The world is wrought with chaos and confusion. Pessimism is common currency. In a time when comic book properties are found by the plentiful, it’s deeply ironic that we’re left in such a deep need for a honest-to-God superhero. One that’ll inspire courage, bravery, persistence and, above all else, resistance against the nasty forces of evil that plague the world at large. Thankfully, Wonder Woman is here to whip us up and lasso us into shape.
The Amazon princess of Themyscira, an idyllic, dreamlike wonderland of lush greens, white palaces and blue waters hidden from the outside world with nary a Y chromosome in sight, Diana (Lilly Aspell) is the only child in her isolated mystical land, and she’s determined to live up to her elders’ ass-kicking ways. The daughter of the stern, benevolent Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and the niece of forceful, resilient General Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana is raised to be the perfect Amazonian, both resourceful and mindful. She also knows how to defend herself should anyone dare fight her. Sculpted out of clay, Diana was formed from women created by Zeus in order to protect “the God-Killer” after Ares, the God of War, infected mankind with anger and filled the world with ugliness and despair. Their utopia should hopefully one day rid the outside world of vengeance and evil.
Such willful determination leads Diana (Gal Gadot) into adulthood. Upon witnessing Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a U.S. spy infiltrating as a German to help end World War I, plunging to his death in Themyscira’s blue oceans after his plane breaks its invisible barrier, she rescues him without hesitation and soon lays eyes on the first man she’ll ever see. There’s an instant attraction, though they both play it coy. Especially since they have other, far more pressing matters at hand. Steve’s crash soon invites some vicious Germans into Themyscira, and while these warriors put up a good fight, they’re no match for bullets. Soon, several dead bodies lay on their sands and they blame Steve for these casualties. Forced to testify under The Lasso of Truth, Steve tells these powerful women about the war that rages beyond their solitude, which Diana wholeheartedly believes is Ares’ dirty work.
Believing she needs to join Steve in order to save the world, they both embark on a journey towards London, which isn’t necessarily as gorgeous as Diana’s perfect homeland. Their quest soon finds them in search of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya), the latter of whom is often known as Doctor Poison. They’re as nasty and evil as can be, but are they any match for Diana and her impervious skills? Likely not.
Whether directly or not, Wonder Woman addresses many of the concerns found throughout the DCEU in their previous installments. Lacking the brutalism of Man of Steel, the cynicism of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the uncomfortable WTFery of Suicide Squad, director Patty Jenkins’ (Monster) heartfelt, inspiring and empowering standalone feature is an exquisitely realized wonderment (no pun intended, seriously) of hope, optimism, and continuous invigoration. Gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Matthew Jensen (Chronicle, 2015’s Fantastic Four), Wonder Woman often bursts with a wide assortment of colors, and it only finds itself washed out in murky grays and blacks whenever it fits the story at hand. It’s simply splendid to look at, much like DCEU’s other films, and now you have the added benefit of actually seeing (for the most part) what’s happening. What a time to be alive!
Comic/TV writer Allan Heinberg makes his feature screenplay debut, and while his script can often fall back on formulaic tendencies, there’s enough heart, warmth and genuine humor within this story and these characters that you’re invested in its quaintly simplistic narrative. There are no ceaseless callbacks, no tedious set-ups for future DCEU installments. Wonder Woman is all about Wonder Woman, even if they don’t speak that name just yet, and it’s all the better for it. It’s self-contained and focused in a way that feels like a smooth breath of fresh air. It’s traditional in just the right ways, and whenever it starts to delve into some formulaic tendencies, Jenkins and Heinberg are smart and suave enough to subvert their story without losing its integrity or its inherent feminism.
Gadot and Pine share a smoldering, likably old-fashioned chemistry. Their banter is casually witty, their rapport is playful and sexy. It’s instantly likable. Filled with flirting and innuendos though it might be, there’s an agreeably good-natured appeal to their dynamic. Diana is the stronger of the two, obviously, yet they continually care and respect one another. Even when it gets sappy, as it does towards its Casablanca-esque finale, you feel for these lead characters and their misshapen, endearingly unconventional relationship.
Pine is more weathered and melancholy here than he was in past performances, even including Hell or High Water, yet he still proves himself to be one of our most inherently charismatically working actors. He can play a right-hand man and a perfect gentleman with stride for days. His war-torn character is appropriately weighted and tormented, yet he knows how to amp up the charm without making unnatural or unseemingly. But that’s enough about Pine for now. Though Pine nearly stills the picture away at times, Wonder Woman is undoubtedly Gadot’s film, and she makes the most out of her first leading role.
Though I’ve found Gadot to be fairly stiff and unconvincing in the past, even during select scenes in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, she completely owns this movie. Her rallying spirit is sincere and unflinching. Her battle sequences are assured and convincing. When she needs to see the dingy muddiness of 1918 London for the first time, her bright face and piercing dark eyes are awoken with wonder that isn’t simply childlike or naive, which is what sells the otherwise hard-to-swallow fish-out-of-water comedy with aplomb. Her performance radiates with pride and conviction, and it fits the role stunningly.
There are most definitely faults. The literally bombastic finale is par the course for superhero flicks these days, yet it feels all the more discerning and disappointing in Wonder Woman when you consider all that came before it. The third act, on the whole, feels rushed and a little too busy, and it doesn’t help that certain subplots — most notably one involving PTSD — is brought up only to be ignored for the remainder of the film. Considering how crowded and overloaded a majority of superhero movies end up these days, Wonder Woman is certainly less frantic than many others. Additionally, the CG is typically too rubbery, most especially by its final action beats, a few details that don’t quite add up (how does Diana always retain her shield and armor on her person, even when she doesn’t seem to be carrying either?), there are some tonal misgivings and there are your usual pacing issues. At 141 minutes, there’s room to edit it down by ten minutes without losing much.
But the good far outweighs the bad, and its gleeful, rousing spirit is genuinely invigorating and inspiring. These are good characters that want — nay, need — to do good, for the sake of good, so that good people can not be vanquished by bad people. It’s a good, well-made movie that makes you feel good, and that’s —you guessed it — pretty damn good. Good.
Wonder Woman is a superhero movie with the power to change, to dazzle, to invigorate, and to fill you with, ahem, wonder. In 2017, that’s powerful, extraordinary and heartwarming. While I’m not someone who hates the past few DCEU movies with the power of Solaris’ rays (with the exception of Suicide Squad), like all too many people do, I’ll admit that Wonder Woman is, much like Man of Steel, among the first DC movies since Christopher Nolan’s tenure that commands the screen with force, exuberance and triumphant resonance. Though deeply inspired by Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor and The Rocketeer, Wonder Woman — with the exception of its tacked-on modern day opening and its overactive third act — feels like its own effort, with minimal studio interference and foul play, while capturing the earnest goodwill that made those other films such enjoyable successes. Wonder Woman kicks butt and warms your heart, inspiring us to keep pushing for a better, stronger tomorrow. These days, that couldn’t be more special.