Wonder Woman is a character who has been deserving of a big screen adaptation for decades. Yet, while Batman got seven films in the past 30 years, and Superman had about as many over a longer period of time, Wonder Woman remained an unadapted live-action entity. Back in 2011, Warner Bros. Television tried its hand at a Wonder Woman pilot, but thankfully, NBC opted not to order the full series. Wonder Woman would remain on the comic book page and in animation for another handful of years before she made her DC Extended Universe debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
But would Warner Bros. and DC Films be able to make a film that lives up to the legacy of the character? Would this be enough to quench the thirst of fans who have patiently waited to see Wonder Woman in her own standalone film? And would this be the film to help turn the tide of the negative narrative surrounding the DCEU as a whole?
For us, the answer is a resounding yes.
Wonder Woman starts things off with a frame narrative. As we saw in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, she has a history back in World War I, as was indicated by a photo Bruce Wayne found. In the film, Bruce extends an olive branch to Diana Prince (a.k.a. Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot) by sending her the original of that photo, and this prompts a film-long flashback that shows her humble origins as Wonder Woman.
The story proper begins with her as a child on the island of Themyscira — an island made up only of women. She and her people live happily on said island until one day, a mysterious man — Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) crash-lands off the coast of the island, bringing with him his German pursuers. Using the Lasso of Truth, the Amazons discover that he is a spy for the British, and that he is involved in “the war to end all wars.” Old stories Diana heard as a child revealed that the cause of human conflict was the god of war, Ares, and as an Amazon, she sees it as her duty to go to the world of man, kill Ares, and bring an end to the conflict.
I’ll have to admit, I was pretty skeptical about this film going into it. It wasn’t that the trailers were bad. By all accounts, I’d say they’ve had a pretty strong marketing campaign. However, if there was a weakness in it, it’s that the trailers really didn’t convey the heart behind the movie. For the most part, we were treated to action set pieces, Wonder Woman power sliding, and a few jokes peppered in for good measure. Luckily for us, there’s a lot more to this film than what’s conveyed in those trailers. This is a film that deals with human complexity, hope, and the loss of innocence.
Unlike many other DC films in recent history, Wonder Woman has the benefit of focusing mostly on a single character, and it does not waste that opportunity. When Diana leaves her home island, she is an innocent. She may know how to kick all kinds of ass, but she knows nothing of the real world, and the complexities of war and human nature. This isn’t an easy journey to chronicle on film, and under less steady hands, it could be cheesy, ham-fisted, and downright unwatchable. Thanks to a very good script, amazing direction from Patty Jenkins, and a cast with great chemistry, they avoid that very real pitfall.
And speaking of cast, while the film does focus on Diana Prince, I have to take a moment to appreciate how it utilized its supporting characters. As teased in that photo in Batman v Superman, she teams up with Steve Trevor and a group of war profiteering misfits. Making up this motley crew are an Arab, a Scot, and a Native American, and while they don’t delve too much into each of these characters, they give us just enough to care about their fates. More importantly, however, is that these characters are something of a microcosm of the complexity of human nature — something that Diana begins to understand as she nears the frontline of the Great War. It’s a great way to add to the overall message of the story, and to really cement the emotional journey our lead goes through.
It’s impossible to talk about a superhero film without at least touching on the villains. That being said, it’s even more impossible to get into real details without inadvertently spoiling some things: So I’ll say this. While on a surface levels, the villains aren’t the strongest, I do think they serve a very important purpose. Like with everything else, they are used as a way to help Diana grow. They aren’t just an obstacle that Diana needs to overcome, but rather ideological adversaries. They don’t just challenge her physically, but challenge her very perspective on life, which is a far more impactful adversary. So while the inevitable battle is rather predictable, it’s given an added emotional depth that would otherwise be lost. So while on a surface level, these villains may very well feel a lot more like your average boring Marvel villain, they still manage to make them crucial to the story of Wonder Woman. As great as this is, it would all be pointless if Wonder Woman herself had the charisma and appeal of a sack of potatoes. Going into this film, this was a definite concern, given Gal Gadot's relative inexperience in acting.
I'm happy too say that Gadot is wonderfully cast in the role of Diana Prince. Yes, we’ve already seen her take on the character in Batman v Superman, but that film didn't give her character the emotional weight that she so deserved (of course, because it wasn't her story). Unsurprisingly, her physicality in the role is amazing. We’ve seen the fight scenes, and we KNOW when it comes to the action, that it’s easy to buy her as Wonder Woman. What was truly surprising was the deftness with which her emotional journey was conveyed. Every so often, she may have delivered a wooden line, but when all said and done, she rose above and beyond the call to action, and help bring to life a character that will be revered by generations of fans.
Not to be sold short in this film is Chris Pine. He’s very much the eyes of the audience, and the man who first discovers just how amazing Diana is. Pine is charismatic and funny in the role, but it’s very much in service to Gadot’s Diana. Never do you feel like the two are competing to upstage one another, and his grounded and likable performance helps give the film the foundation it needs to appreciate how amazing Diana Prince is. Their chemistry together is great, and unlike a lot of superhero films, the relationship between the two is one I buy.
Even more amazing is that despite the need to portray Wonder Woman in a superior light (with her being the superhuman and all), they never take away from the capable nature of Steve Trevor and the rest of the gang. This helps to elevate Wonder Woman all the more. It’s not like shows like Agent Carter, where she seems superior to a bunch of idiots, but rather the exceptional one in a group of already exceptional people. That goes a long way in adding to the credibility of the film, and to the credibility of the decades-old superhero.
I know by around now you may be getting sick of my glowing review, but to be honest, there weren’t a lot of huge problems I had. The film isn’t perfect, but there wasn’t a lot to distract me from my enjoyment. That being said, it is important to point out one minor issue I had. That third act.
While the third act isn’t awful, it does sort of drag under the weight of the rest of the film. By the time we’re approaching the confrontation with the big bad, I was already a bit exhausted, and waiting for things to pick up. What follows is a fight scene that very much resembles the CG-heavy third act of Batman v Superman. I found myself checking out a bit, but luckily for us, the boredom and critique was short-lived. As soon as I started to check out fully, the film brought things back to the core emotional story, which is where the movie shines best. It’s by no means a dealbreaker, but those who hate big CG finishes will likely not find a whole lot unique here. But when all said and done, they have the confidence to bring things back to a personal level.
Regardless of any minor quibbles I had, however, there is no denying how big of a win this movie is. It’s not only a win for DC Films and Warner Bros., but a fitting standalone for Wonder Woman. If you’re a fan of superhero films, this one is a must-see on the big screen.
Will you be seeing Wonder Woman in theaters? Let us know in the comments down below!