General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston). He managed to steal a notebook from the chemist containing formula's, plans and jottings which he needs to deliver to his superiors in London. The island is soon under attack by German forces hot on the tail of Steve Trevor. The Amazons fight back and win the day but not before Antiope is killed by a bullet intended for Diana. 

After the fracas, Steve Trevor is interrogated using the Lasoo of Truth, in which he reveals that he was acting as a spy against the Germans and that a world war is raging beyond the shores of the island in which tens of millions of men, women and child and being slaughtered needlessly across Europe. Diana is outraged by this and wants to act but is forbidden to intervene by her mother. Believing that Ares is behind the war, Diana takes The Godkiller sword, and sails off into the night with Steve Trevor, in an attempt to singlehandedly bring an end to the war time atrocities, death and destruction, and to dispense with Ares once and for all. 

The pair arrive in London, and after some much needed change of clothes and quick cultural lessons of the period, they deliver Maru's notebook to Steve's superiors, including Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), who is trying to negotiate an armistice with Germany. Diana translates Maru's notes and reveals that the Germans plan to release a new highly deadly gas at the warfront to reverse the German war effort in their favour. The commanding officers forbid Steve Trevor's intervention, but the pair decide to go anyway. Given limited funds to secure their passage and engage some much needed support, they enlist the services of French Moroccan spy Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Scottish sharpshooter Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and native American smuggler Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).

Reaching the Western Front in Belgium, the team are halted from advancing by relentless enemy machine gun fire. Diana goes over the top anyway, pushing through the enemy lines despite the rapid gun fire and mortar bombs exploding all around her. The team and Allied Forces follow her, seeing that she is making headway, and together they liberate the village of Veld, celebrating with the locals who are now free of German occupation. It is here that the photograph is taken of Diana, Steve, Chief, Charlie and Sameer.

The team learns that a Gala Dinner is to be held at a close by German High Command headquarters. Steve, under disguise as a German Officer gains access to the party with the intention of locating the deadly new gas and destroying it. Diana, against Steve's wishes, also gains access to the party, and believing that Ludendorff is in fact Ares, goes armed with The Godkiller to dispense with the General, but Steve intervenes and halts her from doing so. Ludendorff meanwhile unleashes the deadly gas on Veld, wiping out all of its inhabitants. Diana blames Steve for the massacre at Veld, saying that he should not have stopped her from killing Ludendorff when she had the chance. 

Diana pursues Ludendorff to an air base where the gas is being loaded onto a bomber bound for London. She corners the General in a tower overlooking the airstrip. A fight breaks out and Diana is successful in killing The General with her sword. But the war did not end as its should have done with the death of Ares! How can this be? Diana is shocked and stunned. Sir Patrick emerges and reveals to Diana that he is in fact Ares. Diana retrieves the sword from Ludendorff's lifeless body and attempts to kill Ares with it, but he destroys it, saying the Diana is the real 'Godkiller'. The two do battle, and in the meantime the team destroy Dr. Maru's laboratory. Steve flies off into the moonlight in the bomber containing the consignment of gas, so ensuring that the gas never reached its destination nor had its desired effect. Ultimately good overcomes evil, and Diana overpowers Ares  and destroys him once and for all.

I was pleasantly surprised by 'Wonder Woman' and the origin story that traces Diana's somewhat secluded and naive view of the world as a would be warrior Princess to an intense inspirational Superhero of the modern world. The film moves along at a strong pace, looks good and delivers some messages about feminism and the futility and horrors of war, and is less about blockbuster apocalyptic end of the world annihilation than we have come to expect from other comic book Superhero franchises. Gadot and Pine are on fine form and share a screen presence that carries the film along in a believable and relatable way that is of the era in which the action is set, and Huston and Thewlis also add gravitas to their roles and the plot. Less can be said for Steve's team, who are really surplus to requirement and add little value other than plugging holes and filling time. Patty Jenkins has crafted a fine film, that looks and feels appropriate for WWI war torn Europe, interlaced with an origin story that remains true to the source material underpinned with solid performances from the principle cast, not least Gal Gadot in the title role whose looks and moves do Wonder Woman justice.  The film is Co-Produced by Zack and Deborah Snyder and the story was Co-Written by Zack Snyder. Wonder Woman will also be back in this November's release of 'Justice League'. This film is all upside for the DCEU, and long may it continue!
-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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