Wonder Woman is a crowd-pleasing origins story that's colorful, topical and full of heart. Gal Gadot completely embodies the titular role with a Goddess-like presence, while director Patty Jenkins successfully hones in on finer details of the characters, which makes for great storytelling. Wonder Woman is a shining beacon of hope for the DC universe.
It’s been a tough few years for WB and DC as they’ve attempted to play catchup to Marvel and re-kickstart their DC extended cinematic universe. Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy was the last time critics and audiences jointly praised a DC film, which was followed by disappointment after disappointment, including both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Yet finally, Wonder Woman has arrived and in stellar fashion, quickly becoming the best DC film since The Dark Knight and Watchmen, not to mention a phenomenal origins story that even manages to defeat some of Marvel’s best films.
The iconic tale of Wonder Woman kicks off on her home island of Themyscira, a fictional island shielded from the rest of the world, meant to protect young princess Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and the rest of the ladies of the Amazons. Diana doesn’t know it, but deep inside her rests a great power that can help protect mankind and the world from some of the more evil Gods.
US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands on this island, during WWI and soon seeks the help of Diana to help defeat the Germans and their allied forces.
Speaking of Nazis, Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his sinister sidekick Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya) aka Dr. Poison are prepping a new end-all weapon of mass destruction to use against the Americans and eventually everyone else on the planet.
Diana sees this as a perfect opportunity to leave her place of home and finally embrace both the existence of man and the rest of the world. This also includes learning of her true powers and the responsibility that comes with them.
Let me be the first to tell you that Wonder Woman is freaking awesome. Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot have seriously hit a home run for DC with one of the most impressive comic book films ever conceived and one of my now-personal favorite films of this year.
Jenkins’ direction is sincere and detail-oriented, focusing on both the large and expensive set pieces and the tiny, yet equally important character moments. Wonder Woman is a long film, clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, yet it feels like a breeze, because Jenkins has wisely constructed a film that is an origins story, yet contains none of the early baggage. Most origins stories focus too much on earlier times, attempting to create enough depth and detail, yet failing to maintain an acceptable pace and eventually robbing the final act of also important moments, which generally makes the climax feel rushed or lacking of any real urgency.
Yet Wonder Woman pushes through, because Jenkins understands how much detail to include and when to move forward and start pushing the character through new obstacles.
It helps that she has someone as talented and as driven as Gal Gadot in the leading role, completely embodying the character. Gadot’s Wonder Woman is naive and gleeful, yet full of struggle and conflict. She truly above all else wants to help the world rid itself of evil, no matter the stakes. She also is battling with the idea of women not having an equal say in a time when the world was mostly ran by men.
It’s an interesting topic that is handled with delicacy and admiration. This isn’t a film that’s saying that men are bad or women are better. This is instead a reflection of past times and a call to action. Chris Pine‘s Steve Trevor is just as important to the film (and Diana Prince) as the rest of the cast.
In fact, Steve Trevor might be one of the most important aspects to Diana Prince and her transformation. Trevor introduces her to love and compassion unlike Diana knew before. He challenges her (sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident) to truly become Wonder Woman, not just for him or the US, but for the entire world.
Chris Pine does all of this superbly in a role that most would struggle with. Pine gives Steve bravery and nobility, while also giving him the realization that mankind might not be as perfect as we think. The Germans may be the bad guys, but are the Americans (and their allies) that much better? Pine answers these questions in a way that gives the film a fully dimensional character that engages with Diana on an absolute level.
There are many great things about Wonder Woman. My personal favorite aspect of the film is the relationship between Diana and Steve and how director Patty Jenkins was able to capture the magnetic chemistry between Pine and Gadot in a way that never short-changes their struggle and allows their interactions to slowly build their relationship.
Most big budget blockbusters would never slow down the film for a quick five minute scene where Steve teaches Diana how to dance, yet Jenkins’ film does, because she understands the importance of such a subtle moment to the characters and the overall rhythm of the film.
Wonder Woman is a marvelous film, but it’s not without problems. For starters, the third act is an absolute CGI-spectacle. It looks fine, but it feels oddly out of place and a little too over-explosive. I’m guessing on this one, but something tells me that Zack Snyder‘s “story by” credit might be responsible for this sudden shift in tone and scale.
There’s also a batch of not awful, but weak villains. Danny Huston and Elena Anaya absolutely ham it up, twiddling their thumbs and manically laughing as they loudly share their secretive plans about defeating the Americans and taking over the world with a new form of poisonous gas. It’s not that their performances are bad, but they are thinly written and forgettably constructed.
But these are minor speed bumps in a film that mostly gets everything right.
Did I mention that Wonder Woman is funny too? Comparisons will probably be made with Thor and that’s mostly fair. It shares that same fish-out-of-water comedy that highlights some of her more silly origins in way that introduces them, but gets a laugh or two out of them. Also, watching Steve interact to her world is just as engaging as watching her interact with the rest of the world. The only real difference is that Wonder Woman balances it much better than the original Thor, while the later Thor-featured films got significantly better.
I spent most of my post-viewing time thinking about how amazed I was with myself simply liking the film as much as I did. Some may say that Wonder Woman at her core is a female-friendly version of Superman or Captain America. Sure, there are differences, but one could argue the resemblance. Yet I never cared for either Superman or Captain America as characters or as starring characters in films.
Man of Steel wasn’t bad, yet it failed to capture the essence of Superman in a way that makes him relatable and human, despite being very alien and God-like. Captain America: The First Avenger also struggled maintaining the emotional connection with pre-experiment Steve Rogers, eventually settling for the “be all that you can be” leader of the Avengers that I still struggled connecting with later on.
All three of these films feature characters that have God-like powers that give them an incredible advantage over most of their foes. All three also are faced with watching their past disappear as they become more and more detached from their future. Yet Wonder Woman manages to tell so much more than both Man of Steel and Captain America: The First Avenger.
This is because of a great director, a solid writing team and a strong lead. Patty Jenkins understands tone, pacing, structure and visuals, while her writers have managed to give her enough material to transform into one of the single best comic book origins films. Gal Gadot is simply amazing as the princess of the Amazon, turned Goddess of the DC universe.
The hairs on my arms stood up as she entered the battlefield, removing her cloak and revealing the trademark costume for the first time. What followed was one of the most bad ass introductions to such a popular character that I’ve ever seen. It’s seriously that cool, that awesome and that surprisingly impressive.
WB, hand the DC keys over to Patty Jenkins and step back and watch as she injects a touch of class, a little color, a lot of life and action into the rest of your extended universe.
Those of you hesitant about DC films will want to give Wonder Woman your full attention. It’s better than a majority of Marvel’s best and practically all of DC’s filmography. It’s also just a really fascinating summer blockbuster that’s not afraid to focus on its characters and their struggle, instead of set piece after set piece.