The DC Extended Universe gets one in the win column with Wonder Woman’s long anticipated solo origin story.
If you wrapped me in Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth and asked me what I thought about the future prospects of the DC Extended Universe, my outlook would be grim. With maybe half a hit out of three attempts (Man of Steel almost got there) and the big crossover on the way, things are in disarray, and it feels like the studio desperately needs a critical success in order to keep audiences on the hook. Luckily, in swoops Diana Prince and Wonder Woman, a resoundingly solid period piece origin story that firmly establishes the Amazing Amazon as DC’s finest current screen hero.
Following an unnecessary introductory scene with Diana (Gal Gadot) in modern times, Wonder Woman flashes back to the beginning of the superheroine’s journey. Diana grows up as the princess of the secluded island Themyscira, a paradise where the all-female Amazonian warriors hide from humanity to train for world-ending events. Diana learns to fight and harness her tremendous power under the tutelage of her military general aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) and the concern of her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Unexpectedly, American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes a German plane in the water outside of Themyscira. Diana saves him, but the Germans storm the beach and attack the Amazonians.
Following the skirmish, the Amazonians learn of the ongoing World War I, the “war to end all wars”. Steve has been tasked with stopping General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) from disrupting the negotiations for the armistice with a potentially devastating weapon. Diana becomes convinced this war is the work of the god of war Ares, whom the Amazonians are destined to defeat. With sword, shield and lasso in tow, she decides to leave the island with Steve, traveling to the real world and the forefronts of the battle to defeat this grave threat.
The film very satisfyingly throws Diana through a fully realized arc, as she is forced to throw away her black and white understanding of good and evil and engage the moral and ethical greys of human existence. It’s a complicated theme to explore in a superhero film, but Gadot’s fantastic performance progresses enough throughout the film that we see a change in Diana’s ideology and the struggles that come with that. Shortchanged in Batman v. Superman yet still one of the best parts of that mess, Gadot truly becomes a Wonder Woman worthy of adoration here. She is the perfect embodiment of everything the character should represent as an interpretation and a role model for young girls. Diana is not perfect, but her actions are always with the best of intentions for humanity in mind. We see her mature throughout the film, and Gadot really nails the shedding of Diana’s naivety and her ascendance into legendary hero. It doesn’t hurt that Gadot looks like she was born to wear the costume.
The film gets off to a semi-sluggish start, as the first act in Themyscira was a bit hokey for me to swallow. The actresses playing the Amazonians, while appropriately fierce, struggle with some questionable accents. The first twenty minutes also are subject to some very questionable CGI, something a bit shocking to me for a film of this magnitude in 2017. It looks really cool when the Amazonians are deep in battle, but some of the technical elements let these heroines down.
Once Diana heads to London, however, the film really takes off, really nailing the mixture of light comedy and serious stakes that the DCEU has mightily struggled with so far. A lot of solid “fish-out-of-water” comedy surfaces during Diana’s time in London, and while that’s certainly been covered before in other superhero movies, the material is still very funny. There’s also definitely a “girl-power” edge to many of the scenes, which does a lot in not only differentiating the film from every other superhero flick but advances the character quite a bit, as her reaction to casual 1900’s sexism is exactly what you’d expect. In a series of films that just recently threw Margo Robbie in crotch-riding booty shorts, this feels like a point that shouldn’t be buried.
Wonder Woman is almost 2.5 hours long, but director Patty Jenkins keeps things briskly moving, with a confident control of the pace that makes the film feel closer to 90 minutes. While there’s nothing really groundbreaking at work here, Wonder Woman is a very good origin story, satisfying audiences looking to learn about Wonder Woman’s life and her development into the hero we know she’ll become in Batman v. Superman and Justice League. The war backdrop lends the film the same edge that Captain America: the First Avenger was afforded for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though there are similarities to be found between the two (the attempts to stop a villainous subsection of the German army, a merry band of misfits accompanying our hero into battle), Wonder Woman is distinctly about what makes her special as a character.
Chris Pine threatens to steal the movie at points with his extremely likable performance as Steve Trevor. Pine’s not just doing “Captain Kirk in World War I”, but playing a completely different yet still exceptionally charming persona. Trevor’s a noble man willing to put his life on the line for peace, but he’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty and lie. The best interactions in the film are between Diana and Steve, whether it be a light-hearted conversation about sex or a more somber reflection on the complexities of war.
As with plenty of other superhero films, Wonder Woman has villain problems and suffers from some third act woes. The extended middle section of the film, however, ranks up with the most thrilling superhero origin stories ever. The action sequences are powerful (in particular the sequence when Diana finally reaches the front lines of No Man’s Land), the jokes land, and the emotional stakes are palpable. Most importantly, the film gets what makes Wonder Woman such an appealing hero, and nails that appeal in a way that Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad thoroughly missed. Wonder Woman is a supremely entertaining summer adventure, giving its titular character ample opportunity to live up to her iconic history and kick tons of butt. Leave it to a woman to do a man’s job, I suppose.