Gary Raymond reviews Wonder Woman, a triumphant trailblazer which proves that Hollywood was wrong- female-led blockbusters can smash records.
I have a confession to make. Over the last year or so I have found myself in the midst of a mild Tom Cruise movie obsession. This comes after years of thinking that him and his output represent everything that is wrong with the world. His charmless smile, his one note performances, his centre-of-attention stardom, his Scientology. But something changed. His films now are still symbolic, but of (fingers crossed) an era of film-making, and film-watching, that is on its way out: macho, misogynist, right-wing, Reaganite. It seems Cruise has a new movie out every six months, which suits me, as I am somewhat addicted to this mid-life-crisis parade, as he goes through a series of increasingly unlikely action scenes, like a toddler making shit up as he goes along, bedding a roster of love interests thirty years his junior, mercilessly beating up twelve guys in a parking lot the smallest of which is twice his size, continuously being dragged out of retirement to save the world and then walking off into the sunset, forever a damaged man with a heart of gold, a ruthless killer who is above the law and to whom we, the audience, are eternally grateful. Thank you, Tom. Thank You.
I realise how annoying it must be to read a man reviewing Wonder Woman who spends the first two hundred words going on about Tom Cruise, but I am just trying to explain why it may have been that when watching this new instalment into the D.C. universe I frequently found myself rising in my seat, punching the air in triumph, and tearing-up on more than one occasion. It’s because it felt like Tom Cruise, and all that ilk, is irrelevant. Officially.
It cannot be overstated what a seismic shift in thinking from Hollywood Wonder Woman represents, but it must be made clear that the thinking is hardly evidence of a new feminist regime over there. Hollywood is a reactive business, and never sets the tone or conversation. It has always proven itself to be far behind the curve on important social issues, including race, gender, AIDS, the Holocaust. Wonder Woman signals one thing about Hollywood and one thing only: studio executives have finally woken up to the spending power of women outside of romantic comedies and now, sadly, female-led gross-out movies. Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One have proven you can make megabucks with a female lead in a blockbuster. Wonder Woman is green lit off the back of that, not off the back of Meryl Streep’s award-season speeches.
Wonder Woman is a big, brash super hero movie, and anybody expecting anything less that what has been delivered in the Man of Steel or even the non-Nolan Batman outings will be surprised. This movie can be just as dumb, just as big, just as loud. But that is not to deny that it does not hit the mark on its ulterior mission along the way. Director Patty Jenkins does not miss a beat in delivering a version of the comic book story that is both loyal to the original concept and updates the politics. Gal Gardot gives a good performance, although she is clearly still finding her feet as an actress, but she displays ample athleticism and a sincere good humour in the part. She gets good support from Chris Pine in a thankfully toned down Captain Kirk loveable rogue turn. Others hit the comic book pace with ease. The film has all the hidden depths studio balance sheet, but nuance and philosophising is not what this movie is supposed to provide.
The success of this movie is, quite simply, that it is the woman who kicks ass. It is the woman who has the powers. It is the woman who wins the day. And perhaps the biggest surprise is not that that is exciting and empowering, but rather it is surprising just how exciting that is. It feels like a sincere rebuttal to right wing political foot stomping that is going on in the UK and the US at the moment. It may be serendipity, but, like Diana herself, it feels like Wonder Woman has landed at the right moment for maximum impact.
There are many aspects of the film that normally would set my teeth on edge, but here did not seem to matter at all. Much of the CGI is of poor video game quality – the kind that spoiled the Matrix sequels (and were just part of the many crippling problems with other D.C. movies). The script is quite stale in parts. Not a second goes by without the accompanying musical score urging you to emote one way or the other. Normally these would be prime ingredients of a dumb movie. But Jenkins seems to have read up on the crude language of the Hollywood blockbuster, and delivered, to the letter, a typical, big, crass, dumb, blockbuster, only its one with an awe-inspiring central female character delivering a feminist message with a leap and thump.
When in the second act, Diana leaps out of a trench to face German machine guns, it may look like a Paco Raban advert, but that doesn’t matter, because what does matter is that it isn’t Tom Cruise, or Will Smith, or Sylvester Stallone, or Ronald Reagan, or Donald Trump. It’s Wonder Woman, and Hollywood didn’t put her there, women did.
Gary Raymond is a novelist, critic, editor and broadcaster.