Wonder Woman has been around for almost a century. Though the ’70s tv series has its fan base there’s been nothing for the non-Baby-Boomer crowd to latch their hands on. Xena: Warrior Princess definitely filled the void but even that ended just after the new millennium. Luckily, the heroine that has inspired many for decades has finally come to life.
Wonder Woman is not the absolute feminist dream — no Hollywood blockbuster could be — but it’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s devilishly witty, sexy, fierce and passionate. Superheros always stand for something — it’s what most of the DC films have been missing and, on some level, something the Marvel films have overdone. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman finds a happy medium in its outsider’s journey in a world she has never known and the frustration and anger of someone who knows in her heart what is right and good and will defy anyone who tries to stop her.
The film is bookended with “present-day” Wonder Woman. The events of Batman v Superman have unfolded and an unseen Bruce Wayne is still inquiring about this mysterious woman’s story. Luckily for us, we get to see it: Diana (Gal Gadot), Princess of Themyscira, lives with her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), in a hidden island given to them by Zeus to protect them from Ares. Diana dreams of becoming an Amazon warrior but her mother forbids it, telling her tragic stories of bloodshed and carnage between the Gods and mankind. Yet, Diana is persistent and persuades her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), to train her. Once Hippolyta discovers her daughter’s intentions she reluctantly agrees to the tutelage, while casting a nervous eye as Diana’s God-like powers emerge. Soon Diana is the young woman we know: Fierce but gentle and, most notably, righteous.
When Steve Trevor, a World War I pilot, crashes off the coast of the island, Diana is finally introduced to the carnage that exists just outside the veil of the islet which keeps their utopia a secret. German soldiers follow Trevor through the veil and wage battle against the Amazons. The German soldiers are defeated but Antiope is killed protecting our hero. Diana, now knowing what men are capable and aware of the war raging across the globe, makes a decision to go with Trevor and kill Ares. As Hippolyta catches her leaving in the dead of night she tells Diana, “You have been my greatest love. Tonight you are my greatest sorrow,” and all of our hearts break together.
What makes this film a clear standout against other DC universe films is its themes. Being more of a Marvel person myself I found myself disappointed that one of my favorite heroes and icons would be controlled by a team that largely focuses on angst and despair. Luckily the darkness that falls on the previous Zack Snyder/DC Universe is largely non-existent here. The Wonder Woman team is able to bring light to the DC Universe with Wonder Woman’s message of hope and love and comes out the other end as the clearly superior DC film.
When Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman it was a bittersweet day. When the world rejoiced it was because we were to see one of the key female icons on the big screen. The world moaned because of an endless slew of reasons — some were warranted and some were petty and immature. For me, the major negative was having to watch her play mommy, sandwiched between angsty Batfleck and dull Henry Cavill.
The biggest opposition from the fanbase had to do with her appearance — she’s too thin, she’s not muscular enough. What this film showed us is that Gadot has plenty of muscle but in truth she doesn’t really need them. There were plenty of people talking about how gorgeous she is but in the next sentence was the same concern: can she act? Batman v Superman left us without a real answer and her other body of work doesn’t warrant a lot of promise. Her stoicism is emphasized by the dull shadows of Affleck and Cavill. Perhaps the only thing the over-bloated Batman v Superman succeeded in proving is that Wonder Woman can murder you with a glance. When that Hans Zimmer/Junkie XXL cello-forward theme strums on high-volume even a skeptic like me got chills. In Wonder Woman that chill stayed with me for the entire run-time.
Still, it’s hard to take on someone as powerful as Wonder Woman. It’s hard to appear all-knowing when you’re an actress that is not Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton. As Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, Gal Gadot is exactly that right amount of determined, witty and passionate: It’s a combination that makes her Superman-like sense of justice interesting and endearing. Gal’s voice is sweet but raspy, giving the impression she has lived much longer than she has and spoke much harsher words than we’ve heard. She is outraged by injustice — “Where I come from that’s called slavery” — giving perfectly delivered social commentary to even the film’s best comic beats. Her purity and and fire are admirable and an entertaining contrast, something she seems to effortlessly capture. Sweet but not sour — harsh but fair. She is stoic until encouraged either by sheer curiosity or the tragedy of human suffering.
When the casting of Chris Pine as Steve Trevor was announced I knew this film was in good hands. He is always charming and brings great emotion to the role. Occasionally you can see him acting but it’s never unenjoyable. Lucky for Pine he isn’t forced into the same traps as most of the male superhero’s love interests. He’s given depth and tear-jerking moments. He is Diana’s equal in our eyes and hers, something which cannot be said for most other action and superhero films. That’s just how it works. They go low, we go high.
Wonder Woman’s villains are not necessarily distinctive but at least look and feel menacing. Danny Huston as Ludendorff — the real-life German general — is a surprisingly low-brow villain but evades and rages when needed. The poison maker, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), looks like a pining, manic phantom of the opera. Her appearance is so bone-chilling that she could be on par with Hannibal Lecter, but, as with most super-villains, she becomes more of a campy, soapbox monologuer than an authentic representation of human terror and cruelty.
The visual effects were definitely lacking, which worked out for the best. An even bigger budget may have given them more time and dedication to perfect some of the rough CGI failures — particularly with the end battle. At least here, with what the CGI effects failed to do, the actual story and stunt-work managed to be hoisted up high, high above most other films (at least the recent DC universe ones). This matched with the stunt-oriented, stylish camerawork and brought the action and story into a nice mix. I’ll take story over dazzle any day.
The wit and sexiness of it all will likely surprise most audiences. I found myself asking, “what is this movie?” more times than not. It’s occasionally erotic or as erotic as a PG-13 superhero film can be. It gets an A+ for innuendo. There’s so many that, more often than not, I’m sure I missed a few of them — which is reason enough to merit a re-watch.
Wonder Woman does exactly what most of the audience wants: it addresses issues of women and female power. It’s not at the center of the film — aside from the main character being a woman — and works better that way. The subtle issues that arise as we witness Diana navigating this alien place where her gender is attached to a specific expectation. Her morality and sense of justice color why she doesn’t understand this mistreatment, but also shows that she knows her own worth. She makes her own way. I honestly just feel very blessed and I’m sure I won’t be the only woman going into the hair salon in the next few weeks and asking for the Gal Gadot, but you better believe I’ll be buying a sword off Amazon (pun-intended) soon after.
Ultimately, the war epic and themes of sacrifice, duty and hope make Wonder Woman the Captain America of the DC universe. It’s idealism and hope drive the narrative and inspire its audiences. Sadly for Wonder Woman, she must bear the burden of being as great as all the prior Marvel films while her cohorts crawl feebly after her. Better watch out, her wristlets will deflect anything you throw her way and, when you’re not looking, she’ll be slow-motion twirling her way around your neck. Hold your breath–she’s here.