Superhero films just keep getting bigger and bigger; Marvel seems to always make a smash hit every single year, and DC seems to have been trying to catch up. With Wonder Woman, the first female-lead superhero film since 2005’s (flop) Elektra, hitting theaters this weekend, DC has gained some major ground. Director Patty Jenkins expertly crafts a believable world for Wonder Woman to dwell in and made Wonder Woman the all-around best film that the DC Cinematic Universe has put out thus far, and very well may be the most important superhero film that’s ever come out.
Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD
Performances / Characters
The character of Wonder Woman is a huge undertaking for any director, writer, but especially for the actress playing her. I’d say it was even harder for Gal Gadot, someone who was relatively unknown in the States until now, to convince people she was right for the role. She’s previously done some work in the Fast & Furious movies, but once she was announced as the chosen one to play the role of the Amazonian princess, Diana, aka Wonder Woman, she was met with some criticism. But her smaller performance in Batman v Superman seemed to have raised some eyebrows, mine included, and here in her feature-length debut in the role, she’s engulfed Diana in the best of ways. Gal Gadot pierces through the screen with intensity, purity, strength, and innocence. Her Wonder Woman is powerful, virtuous, noble, and forthright, she is just wonderful. She has a smile that just makes you proud. Gal almost effortlessly molds the innocence and naivety of Diana in the world of man with her confidence and independence.
Other than herself, Gal had some prominent backup in the film as well, specifically Chris Pine in the role of Diana’s human love, Steve Trevor. I can’t think of a movie where Chris Pine wasn’t good. He has an infectious personality on screen, he’s always enjoyable to watch. His approach to Steve’s awkwardness around Diana was great; he’s continually surprised by Diana and it always confuses him how she can always do that. Chris and Gal have a natural chemistry on screen, when they joke, when they fight, when they connect, through the whole film their relationship always felt genuine. Their romantic subplot wasn’t ever in your face either, it felt natural and was done so delicately and with grace, I respect it a lot. I wish I could have seen more of the Amazonians of Themyscira, but what we got was definitely enough. To see all these strong women training and fighting, moving so fluidly and gracefully was invigorating to watch. I could only imagine how a little girl felt watching these powerful women command the screen.
My only complaint when it comes to the characters of the film is essentially everyone else besides the Amazonians, Diana, and Steve Trevor. A rag-tag group of guys is assembled to show Wonder Woman the different facets of humanity, however, I wish they felt maybe more important (maybe a group of strong ladies would’ve taken it further). They didn’t seem to do anything of importance except just being there. Sure, they all had some nice moments individually but not enough to convince me that they’re worth watching.
Next, there were three villainous figures: Ludendorff (Danny Huston), Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya), and Ares (David Thewlis). Ludendorff and Poison were the ones who commanded most of the evil appearances, however, they were excessively generic. I think when you bring a movie into WWI or II, you can just use Germans as evil doers without much depth added to them. Poison had some intrigue, but we never really learn much of her, all she really spent time doing was marveling as gas clouds and being melodramatic. Then there’s Ares, and he wasn’t much at all exciting. His best moment was the reveal that he’s been around the entire time as Sir Patrick, but after that, his intrigue faded away with excessive CGI and just an awkward appearance. Did he keep that mustache for thousands of years? Really? It might have had something to do with the casting choice that made it a bit ridiculous to see. When Ares formed his armor with the weapons and plating scattered around the airfield at the end, that was a cool moment, but David Thewlis just wasn’t Ares. A change in form or appearance might have gone a long way. Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and the Amazonian women really steal the show for me, the rest were just bearable in a sense to keep the film moving forward.
Writing / Direction
Wonder Woman starts out incredibly strong, giving the Warriors of Themyscira, and a young Diana, time to shine. The concentration on the world building in Wonder Woman was fantastic. It didn’t feel mashed up or rushed, like the other three DC films that have come out thus far. The movie paced generally well, even when the action was at a low point in favor of exposition, there were still bits to draw you in. Gal was always great to watch whether she was clearly a fish out of water or standing strong and noble against sexist men, or just smiling. There was always something to be drawn to in the film, no matter where you’re at. You’re always rooting for her, but you’re also waiting for her to be enlightened. In parts, she’s very naive when it came to the conflict of Ares and mankind, and at the end when she has that realization of who humans really were, after Steve’s sacrifice, a feeling of relief and excitement washes over you.
The action sequences were glorious too, Zach Snyder’s trademark slow-mo shots were all over the place, but I was happy with them because I liked watching Wonder Woman kick some serious ass. The final battle between her and Ares may have been very CGI’d and perhaps a bit underwhelming, but the showcase of Diana’s maximum power was great to watch. Beating overwhelming odds in superhero movies will never get old, perhaps that’s because superheroes were built off that premise. I also marveled at the set-pieces quite a bit; Themyscira, London, the trenches, they all were wonderfully designed, Themyscira being the most colorful of all the landscapes.
One thing I did want to bring up was the choice of the WWI setting. It was a bold choice to introduce Wonder Woman in this war-torn time, some people wanted to see her introduced in the modern-day, and where I can see that being perhaps a bit cooler, it wouldn’t make much sense to the DC timeline for this universe. In the modern-day, Superman and Batman specifically are prominent figures already, Batman already having a long history. If there wasn’t much of a record of Wonder Woman before Bruce discovered her picture and secret file, why would a more modern setting make sense? It serves her well to be in a time where technology wasn’t all over the place, so the only real evidence of her existence is the one photograph taken of her. That’s what makes it significant. If she emerged closer to the modern-day, her ambiguity would be lost.
The question that remains from this time, though, is how does she really age in this canon? Is Themyscira somehow suspended in time? How did she age there? Are ten years to an Amazonian in Themyscira, 50 years, or a hundred years, in the world of man? How did she seemingly not age through the rest of human history up until BvS? Did she not interfere in WWII? There are a lot of questions about Wonder Woman and her history that come from this movie, however, they don’t really pertain to this film specifically. These are just things that should maybe be fleshed out through the rest of the DC films.
After a film like this, what’s next really comes into question for the DC cinematic universe? Wonder Woman blew all the past films (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, & Suicide Squad) out of the water. Will Justice League have a monumental payoff like this one did? Or will the rest of the DC universe be just as flat as where we left off with it prior to Wonder Woman? There are plenty of DC movies slated for the near future, but the rocky start it’s gotten off to may hurt the success of their first team-up film. Especially since DC seems to just want the team up to happen more quickly than Marvel’s. We don’t get an Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, or even a solo-Batman film until after this first Justice League movie, set to release this November. It’s a questionable timeline to have. I would’ve appreciated their creative choices a lot more if we got the films in this order: Man of Steel, The Batman, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Batman v Superman, and then Justice League. With the multitude of cameos in BvS of the other “meta-humans”, plus Batman and Wonder Woman’s solo films would have already introduced them, the team-up would have more of a payoff. But then again, Justice League isn’t out yet, these are just my feelings as of now and they could change. Wonder Woman is the shining example of what DC has needed and it captures Wonder Woman so epically that my excitement for DC has been revitalized to a good degree.
Final Rating: 8.75/10. In a word: wonderful.
Wonder Woman does a plethora of things right; Gal Gadot does an amazing job with the character, Patty Jenkins directs with fierce integrity and puts on a show that is tremendously impressive. Wonder Woman may be the most important superhero film to have ever come out, and it earns that praise. There’s an entire generation of kids now that are seeing Wonder Woman as a true powerhouse, some for the first time, even compared to the likes of Superman and Batman. She was always presented as strong, respectable, and real. The flaws with supporting characterization, a decent lack of villainous intrigue, and a generally unimpressive main villain/final fight, doesn’t take away too much from Wonder Woman herself. She’s a shining light in this grim world that DC has built up and I’m excited to see where she will lead the universe to in the future.
Editor’s Note: This review first appeared on Goodson’s blog Out of 10.