Wonder Woman: A First Impression

Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins and composer Rupert Gregson-Williams

Holy Wonder Woman, Batman! I’ll admit it – like many other fans of superhero movies, I was ready to accept that Zack Snyder, David Goyer, and the other big names at DC studios had devolved into some sort of storytelling suicide squad. But after watching this movie, I have some hope for the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Director Patty Jenkins ushered in some much-needed character development to the franchise. And, like a sweet, sweet cherry on top, I found to my delight that this development is clearly supported by the film’s thrilling score.

Wonder Woman opens on the utopian island of Themyscira, where a band of women warriors called the Amazons have secluded themselves from the outside world for thousands of years. Their peaceful existence is shattered when Diana (Gal Godot), daughter of the Queen of the Amazons (Connie Nielsen), rescues a WWI Allied spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from a plane crash off the coast. Once Diana learns about the fighting outside Themyscira, she blames Ares, the Greek god of war, and joins Trevor in a quest to save millions of lives.

The titular Wonder Woman out to save the world

Many popular YouTube film reviewers, such as Doug Walker of The Nostalgia Critic, have noted that not only is Wonder Woman an exceedingly satisfying film to watch, but it has a fantastic main musical theme. Nearly as much attention has been given to this theme as to the movie itself, and many others, such as Erik Voss of New Rockstars, have already analyzed how and why it works. Voss uploaded a video to YouTube that compares Diana’s theme to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” that is more than worth your time. Despite all this deserved attention, there’s one thing that’s missing from the way many people discuss the Wonder Woman score. And that’s… well… the Wonder Woman score itself.

Diana’s theme, originally entitled “Is She With You?,” was not created for this movie. It was composed by Junkie XL and DC staple Hans Zimmer for 2016’s release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which contained Gal Godot’s first appearance as the titular superheroine. Though her fifteen-ish-minute cameo might very well be the best thing in Batman v Superman, which is so disjointed and muddled that claiming it has a plot at all feels a touch dishonest, I think it’s a shame that the only major attention the Wonder Woman score seems to be getting is routed through the ever-deified Hans Zimmer.

Yes, Zimmer more than deserves his numerous accolades, but I have to ask – where’s the love for Rupert Gregson-Williams? You know, 2002 Emmy Award nominee, composer for hit TV series The Crown and 2016’s Oscar-nominated Hacksaw Ridge, and the real composer of Wonder Woman, Rupert Gregson-Williams? He seems not to exist in the public conscious, other than his last name, which is more likely to be recognized because his elder brother, Harry Gregson-Williams, is also a composer, with a bit more fame to his name. Harry Gregson-Williams composed for all installments of Dreamworks’s Shrek and numerous popular video games franchises, such as Metal Gear Solid and Call of Duty, along with other projects. Incidentally, my first blog post was on Harry Gregson-Williams’s score for 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Not only does Rupert Gregson-Williams have to contend with the fame of his brother, but he is a member of Remote Control Productions, a film score company run by – you guessed it – Hans Zimmer himself. You would think that at least Rupert Gregson-Williams would stand out by becoming something of a meme – he scored Dreamworks’s infamous Bee Movie and numerous Adam Sandler box office bombs – but instead, he has simply been rendered invisible. Even I didn’t know he existed until a couple of months ago, when I discovered his name by accident while reading an article about his brother.

Rupert Gregson-Williams at work

Rupert Gregson-Williams doesn’t seem at all resentful that he’s been overshadowed throughout his career. In numerous interviews, he speaks with gratitude of his work with Hans Zimmer and says that he and his brother have a mutual respect and admiration for one another’s work. They often compare notes on the emotional process of composing, though their musical styles are distinct. Still, though it doesn’t seem to bother Rupert Gregson-Williams too much, I think it is a shame that he is so overlooked. With Wonder Woman, he had to overcome many challenges to create a soaring finished product.

As Wonder Woman is still in theaters, I don’t want to give away too much about how the story beats within the movie line up with the beats within the score. And believe me, they do. Unlike Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman has a clearly delineated three-act structure and an intact plot, and the score suggests this. The key to this is Rupert Gregson-Williams’s incredible patience. With a theme as popular and recognizable as Diana’s is already turning out to be, there might be a temptation to use the theme in excess. But in numerous interviews, Gregson-Williams stressed how he avoided this. He realized that “Is She With You?” was originally played in Batman v Superman at a time when Diana has fully accepted her role as Wonder Woman and has become a fully-formed warrior. As Wonder Woman is a prequel, she has not yet taken on that responsibility and power at the start of the film. Gregson-Williams crafts other themes around her instead that emphasize her increasing sense of justice and honor, building up to a climactic scene in which the main theme is revealed in full. When it is, it is astonishing. This sort of build-up is difficult to accomplish and pays off better than any superhero score I’ve seen since 2012’s The Avengers. And Alan Silvestri of Back to the Future fame scored that, so that’s some serious business.

Another remarkable thing about Gregson-Williams’s score is the sense of unity it carries. While Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL have created memorable themes together, the score for Batman v Superman has a slightly disjointed feel to it at times. One can almost hear where the two composers work well together and where their artistic visions come into conflict, creating slight tonal disparities within the work. As Gregson-Williams was the sole composer for Wonder Woman, the score feels more directed and cohesive. This must have been especially difficult as Gregson-Williams had to work the modern-sounding theme for Diana naturally into a period piece, but he pulls it off with style. It works on screen the same way the lasso of truth works – you weren’t expecting it to, but it does. You only have to listen to “No Man’s Land,” Rupert Gregson-Williams’s personal favorite track from the score – to hear it.

In the end, this movie left me feeling like two things that have taken far too long to happen may have finally succeeded. One – we finally have an awesome female lead in a modern superhero blockbuster. And two – perhaps Rupert Gregson-Williams finally has the chance to get the recognition he deserves. And that, my friends, is the real dawn of justice.



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