Director: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Robin Danny Huston, Lucy Davis and David Thewlis
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
Running Time: 2 Hrs, 1 Min
Wonder Woman is one of my favourite comic book characters and I’ve eagerly been anticipating her movie since the first trailer dropped at Comic Con last summer. I’ve eaten up every morsel DC and Warner have teased us with since then and Wonder Woman topped my list of most anticipated summer movies.
So I was a little concerned that I would view the film through fan boy coloured glasses. Plus, I was anticipating both Batman Vs. Superman and Suicide Squad and went into both of those DC films with high expectations. And I made no secret of my disappointment following those experiences. So when it was finally time to see Gal Gadot slinging the lasso of truth and the theatre went dark, I firmly put my cynic’s hat on and did my best to manage my expectations.
Turns out I had nothing to worry about.
Since time out of mind, an immortal race of female warriors created by the Gods known as the Amazons have lived on the mystically concealed island of Themyscira. There, they wait and they train for the possible return of Ares, the God of War who killed his fellow gods before being struck down by Zeus millennia ago. Among them is a single child, Diana, who is raised as a warrior despite her overprotective mother Hippolyta’s (Connie Nielsen) fierce objections.
But one day, Themyscira’s peaceful existence is shattered when a pilot fleeing the German army crashes on its shores. After a number of Amazon’s fall defending their home against the German army, a now fully-grown Diana (Gal Gadot) realizes the Amazons can no longer shun the outside world or the Great War that has consumed it. Once again she defies her mother’s wishes and ventures to Man’s world to return Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and end the war that has set the entire world ablaze.
If you’re looking for non-stop action, you may be a little disappointed. While Wonder Woman has plenty of well done action beats (we’ll get to that in a minute), it spends most of its time telling Diana’s story, developing her character and taking her on a journey of discovery. There are times it feels like a bit of a slow burn, but in the end your patience definitely pays off. Despite her extensive studies, when Diana first leaves Themyscira she is naive and almost innocent. Over the course of the movie her delusions and preconceptions are slowly peeled away and she is faced with the choice of surrendering to a hideous new reality or preserving her ideals.
This movie isn’t about introducing us to Wonder Woman or even telling her origin. It’s about showing us the values she lives by and how those ideals were shaped and sculpted by her experience. This is essentially the story of how she became a hero, and the choices she made to get from being an innocent to a warrior and saviour. And it does a perfect job of it. Diana isn’t Batman or Spider-Man, where her destiny is shaped by a single, tragic, earth-shattering event. She evolved into a hero. She chose to embrace it and this is the story of how that choice came to pass.
Joseph Campbell would have loved this movie.
As far as the action goes, while it isn’t a mile a minute thrill ride, the action scenes have plenty of strength and can stand on their own. They are well paced, each designed to reveal more and more of Wonder Woman’s power, gaining in intensity as the movie progresses. Once she actually hits the battlefields of World War I Europe, the action becomes more riveting and dynamic for her yet more intimate for her mortal companions. And the final showdown with the movie’s big bad during the climax does not disappoint. In fact, it could justifiably take its place among the top fight scenes in comic book movies today.
Director Patty Jenkins (who has never helmed an action movie of such size and scope and was looking to silence a lot critics) did an excellent job of balancing the action scenes and the storytelling. Chris Pine totally pulled off Steve Trevor, a man of action who accepts his eventual role as a second to the far more powerful and capable Diana (though he maintains enough presence to avoid the sidekick label). Pine also offers a lot of the film’s humour (an unusual amount for a DC film) and there are times you think your watching a lighter version of Captain Kirk. And Robin Wright is downright fierce as Diana’s aunt and legendary Amazon general Antiope.
But the real standout is relative newcomer Gadot as Wonder Woman. She is simply perfect for the role. A former member of the Israeli Special forces, Gadot put on 17 pounds of muscle for the role (and even completed some reshoots while she was five months pregnant). She didn’t just meet the physical demands of the role, she made it look easy and she provided the perfect blend of confidence, naiveté, defiance, self doubt, compassion and ferocity. There was never a point where you doubted her portrayal, whether she was taking down an entire battalion of German troops in No Man’s Land, schooling a room full of chauvinist male politicians or slow dancing beneath a snowfall following a pitched battle.
She shares a charming chemistry with Pine and the movie also deserves a lot of credit for depicting the world Diana enters when she abandons Themyscira’s shores. World War I Europe was not a place for women, especially the independent, intelligent, strong willed variety. But while Wonder Woman doesn’t shy away from the culture shock that Diana encounters or inspires (her mere presence in one room brings the political proceedings to a screeching halt), it avoids getting mired in it. It respects the history of the time without judging it (a near impossible task in any storytelling medium) and even uses the friction for a good portion of its levity.
And what is destined to become one of this summer’s most popular musical scores is played at exactly the right times.
Is Wonder Woman the perfect summer movie? It may just be. It’s definitely the most satisfying movie of the summer and its easily the best movie we’ve seen in DC’s Cinematic Universe so far. The true strength of this film is its ability to perfectly capture the spirit of the character, one of the most popular and revered in comic book history. Gadot’s portrayal, Patty Jenkins directing and the screenplay each represent a different layer of that success and they all work towards that goal.
At the end of the day, this was a pitch perfect portrayal of a comic book legend, the kind a polarized and troubled world could definitely use right now. It was perhaps the perfect origin movie for an icon and it while it definitely launched a new film franchise for Warner Brothers, it may also turn out to save the DCEU. I didn’t have much appetite in next November’s Justice League, but now I can’t wait to see more of Gadot’s Wonder Woman.
I’m willing to bet I’m not alone.