Well, it only took them four years, four movies, and one terrible performance by Jesse Eisenberg for DC to finally make a really good installment in their cinematic universe.
Wonder Woman, based on the DC Comics character and masterfully directed by the first female to helm a mainstream superhero film, Patty Jenkins, stars Gal Gadot as the Amazonian warrior princess Diana Prince, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, an American spy for the British Intelligence who crash lands on Diana’s all-woman home island of Themyscira , Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and Diana’s mother, as well as Robin Wright and Danny Huston.
This film, for all intents and purposes, is really carried on the backs of Gadot and Pine who both deliver surprisingly charismatic performances. This comes as a welcome change of pace for the former as I was less than pleased with her character’s appearance in last year’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Here, Gadot radiates with optimism, yet, isn’t afraid to play up the naïveté that a warrior woman would have when stepping into the foreign “world of men” for the first time. A lot of her more comedic moments come from these fish-out-of-water scenarios, which only play to the strengths of a model-turned-actress. Speaking of which, to be perfectly honest, she’s not too bad to spend two hours looking at either. Pine, though, steals the show as a man who shares Diana’s optimism but turns out to be more morally gray than the stories Diana was told about men. He effortlessly brings levity and profundity to a film that could have been bogged down in the hopelessness of war. They make a magnetic on-screen pair that will go down as one of the best superhero movies have had to offer.
Certain motifs even reminded me of Superman: The Movie, directed by Richard Donner, like when Diana and Steve are cornered in an alley by German spies and Diana blocks one of their bullets with her wrist gauntlets, protecting Steve. This calls back to the moment in the Donner film when Christopher Reeve’s timid Clark Kent stops a bullet with his hand in a similar alleyway, protecting Lois Lane. Seeing those roles reversed with such a well-realized female superhero earned a cheer or two from my audience.
Along with Gadot’s inspiring performance, the themes of love and hope conquering fear and hate show through what otherwise might be perceived as a drearier story, considering the muddy-gray color palette of the last two acts. It was quite refreshing to watch a modern superhero movie where the hero truly cares for the people she’s saving and isn’t at all interested in blowing up cities and causing the most collateral damage as possible. But, don’t get me wrong, watching badass female warriors on horseback shooting flaming arrows at WWI German soldiers on the beach of a paradise island is as thrilling as it sounds.
The real wonder woman here is Jenkins who has crafted not only the best female-led superhero flick ever made (we have the Halle Berry Catwoman to thank for setting the bar so low), but also a really cohesive story on its own. While it can be enjoyable to get lost in the spectacle of the epic action sequences and kickass rock-and-roll score, at its core, it’s a coming-of-age tale for Diana. Through Steve, she is able to learn the complexities of humanity and what the real world has in store for her. Jenkins is careful not to lose sight of this amidst a fully fleshed out world of paradise islands and Amazonian gods, a very commendable feat to pull off.
For as impressive as Wonder Woman is, some boxes do go unchecked. The villains, for example, are just downright thin characters. There are a few of them, including Danny Huston’s German General Ludendorff, and they’re all pretty much reduced to mustache-twirling psychopaths with little motivation other than being willing to doing anything to win the war. Nothing new here. In terms of the cinematography, as I mentioned before, once Diana leaves her tropical paradise, the rest of the film takes place in overcast London and smoke-filled battlefields. While it provided a clear contrasting visual cue, it wasn’t very pleasant to look at. In addition to that poor visual choice, for the action set-pieces, Jenkins seems to have taken a page out of Zack Snyder’s book and doubled down on the slo-mo or “speed ramp” style that Snyder popularized in his film 300. The technique felt very dated and got old too quickly.
While I’m attempting to stray away from politicizing this review (if you haven’t already noticed, the movie is being hailed as breaking ground for female representation in the genre), I will admit to experiencing some involuntary chills when Gadot emerges, fully costumed, for the first time as Wonder Woman. To the film’s credit, its political significance isn’t drawn attention to very much, albeit for one line that stood out to me. When leaving Themyscira for the first time with Steve, Diana asks where she needs to go to stop the war. Steve, taken aback by her naïveté, replies that they alone can do nothing to stop the war except travel to the other generals, where they’ll find the men that can, to which she replies, “I am the man who can!”
With standout performances by the two leads and despite one-note villains, Wonder Woman is the best DC has had to offer in years and an inspiring triumph for female superheroes.