Wonder Woman **** / *****
Directed by: Patty Jenkins.
Written by: Allan Heinberg & Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs based on the comics created by William Moulton Marston.
Starring: Gal Gadot (Diana Prince / Wonder Woman), Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), Robin Wright (General Antiope), Danny Huston (General Erich Ludendorff), David Thewlis (Sir Patrick), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), Elena Anaya (Doctor Isabel Maru / Doctor Poison), Lucy Davis (Etta Candy), Saïd Taghmaoui (Sameer), Ewen Bremner (Charlie), Eugene Brave Rock (Chief).
Wonder Woman acts as a corrective to so much that has been wrong with superhero movies – particularly DC Superhero movies in recent years, that even when the films makes missteps, or falls into some of the same traps that all superhero origin stories seem to, we forgive the film. The film is bright, smart and funny – has a few wonderful action sequences. The film isn’t the morose, self-serious drag that have marred the DC films so far – it actually reminded me more of two Marvel films – the first Captain America film, for its wartime setting, and general optimism, and the original Thor, for its fish out of water comedic elements. It helps that although this is another origin story, at least this is one we haven’t seen before – there are radioactive spiders, no gamma rays, no murdered parents (or uncles) and no farms in Smallville. While in many ways Wonder Woman follows the basic outline of so much that has come before it – the film at least does something new with it – not least of which is the fact that it has a female hero in the lead role, a premise the film takes seriously.
The film opens on Themyscira, an island in Paradise, where the Amazons live in peace, with no men around to ruin it. Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who molded her out of clay, than prayed for Zeus to bring her to life. Legend tells that the Amazons are there to fight against the only ancient God left – Ares, God of War – and have been gifted a God Killer should he return. Diana is trained by her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), the fiercest warrior the Amazons have ever produced, just in case she is needed to fight. That day seemingly arrives when Diana witnesses a plane crash off the coast – and swims out of rescue the pilot. This is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) – who brings with him news of the War to End All Wars (WWI) – and a few boat loads of Germans determined to kill him. Diana is convinced that this war is the work of Ares – and that she must return with Steve to find and kill Ares, and thus free mankind for his evil, violent grip.
As Wonder Woman, Israeli actress Gal Gadot was an unexpected choice, who turns out to be perfect for the role. She has a wonderfully beautiful and expressive face that she uses to great effect in the film, as she is confused by this world she has stepped into that she knows nothing about. She is smarter and stronger than anyone else in the movie, but has stepped into a world where misogyny is the norm – although her way of dealing with it is to basically ignore it (if she even realizes what’s going on) and charged right through anyway. The various costumes that adorn her – from her Amazonian dress on Themyscira to the Suffragette ensemble she wears in London, to the iconic costume – she finally really breaks out late in the film Gadot exudes supreme confidence. She also exudes empathy – a quality that male superheroes seemingly lack – but the film doesn’t see this as her weakness, but rather another strength. I worried that given the three credited screenwriters were men, than they would turn Wonder Woman into either a male fantasy or just a male superhero with breasts – but they didn’t do either of those things. Gadot, who was the best thing about Batman v. Superman last year – delivers on that promise her.
It also needs to be said that she matched every step of the way by Chris Pine, who is charming and funny and downright adorable as Steve Trevor. He is used to being the smartest guy in the room – the most charming, dashing, handsome, confident and competent. He recognizes right away that when Diana is there, that’s no longer the case – but he’s not threatened by it. The two have a playful banter between them that feels genuine – the film works better as relationship drama than any previous superhero movie I can think, where the romance always seems tacked on and unnecessary – here it works.
The main problem with the film is the problem that many origin stories eventually run into – that they have to spend so much time setting things up, that they run out of time to adequately tell the supposed plot of the film. The film has a couple of villains – a German General (Danny Huston) and his brilliant chemist Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), who is developing a gas that will kill everyone. Supposedly the mission Diana, Steve and company go on is to stop them – but they hardly feel like fleshed out characters – but merely standings for other bad guys. The ending feels rushed in many ways – but then again, the film already runs well over two hours, how much longer could it be?
The film was directed by Patty Jenkins, marking her return to feature filmmaking following her debut film – the Oscar winning Monster way back in 2003. She was the right choice here, bringing with her genuine empathy for the characters, and stepping up for a few jaw dropping action sequences (the single handed WWI battle for Wonder Woman is an action highlight, better than anything yet in the DC universe).
In short, while Wonder Woman doesn’t reinvent the superhero movie, it is one of the best recent examples the genre has to offer. I wish my superhero obsessed daughter (whose favorite is Wonder Woman, thanks to DC Super Hero Girls) were just a little bit older, so I could take her to see this (I considered it, but especially after seeing the film, I think I made the right call – I don’t think I need to introduce her to the war stuff in this film quite this young). Nevertheless, as soon as she is old enough this will be the film I use to introduce her to this larger cinematic world. It is the film so many have been waiting for.