Now that there have been three different Supermen, three different Spider-Men, and five different Batmen, I guess it’s okay that Wonder Woman gets her own movie. The question is: does it finally set the DC Expanded Universe on the right track?
Directed by Patty Jenkins, the film tells the story of Diana (Gal Gadot), daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Queen of the Amazons of Themyscira. Molded from clay by her mother and brought to life by Zeus, Diana (Lilly Aspell) lives among the Amazons and wishes to be a great warrior like her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). As Diana grows up, Antiope trains her to be the best of the Amazons and that training comes in handy when the magical shield obscuring Themyscira from the rest of the world is penetrated for the first time. American pilot and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the waters surrounding Themyscira and Diana saves his life. The Amazons are inadvertently drawn into conflict with the Germans pursuing Trevor, who needs to return to England to report on a powerful weapon being developed by German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya). The way Trevor describes The Great War going on in the world (World War I), Diana comes to believe that the Greek God of War, Ares is involved in some way. It is the Amazons’ duty to defeat Ares and against her mother’s wishes, Diana accompanies Trevor back to the outside world. When they arrive in London, Diana meets Trevor’s assistant, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), and learns through Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) that an armistice is in the works to stop the fighting. She knows that a written agreement will not stop Ares. Trevor chooses to both keep his promise to get Diana to the Front and to assemble his motley crew of soldiers to stop Ludendorff’s plans to unleash Maru’s poisonous gas. Trevor’s crew includes actor/con man Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), drunken sharpshooter Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and gentle strongman Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). With Trevor’s crew, Diana enters the crucible of war and sees the horrors that men visit upon each other as well as the innocents who suffer. She comes to the outside world as Diana and emerges as Wonder Woman, but will she be enough to stop Ares?
Wonder Woman is the DCEU film that fans have been waiting for. After the split critical reception to Man of Steel and the intensely negative reactions to both Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, a lot was riding on Wonder Woman to right the ship. While the film isn’t perfect by any means, it is a solid and rousing adventure with great performances all around. Gal Gadot does an impressive job as Diana, excelling in the thrilling action scenes. She also does very well acting opposite Chris Pine. The two have an easy chemistry and they mine the humor from Diana’s fish out of water situation to great effect. It was a pleasure watching them both onscreen. The script doesn’t do them any favors in some cases as the dialogue is a little too on the nose in some scenes, but overall, Gadot and Pine make the best of it. I also really liked seeing Wonder Woman in action as well as Jenkins’ depiction of Themyscira. The Amazons are beyond cool in this and I hope to see more of them in future films.
One thing Wonder Woman doesn’t do is break any new narrative ground. It is a pretty standard superhero origin story and the second half really echoes Captain America: First Avenger. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the decision to set the film in World War I was made solely to distance it from the Marvel film – in the usual telling of Wonder Woman’s origin, she first came to America during World War II, so she and Cap have a lot in common. Of course, World War II has also been done to death, so setting this film in the previous war is actually novel. But still, there are a lot of elements that are similar to Cap’s first cinematic adventure. The thing that makes the film unique is Diana herself. She is literally the first female superhero to lead her own film and not have it be treated like a complete joke or completely bungled. Supergirl, Catwoman, Elektra – the cinematic landscape is littered with failed attempts at female-led superhero films. To finally see Wonder Woman on the silver screen is one of the reasons why I liked this film so much. I like her and Gadot’s interpretation of her and that, in turn, makes me forgive some of the issues the movie has. Patty Jenkins also excels behind the camera. She clearly has a sure hand on steering blockbusters and I look forward to seeing her take on the inevitable sequel.
While the action is good, the third act battle goes on a bit too long and the film does feel its length in parts. Also, there were a couple of moments where Maru and Ludendorff’ come across a little cartoony, but I like how the film developed Ares into a formidable villain. However, keeping his identity a mystery leads to a little too much exposition in the third act, but it’s forgivable if the effort is to develop the villain.
As I said above, Gadot is great as Diana. I enjoyed her performance in Batman v. Superman, but she wasn’t really given a large enough sample size of scenes to really make a determination on her handle on the character. Well, Wonder Woman demonstrates that she can more than hold her own as the Princess of the Amazons. Her performance isn’t flawless, but she does a fantastic job. Pine is also great. He has charisma for days and his interactions with Gadot are stellar. You really watch their relationship develop throughout the movie. I also really liked Nielsen and Wright in their roles. All the Amazons are badass, but these two ladies are the main focus for the audience and they bring their considerable talents and experience to the film. I also enjoyed Trevor’s team. Each member is unique and creates some nice scenes. Lucy Davis is funny in her scenes, but I would have liked to have seen more of her in the film, as in the comics, she’s one of Diana’s best friends. Anaya and Huston are fine as the villains, but again, the script doesn’t do them a lot of favors. There is one good scene with Pine and Anaya that attempts to develop Maru’s character a bit, but they could have done more with her.
Overall, Wonder Woman is a solid superhero origin film that is made all the better by Gal Gadot’s performance. It sets the stage for what appears to be a promising series featuring the character and more importantly, it shows that female-led superhero films can work. Wonder Woman has righted the DCEU ship with Justice League on the horizon.