5 films to watch to get the most out of Wonder Woman

Watch yourself wiser with some homework viewing ahead of the latest comic-book movie sensation....

2 June 2017

By Lou Thomas

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman finally addresses the depressing paucity of female leads in comic book blockbusters. Diana Prince (Israeli actor Gal Gadot) is brought centre stage after her striking cameo in the underwhelming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), while Patty Jenkins – who coaxed an Oscar-winning performance from Charlize Theron in Monster (2003) – directs. This is the first time women have been both behind the camera and played the protagonist on a superhero film.

Raised and trained as an Amazonian warrior on the secluded, all-female island of Themyscira, Diana accidentally leads German soldiers to her tribe when she rescues American spy Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from his crashed plane. When Diana learns that the outside world away from the island is in global conflict (it is 1918), she insists on joining Trevor on his mission to defeat the villainous General Ludendorff (a malevolent Danny Huston).

This thrilling, refreshing addition to the multiplex is the first great film of the DC extended universe, and Gadot memorably portrays the proud, eponymous heroine with pugnacity and wit. It even avoids the superhero sub-genre’s trap of overloading viewers with too many characters and subplots relating to other films.

With Wonder Woman now in cinemas, here are some fine films and one huge TV series that may enhance your enjoyment.

Paths of Glory (1957)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Paths of Glory (1957)

Stanley Kubrick’s philosophical anti-war masterpiece is evoked aesthetically when Diana and her quartet of soldiers visit the Belgian trenches on their way to stop Ludendorff from unleashing hell with a deadly chemical weapon. There isn’t an attempt to replicate Kubrick’s memorable tracking shots, but the squalor, despair and carnage of war is evident in the frame composition and production design. The Kubrickian tone and focus on man’s inhumanity at times of conflict is expressed throughout the film’s second act, with our heroine increasingly aghast at the deaths and maimings.

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Director: Robert Aldrich

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

When Lee Marvin and his crew of convict soldiers go on a suicide machine to infiltrate a Brittany chateau in Robert Aldrich’s tremendous Second World War romp, it set a template for every ragbag team of unlikely heroes for the next 50 years of action cinema. Every viewer knows the drill: the clashing personalities and varying areas of expertise shouldn’t work, but somehow they just do. In Wonder Woman, Diana and Trevor call on solemn Native American Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), amorous master of disguise Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui) and heavy-drinking sniper Charlie (Ewen Bremner on lively form), an unlikely bunch that, in time-honoured fashion, bring out the best in each other when it really matters.

The Indiana Jones series (1981-)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

There is something of the old-fashioned adventure story to Wonder Woman that recalls cinema’s most famous archaeologist. George Lucas wanted the escapades of Dr Jones to mirror those of the serial matinee stories from the 1930s and 40s and, while Jenkins’ film is set mostly in 1918, there are several key similarities. Both protagonists have a strong sense of family: Indy’s eye-rolling reluctance to look after/accompany his father belies a deep affection, while Diana is fiercely loyal to her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and aunt, General Antiope (a typically steely Robin Wright). Both count a whip as a crucial part of their kit: Indy disarms villains with a crack of his, while Diana’s truth lasso is an efficient tool for gathering secrets. Crucially, both are also unambiguously heroic. While grizzled Indy and naive Diana differ vastly in worldly experience, they are both a clear force of good and free of the more questionable traits of most contemporary heroes.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Director: Christopher Nolan

The Dark Knight (2008)

The best of Christopher Nolan’s brooding Batman trilogy opens fast and stylish with a stunning aerial shot of Chicago – doubling as Gotham – before jumping into a bank heist in which none of the criminals quite know who’s in charge. It’s a breathless combo of vertiginous cinematography, Stanley-knife-sharp editing and anxious music, galvanised by the familiar Nolan-esque feeling that something heavy is about to go down in an exciting fashion. Wonder Woman begins with a stunning aerial shot of Paris, when the swiftly dollying camera soon heads to the famous glass pyramid at the Louvre. A thrilling, auspicious score and some familiar DC character branding hint at the wonders to come.

Game of Thrones (2011-)

Creators: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss

Game of Thrones (2011-19)

Wonder Woman’s opening act is mostly devoted to the training of Amazonian warriors on the woman-only island of Themyscira. As in Benioff and Weiss’s epic fantasy drama, swordplay and sparring scenes are staged vividly, with viewers thrown right into the action. A pivotal battle sequence is as turbulent as those familiar from Game of Thrones, albeit with much less frenzied bloodletting. That aside, Bechdel-test approved sequences are full of courageous women characters that could hold their own with mighty female Game of Thrones warriors such as Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth.

BFI Player logo

See something different

Free for 14 days, then £4.99/month or £49/year.

Get 14 days free