She is a member of the Justice League and forms one third of DC Comics’ Trinity. Alongside Superman and Batman, she represents the core values of the DC Universe heroes. She is a princess and warrior. She is an Amazon. To some, a god. She fights to protect those who cannot fight for themselves. She fights for truth and justice, but most importantly, she fights for love and equality. She is the most iconic female superhero in the world. She is Wonder Woman.
And in 2017, some 76 years after she first appeared in the pages of All-Star Comics #8, Wonder Woman is headlining her first ever feature film. Billed as the next chapter in Warner Bros.’ still growing DC Extended Universe, Wonder Woman introduces Diana of Themiscyra to the world she’s always longed to protect. Raised in isolation on an island paradise, Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and the only child among the immortal Amazons. Sculpted from clay and given life by Zeus, Diana becomes the mightiest of warriors, trained harder than any Amazon before by her aunt, General Antiope. And when the Allied spy, Steve Trevor, crash lands on the island, bringing World War I to the Amazon’s very doorstep, Diana is compelled to leave and help end the ‘war to end all wars’.
To do so, she takes with her the Lasso of Truth — a lariat imbued with the fires of the goddess, Hestia, forcing those held by it to speak the truth — and the Godkiller sword, the only item capable of slaying Ares, the God of War and who Diana believes responsible for corrupting the hearts of men. Alongside Steve Trevor and a ragtag group of soldiers, Diana goes to the western front where she meets The Great War head on, witnessing its horrors first hand and inspiring the Allies to fight on.
Wonder Woman is a revelation. Its tone is uplifting, its message heartfelt, its depiction of its heroine earnest. Cynicism is the enemy in Wonder Woman, and the film marks an obvious shift in tone for the DCEU. Diana embodies the heart and soul (and even the humor!) their cinematic universe has been lacking from the very start.
Director Patty Jenkins helms what is a strong and straightforward origin for a superhero known the world over yet rarely understood. Allan Heinberg’s script sets a steady path for Diana’s hero’s journey, with challenges that at first appear insurmountable, but with persistence and compassion, Diana succeeds. She doesn’t come to “man’s world” to prove she’s better than anyone else or to fix all of humanity’s problems — instead, Diana is an inspiration, urging humanity to listen to the better angels of their nature and fight to protect those they love. Wonder Woman is a stirring film, with a hero driven by something that’s sadly in short supply these days: empathy.
As Diana, Gal Gadot is a delight, making her an especially enjoyable character to watch on screen. She carries herself with poise and strength, which gives Diana authenticity. When she says she’s going to so do something, she does it. There is a depth to her character beyond being a fearsome warrior. She can coo over a cute baby or enjoy ice cream just as easily as she can lift a tank or withstand a barrage of gunfire. Diana also has her ideas about the world challenged, learning that good isn’t universal. She’s naive, but never unsure of herself or her mission.
Chris Pine is equally as charming as Steve Trevor, bringing an honesty to his portrayal of a soldier sick of the killing and desperate to end the war. His and Gadot’s rapport drives much of what makes Wonder Woman so enjoyable, depicting a sincere romance between two individuals who share a deep respect and love for one another. Theirs is easily the most deftly handled superhero romance since Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter.
A solid story is only made all the more enjoyable by its characters, and accompanying these two great leads is a largely great ensemble. Connie Nielson strikes a noble Hippolyta, and Robin Wright’s Antiope is as fierce as she is beautiful. In fact, the Amazons as a whole are such highlight that sequels better figure out way for them to return. Lucy Davis is downright adorable at Etta Candy, and it’s a shame she only features in a few scenes. Fighting alongside Diana and Steve at the front is an interesting mix of a Indian secret agent with dreams of being an actor (Said Taghmaou), a shell-shocked Scottish sharpshooter (Ewen Bremner), and a Native American who makes his way trading goods to either side (Eugene Brave Rock). They are a fun bunch, but their characters are more like sketches than fully realized people, existing for Diana to make some observation or come to a realization. Still, Taghmaou, Bremner, and Brave Rock play off each other well, helping to realize the team’s dynamic.
Though a remarkable film for a number of reasons, Wonder Woman is somewhat hindered by underwhelming villains and a third act battle that can’t quite live up to the action which precedes it. For the majority of the film, Diana is in pursuit of Ares, who she believes is masquerading the German general, Ludendorff (Danny Huston). He’s instructed the brilliant chemist, Dr. Maru a.k.a. Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) to create new poisonous gasses to unleash on the front lines in hopes of extending the war. The pair are serviceable villains, but there is also a final act twist employed which feels an awful lot like the movie wanted a twist and just made one happen, earned or not. Because of this, neither these villains or the real villain are allowed the screen time to fully develop in their relation to Diana.
The final battle between Diana and Ares is, like the villains overall, serviceable, but it’s a sequence that certainly won’t be pointed to when discussing Wonder Woman‘s great action. Instead, those moments are when the Amazons are charging German soldiers on the beaches of Themiscyra, or Diana leading the soldiers out of the trenches — a moment that is incredibly empowering and thankfully doesn’t include some cliche line about it being Diana, a woman, who is able to cross no man’s land. For the most part, Wonder Woman‘s fight scenes are dynamic and thrilling, though the bullet time/slow-mo is a tad overused.
There was and still is a ridiculous amount of pressure riding on this movie to succeed. It’s the first superhero film of the modern era with a woman as the lead and a woman behind the camera. It’s the latest opportunity for WB to prove their cinematic universe can rival Marvel’s in earnings if not popularity. And it’s most moviegoers very first experience with Wonder Woman — a loving superhero for a time poisoned by fearmongering and hate. On all accounts, Wonder Woman is win, delivering the earnest and sincere hero we so desperately need.