-The DCEU’s newest installment is a breath of fresh air compared to its predecessors, and may be the best comic book movie of the last five years.
D.C. needed a hit. After the critical failures of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the new Extended Universe’s future was looking more and more bleak. If there’s one trend that the internet has definitely inspired in the movie industry, it’s that movies with a lukewarm or negative critical reception are not sustainable as blockbuster entertainment. American audiences pay attention to how a movie gets received, and if the new entries for D.C. kept getting a poor reception, it may have ended up a failed experiment.
If they needed a hit, they got one with Wonder Woman, a gorgeous, witty, well-written, well-directed superhero film that rivals any comic book movie of the past half-decade. It’s been a good year so far, and you can join in this movie with Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II as successes.
Wonder Woman follows Diana (Gal Gadot), a princess on the island of Themyscira. The island acts as a home for a tribe of women known as Amazons, a warrior clan that is meant to protect mankind from threats domestic and abroad (including aliens, I’d assume). Their Queen (Connie Nielsen) permits Diana, her daughter, to begin training with the head of the Amazons (a powerful warrior played by Robin Wright). Just as Diana has become (arguably) the most powerful Amazon on the island, a WWI British pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands in the ocean right outside their shoreline. He’s pursued by a ton of German soldiers who are after him after discovering him as a spy. Trevor has stolen a diary of scientific secrets from the Germans, containing their plan to release a new form of mustard gas on the Allied side. The German general involved (Danny Huston) works closely with his disfigured scientist (Elena Anaya) to effectuate this plan.
Steve sees the Amazons in action, and tells them about WWI and all the casualties that it has brought to Europe. In her naivety, Diana assumes that the “war to end all wars” that is happening must be the work of the ancient god Ares, whom Zeus banished after a previous conflict. The Amazons are meant to protect humankind from Ares’s influence, but without enough proof, and without wanting Diana to risk herself, Diana and her Queen Mother have a difficult goodbye. After spending her whole life on a mythical island and no contact with average humans, she heads into the brunt of the War.
The initial complaint about Wonder Woman when the movie was announced was that many fans thought Gal Gadot was a poor choice to play the character. At the time, she was a no-name actress that had been in a handful of supporting roles and had been a model, so many fans assumed she was just cast for a pretty face. In actuality, this is not true. Gal Gadot delivers one of the most impressive lead performances of an action/adventure/sci-fi movie in recent memory. She works her way through such a wide range of conflicts and emotional states that were necessary for this film, and she will end up being a superstar. I want to talk about some of the more important emotional states she goes through a little later in this review, but just know that even if parts of the plot here don’t appeal to you, rest assured that Gal Gadot will carry your interest throughout the entire run-time. She has impeccable charisma and the camera just loves focusing on her. I also can’t go the entire review without at least mentioning how beautiful she is. It’s an added piece that the movie made necessary, a practical demigod against the normal person. It’s tough to portray one actor as more physically appealing, intimidating, and powerful than every other person in the film, but she manages it wonderfully.
There are parts of this plot that you may not completely appreciate. A ton of the Ares/Zues/Greek God mumbo-jumbo that ends up dominating the overarching story in this film is a bit frustrating. At the outset, Diana’s naive nature of assuming the entire war will end just by taking down Ares is actually really effective. She begs Steve to “take her to war” and doesn’t understand the destruction and death that’s occurred. She’s not keen on military strategy, she doesn’t understand the environment that she’s being thrown into here. This was a really powerful character arc in some aspects because her demeanor entirely shifts as she realizes that this man-made conflict that she’s gone into is so much more than just her smiting Ares. Her playful and hungry smirk that is looking forward to battle in the same way an athlete may look at a new game is harshly removed by the end of the film, and we see how the version of her that is seen in Batman v. Superman is a much more world-wise Wonder Woman. In a way, she acts as a fish out of a water, a powerful woman from a far-removed tribe that enters a patriarchal (triggered) society of the early 1900s, and doesn’t get her way at the start. Her character arc here really is wonderful, and the movie allows the losses that she incurs to stick around, weighing against her as she become a more mature leader, instead of an individual.
The action sets are (mostly) great. There are a few war scenes that really work, and it’s clear that Gadot did a lot of work to do a large number of her own stunts. The movie does look great. The opening is so colorful on Themyscira, and then does a complete reversal in the smoking, industrial 1900s London. Everything but the final action set really worked for me.
The final action set, and I don’t want to spoil, is where everything that Diana had been worried about merges with the themes of the movie. This, to me, was a bit of a cop-out in order to get a large-scale, CGI-infused final action set. The last 20 minutes do somewhat divulge into that style of throwing as much at the audience as possible, have big explosions, and have titan-sized characters fly into buildings and crumble them instantly. It is a little Doomsday-ish like in Batman v. Superman. The CGI is forgivable, except that the most powerful portion of the film is the loss and sacrifice that Diana goes through as she becomes acclimated to humanity and this war. To turn to the supernatural at the end seems to undercut some of her growth out of her naive state. It’s saying, “Diana was right all along,” when in reality, we wanted her to be wrong so that she learned from her mistake. It would’ve been more effective if her vendetta against an “Ares” ended up with her costing lives in haste, chasing something that was not real so she learns from it. The movie almost gets there, and then reverts for a large action scene. This ending is the reason I won’t give this movie a 5-star rating.
Finally, even if the occasional plot shift does bother you, the film can rest on the impeccable chemistry of Gadot and Chris Pine. Pine’s role in this is surprisingly a 1-B to Gadot’s 1-A. He’s not really a supporting character, and spends a ton of time in the spotlight here. He jokes about her beliefs and lack of knowledge about marriage, society, sex, fashion, etc. and makes her more comfortable as she acclimates. This could partially be because he knows how she feels when he lands on a planet with a ton of warrior women. Either way, the film manages to throw in some laughs, and it has some cute scenes between the leads. Silently, Chris Pine has turned in a nice career as an actor, and this is another piece of his growing legacy to attest to in 30 years. The screenplay fleshes this relationship out wonderfully, occasionally stopping the movie to allow it to breathe. There’s a slow-dance scene and a bit of a bubbling romance that occurs which may halt the movie’s breakneck action pace, but manages to make us care more about these two characters. If Gadot wasn’t so fantastic in this, more people would be talking about Chris Pine. It’s just that he’s competing with an amazing performance that correctly interprets a female superhero in a very liberal movie climate. Good luck.
Either way, whether it’s the chemistry and screenplay, the explosion of Gadot onto the movie scene, or the great action that occurs, you should love Wonder Woman. I would happily put it against any movie that the MCU has released over the last 9 years, including some of their big hits like Iron-Man, The Avengers, etc. This movie is as good as those are, is slightly better than even Logan or Deadpool, which act as a resurgence of the X-Men lore, and easily bests any existing DCEU movie. It probably isn’t as good as The Dark Knight Rises, and obviously doesn’t reach The Dark Knight, but it’s up in the top tier of superhero films, especially over the last 5-or-so years.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Director: Patty Jenkins (Monster)
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, and Elena Anaya
with: Connie Nielson, Robin Wright, and Lucy Davis
RT Score: 93%