Up until this point, the DCEU films (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad) have all been dour, mean-spirited, and perhaps most importantly, poorly made. Three films in and one could make the assumption that Warner Brothers had struck out with their multi-film superhero franchise.
Luckily for us all, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman spectacularly proves that assertion wrong. Not only is Wonder Woman an excellently executed blockbuster, it’s also one of the best superhero origins to grace the silver screen to date. Wonder Woman laughs in the face of the monotonous brood-a-thons which preceded it and delivers an earnest, sincere, and hopeful superhero film cut from the same cloth as Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie.
After a framing device which awkwardly ties back to the ending of Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman opens in magical Themyscira, a utopia comprised entirely of Amazonian women. The women of Themyscira are all bad ass warriors who dress in Greek soldier garb, aside from one: Diana. Diana is the only child in all of Themyscira, sculpted of clay by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and zapped to life by Zeus himself. Hippolyta wants to retain Diana’s innocence and protect her from the evils of the outside world. Whereas on the other hand, General Antiope (Robin Wright), Hippolyta’s sister, wants to prepare Diana for the inevitable return of Ares, the god of war. After hashing it out a bit, the pair decides to train Diana to be the best warrior Themyscira has ever known.
After a training montage and several scenes of exposition, we jump forward in time to an adult and fully trained Diana (Gal Gadot). After a training session goes awry, Diana discovers she’s even more powerful than previously thought. Before having time to process this revelation, a rogue fighter plane miraculously crash lands near Themyscira. Upon further investigation of the crash, Diana finds an unconscious Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Once nursed back to health, Trevor informs Diana and Themyscira of “the war to end all wars” going on back in the world of man. Diana deduces that this war must be the work of Ares and that she must stop him to save humanity from an eternity of war.
Like the first Thor, the first act of the film is very exposition heavy, explaining the lore and history of the Amazons. Once Diana and Trevor depart from Themyscira, the film quickly picks up. Diana is thrust into the middle of World War 1, which presents her ample opportunity to demonstrate her heroics.
Aside from the massive shift in tone, what really sets Wonder Woman apart from the greater DCEU is its titular hero. Unlike the angsty and reluctant Superman or the murderous, borderline fascist, Batman, Diana is simply good. She may be somewhat naive in She leaves her home to defeat Ares because it’s the right thing to do. She ventures to the most dangerous front of the war because it’s the right thing to do. She risks her life countless times to save the helpless because it’s the right thing to do. Diana is a hero because it’s the right thing to do.
Gal Gadot’s enthusiastic performance of Diana is what effectively sells the wholesomeness of the character. Where Gadot failed to impress with her debut of the character in Batman v Superman, her tenure in Wonder Woman is instantly iconic. Warm, heroic, strong, gentle, and caring, she embodies everything that humanity should strive for. While she is somewhat naive when it comes to the shortcomings of humanity, she never loses faith in them.
What emphasizes the strength of her character is Steve Trevor, who serves as Diana’s foil. Like Diana, Steve also feels an innate sense of purpose to do good. This is what initially draws the two together. However, unlike Diana, Trevor has lost faith in humanity. After witnessing numerous atrocities over the course of World War 1, Trevor is well aware of the evil that humanity is capable of. This dichotomy between the two characters is what makes them such an enjoyable pair on-screen. Gadot and Chris Pine have amazing chemistry. Watching them wittily bounce off one another is an absolute joy, and their inevitable romance ranks itself among the best in the superhero genre.
It isn’t just the heroes who shine in Wonder Woman, however. Over the course of the film, Diana must contend with General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a German general who she believes to be Ares, and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), his confidant and loyal mad scientist. While they don’t get too much screen time devoted to them, the time they are allocated is filled with delightful scene-chewing. However, without going into spoilers, I will say that there is one other antagonist in the film who is, no joke, the least threatening villain I have ever seen in a superhero movie.
The film is at its best during the second act, where Diana, Trevor, and their own version of the Howling Commandos are simply traveling across worn-torn Germany helping people. Their end goal is stopping Ludendorff, mind you, but Diana refuses to ignore people in need along the way. It’s in these moments where Diana’s intrinsic heroism is best illuminated.
While much of that is still apparent in the final act, it’s here where the film devolves to the level of previous DCEU movies. That is, escalating to over-the-top CGI brawls. However, unlike those other films, the climactic superhero showdown feels thematically earned. It’s just a shame that the CGI is quite dodgy here. While Wonder Woman contains numerous scenes of iffy CGI throughout, it becomes immensely distracting here. I would have preferred more of the grounded yet stylized action found throughout the rest of the film. With a little less slow-mo, preferably.
While the final battle is a bit of a letdown, it’s still extremely satisfying to see Wonder Woman kick some serious supervillain ass. We’ve waited a long time to see Wonder Woman brought to life on the big screen and boy did it deliver. Patty Jenkins has crafted something truly special with Wonder Woman. This is the film that Wonder Woman deserves.