Given Wonder Woman’s longevity and popularity, it’s amazing that it’s taken until June 2017 for the Amazonian Princess to receive her own, solo, live-action film. It’s especially astonishing when you consider the fact that if there were a Mount Rushmore of superheroes, it would include the characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man. As the lone female of these four icons, Wonder Woman is the only one of the four who has yet to receive a theatrically released film, while the other three have not only starred in multiple movies but have been staples on the silver screen for so long that they’ve constituted reboots. (In the cases of Batman and Spider-Man, multiple reboots.)
I’ve said before in previous articles that a lot was riding on Wonder Woman. Not only because this is her first movie, but also because this is the fist, true, female-led superhero film to be widely released in almost a decade, following on the heels of the critically panned Elektra and Catwoman. Movie studios have been notoriously hesitant to create a film centered around a woman superhero due to these previous failures, and if this movie – starring the most famously iconic woman in comic book lore – were to be negatively received, there was a very real chance that production companies would have become even more hesitant to finance these female-driven pictures. The fate of the DC Films universe was also resting on the shoulders of this movie due to the fact that its previous three entries – Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad – were all critically panned and extremely divisive amongst fans of the superhero genre, despite the fact that all of them were box office successes. (For the record, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, I’ve been a fan of each DCEU installment up until this point, although I can see why people haven’t been.) If this film were to be negatively received, there was a very real possibility that Warner Bros. could have put the brakes on their still fledgling universe and change course, creating an even longer wait for fans of the brand who’ve waited decades to see their favorite heroes brought to the big screen.
Being provided the task of delivering a hero that everyone, especially girls and women, could look up to, in addition to a fulfilling a desire that DCEU fans had to receive a movie that would be accepted critically and by the mainstream audience, Wonder Woman had a lot of pressure on its shoulders. I am ecstatic and extremely relieved, to report that – like its titular character – the film not only carries this pressure with grace and dignity, but delivers an earnest, charismatic, exciting origin story full of hope, heart, and – yes – even wonder.
Wonder Woman is pretty standard fare as far as origin stories go. Diana, Princess of Themyscira, is raised on a peaceful island of Amazons away from man’s world, by her mother – Queen Hippolyta – and her aunt – General Antiope. When the military pilot, Steve Trevor, crashes his plane off the coast of the island in the middle of World War I, she follows him back to London in order to help him bring an end to the war, which she believes is being caused by the God of War, Ares. She believes, naively, that if she can destroy Ares, there will never be another war again. Along the way, she discovers the extent of the powers that she’s been bestowed by her father, Zeus, and transforms into the heroic Wonder Woman.
This film rides and dies on the shoulders of its star, and though director Patty Jenkins didn’t cast Gal Gadot herself (she inherited her from Zack Snyder who cast her for Wonder Woman’s brief turn in Batman v. Superman), she couldn’t have picked anyone better for the role of Diana Prince even if she tried. Gal Gadot exudes the intelligence, compassion, grace, naivety, morality, and warrior spirit that the character of Wonder Woman encompasses. So good in the role, she not only commands, but steals, every single scene that she’s in, and the few in which she’s not, her absence is felt.
When Gadot was initially cast in last year’s Dawn of Justice, many people were skeptical about the decision because of her background in modeling, and the fact that she had never had a starring role before. Though she was the fan-favorite, bright spot in Snyder’s film, she wasn’t given too much to do that ended up changing peoples’ minds about her significantly. I can confidently say that after this movie, Gadot will be catapulted into Hollywood stardom. She owns the role. In fact, I’d go so far as to lump her with the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Christopher Reeves, and Tom Hiddleston – actors who so embodied their comic book characters, their names have become synonymous with them; the ones who blur the lines so effectively that it’s become hard to figure out where the character ends and the actor begins. Gadot is that good.
Gadot isn’t the only strong female in the film, however. Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, and Lucy Davis are all incredible and give kickass performances as Queen Hippolyta, General Antiope, and Etta Candy respectively. Elena Anaya, meanwhile, turns in a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of the villainous Doctor Maru – A.K.A. Doctor Poison. To see such strong women giving such powerful, nuanced performances with such little screen time was inspiring, and adds to the vibe that this is truly a girl-power movie. At the same time, it’s a shame that in 2017 films in which so many women give such outstanding performances is still such a rarity that they must be called out and applauded every time it happens. Hopefully, given this film’s reception, this will become the norm soon enough – a sequel is sure to be on the way soon, and in the meantime, Wonder Woman is set to costar in Justice League later this year, while over in Marvel land, The Wasp is getting joint billing with Ant-Man in next year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel is scheduled for a 2019 release. But I digress.
Kudos must also be given to the three male stars of the film worth calling out. Chris Pine imbues Steve Trevor with a strong sense of morality and earnestness that makes him the almost-equal of Diana Prince. In a way, his performance is reminiscent of Chris Evans’ in Captain America: The First Avenger. The chemistry between Pine and Gadot is strong and captivating, and the relationship that their characters have in the film is not only believable but heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. You will absolutely be rooting for them to not only end up together but save the world together. Danny Huston, as the villainous General Erich Ludendorff – an actual historical figure who believed that peace was merely an interval between wars – is appropriately threatening and cunning, while David Thewlis plays the seemingly kind-hearted speaker of peace, Sir Patrick Morgan, with the same soft-spoken convictions that fans have come to expect after watching him as Professor Lupin in Harry Potter for many years.
The directorial work Patty Jenkins did with this film is stunning, and it’s obvious in each and every frame on screen. The beautiful, colorful world of Themyscira is vibrant and provides such a stark contrast to the dark, gray, war-torn world of Europe. But even in these scenes – ranging from London to Germany – Jenkins manages to find beauty in the imagery. The set designs, costume choices, staging, and music are all incredible as well, all contributing to this near-perfect superhero film. The choice she made to set the film in World War I – which was the first major war (“the war to end all wars”) – was a masterstroke as well. It makes sense for this to be the conflict that drives Diana Prince from Themyscira for the very first time, and it helps set the film apart from the many films that are set during World War II. (I’ve always felt World War I is underutilized in Hollywood compared to the war that followed it.)
I say this picture is “near-perfect” because, let’s face it, no film is perfect. The Dark Knight wasn’t, nor was The Avengers or Logan. They all had their flaws, as does Wonder Woman. The biggest in this film is the third act, which becomes a little too CGI-heavy and turns into another slightly overlong battle between a hero fighting a villain who attacks via blasts of light and lightning. It was almost as though Patty Jenkins directed the first two-thirds of the movie before handing the reigns over to Zack Snyder to direct the last act and final battle. I will praise Snyder, however, for helping to develop the central story of the film, and I will praise the film itself for offering up a few unexpected twists in regards to the villain. Despite the familiarity of the final battle between Wonder Woman and her foe, it differentiates itself from its three predecessors by having actual, compelling personal stakes, in addition to the world-ending ones.
There are a lot of people comparing this film to Captain America: The First Avenger, which I understand. But the inherently good natures of the heroes, and the fact that the movies are both period pieces aside, I personally don’t see it. I would compare Wonder Woman to two other classic films instead – Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman. I felt a sense of timelessness while sitting in the theater, a wide smile on my face the entire time. I just know this is going to end up being a superhero classic and do for Wonder Woman what Donner’s Superman and Burton’s Batman did for those two characters. And like both of those movies, in addition to Batman Begins, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange, Wonder Woman will be one of the best superhero origin stories ever told via film.
Wonder Woman is incredible and full of heart and humor that the DC Films universe has been missing up to this point. It’s the film that fans of the character have been craving for years, fans of the DCEU have been waiting for since 2013’s Man of Steel, and is a film starring a heroine that everyone – especially women and girls – can be proud of and look up to. All in all, Wonder Woman is a home run and is the empowering feminist hero we need now more than ever during these uncertain times. I can’t wait to see Gal Gadot return as Diana Prince in this November’s Justice League before her eventual and inevitable solo sequel, which will hopefully see the return of Patty Jenkins to the director’s chair.
What did you guys think of Wonder Woman? Did it live up to your expectations? Do you think Warner Bros. has clawed its way out of its DCEU slump? How are you feeling about Justice League after seeing this? Let me know in the comments below!