Oh, hey. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this little flick out called Wonder Woman right now. Not a huge deal or whatever. Just a feature film directed by a woman about a female superhero who happens to be comic book and pop culture legend. I mean, it’s not like fans have been asking for this for years or anything. Or that it’s totally proving Hollywood wrong about how they think audiences don’t want to watch (let alone care about) women’s stories. Or that it’s stomping the circle-jerk among production companies that say women directors just can’t helm a big budget blockbuster. Nah, this is definitely nothing to celebrate.
Victories for the under-represented aside, I know we’re only about a month into summer blockbuster season, but I feel like this could be my favorite movie of the summer. What’s so exciting about it to me, though, is that this movie isn’t just a good sign for the future of the film industry as a whole. It’s also a good sign for the DC Extended Universe, which, let’s be honest, hadn’t found that spark it was missing…until now. Let’s dive into Wonder Woman!
For centuries, the Amazons of Themyscira—led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her sister General Antiope (Robin Wright)—have remained hidden from the world of men and Ares, the god of war, who seeks the Amazons’ destruction so that he can corrupt mankind with war. When British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) accidentally crash-lands in Themyscira and leads the Germans who were chasing him into the realm as well, the Amazons suddenly find World War I at their doorstep. Believing it’s her sacred duty to protect mankind, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves the world she knows behind and joins Steve on a quest to stop German general Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), who Diana believes is Ares in human form, and his chemical mastermind Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) from creating a gas that would kill millions.
Regarding the plot, I loved that they took Diana Prince out of her WWII comic book setting and dropped her into WWI (a.k.a. The War to End All Wars) for this film. For one, there are so many stories set in WWII, and it’s an easy story to write because Hitler and Nazis are obviously evil. But the thing about having a “true north hero” like Wonder Woman set in a war that was confusing, brutal, and lacked a clear antagonist sets up opportunities for tension, inner conflict, and vulnerability when Diana realizes that truth and justice don’t always prevail, or that mankind is destructive even without the presence of a corrupting influence like Ares.
Wonder Woman’s biggest strength is Gal Gadot. Like I said about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, she completely steals the show when she’s onscreen. And now she has an entire movie to steal the show! Her performance as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is funny, naive, sincere, heartbreaking, and badass all in one. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a little—like when Wonder Woman crosses No Man’s Land (solid metaphor, btw). It’s just so refreshing to see a character who gets to embrace masculine and feminine traits, and neither is used to define her or corner her into a type. Seriously, Gadot delivers everything I’ve ever wanted to see in a depiction of Wonder Woman (Of course, shoutout to Linda Carter because respect the OG).
But like every superhero movie that’s come out in the last decade, Wonder Woman’s weakness is its villain. And surprise! It’s another villain red herring scenario! I honestly think the reason why superhero movies keep failing with villains is because the writers are so focused on making the heroes well-rounded (which isn’t a bad thing by any means) that they forget they need to do the same for villains. Great antagonists are often more charismatic than their protagonists, and they have complex layers to their evil that makes it almost possible for audiences to root for them (or at least understand why they’re doing what they’re doing). Ares is not that. He’s the generic villain obsessed with power/chaos/revenge who really doesn’t make a statement. So, yes, you want to root for Wonder Woman because Ares sucks.
Other little issues? The third act’s climax is, as Pajiba’s Rebecca Pahle so perfectly put it, CGI soup. And dear god, can we tone down the speed ramping? That’s a Zack Snyder favorite, and he had creative input as the DCEU leader, so it’s not surprising that it worked its way into Wonder Woman. I’m not saying the movie shouldn’t use it. Like I get that it’s Snyder’s filmmaker style, it keeps up the visual consistency within the DCEU films, and it looks pretty cool in wide-shot action sequences. But like, damn, guys…use it sparingly for impact.
Okay, last thing (I could talk about this movie forever, and there are so many things I’m not even covering). Director Patty Jenkins is a goddamn boss, and anyone who says she was the result of tokenism or that she was a “gamble” is a moron. Her vision for Wonder Woman is why this movie is so great. Unlike Snyder’s dark, gritty, pit-of-despair vision for DCEU films, I feel like Jenkins was able to strike a tone for this film that balanced the light and the dark, the beauty and the cruelty, the optimism and the cynicism. And you’ll notice she didn’t shoot Gadot with a male gaze. I mean, look, Gadot is impossibly gorgeous, so any time she’s onscreen it’s like a shrine to her beauty. But the beauty shots are always of her face or her standing confidently in a room. Even during the slow shots of her climbing up the ladder in her warrior garb for the first time, there are no T&A shots. Every moment is focused on Diana’s strength and heart. And that’s why it’s awesome to have a woman behind this film.
All in all, Wonder Woman isn’t a perfect movie, but Wonder Woman herself is perfect. It’s a film and a hero we need right now, and I hope the feedback from this movie helps Warner Bros/DC Comics find their fire. Because Diana deserves a good Justice League, as do we all.
Wonder Woman: A-
Listen to my Wonder Woman review on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 4:38).