After bungling Superman, Batman and a slew of reformed villains, DC’s live-action universe finally gets it right with Wonder Woman. Director Patty Jenkins assembles a workable origin story around the title character and allows her star to do the heavy lifting. That’s not a bad strategy when your lead is a ferocious and determined Gal Gadot, taking this movie on her shoulders and cementing her star status, giving fans a Wonder Woman that doesn’t lean on the iconography so much as amplifies it.
It’s perhaps fitting that Wonder Woman owes more to the competition than actual cinematic cousins Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The First Avenger had its work cut out for it when it came out in 2011. A period piece set during a world war and starring a character that was arguably the studio’s hardest sell designed as the lead-in to a gigantic team-up film. Sounds kinda familiar, no?
But really, why shouldn’t Wonder Woman mirror elements of Captain America? The unfortunately-titled DC Extended Universe up to now has put out three divisive, violent, generally downer films that haven’t exactly pleased the whole of fandom or critics. Marvel, on the other hand, has a formulaic but usually satisfying stable of films that rely more on humor and character strength than the angsty, wrought Grrrr We’re Gods Among Men! themes of DC’s slate thus far.
Like Captain America, WW also benefits from a setting and time frame that isolates it from its shared universe, allowing for an organic, self-contained story that doesn’t fall victim to awkward tie-ins or cameos. Told as a flashback, WW begins in the fantastical Themyscira, home of the Amazons, a society of women warriors created by Zeus. Allan Heinberg’s script does a good job anchoring all of the zany mythology around the story of Diana’s upbringing and training. When it comes time for the real world tragedy of World War I to intervene, Diana is already a fully-grown adult fully capable of kicking all the ass there is to kick. And it’s at that point in the film, when we leave the beautiful, lush Themyscira for cold and battered London, that Wonder Woman hits its stride and surpasses anything we’ve seen from the DCEU up to this point.
Zack Snyder’s greatest contribution to these movies may very well be the casting of Gal Gadot. Easily the best component of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gadot’s performance as Diana Prince makes a standalone film about a warrior woman crafted out of clay and given life by Zeus not just feasible, but necessary; not an easy task. Gadot carries all of that charisma and charm into this new film and adds layers and nuances that her diminished role in BvS didn’t afford. Gadot, and by extension Wonder Woman, displays heroism through what feels like real empathy; a trait that’s been lacking in these DC films up to now. And when the script dials up the action Gadot becomes a one-woman wrecking crew while her male counterpart bumbles and takes shelter. Speaking of…
This film is anchored by a dynamic and compelling relationship in the form of Diana and her comic book boyfriend, pilot and spy Steve Trevor, played here by Chris Pine. Every good fish-out-of-water story comes with a solid romantic foil, and the charming and legitimately funny Trevor fits the bill. It doesn’t hurt that chemistry between Pine and Gadot is palpable. There’s a push and pull here, an actual pulse to this affair that makes Henry Cavill and Amy Adams’ on-screen romance seem even more dead in comparison. As far as pairings go in comic book films in general, this is one of the better ones.
Wonder Woman isn’t without its stumbles. A well-paced adventure film gets interrupted to return you to your regularly scheduled Final Boss Battle that seems to be the order of the day for these things now. A late stage reveal doesn’t land like it should and the ensuing battle drags on way longer than needed. Put simply: Wonder Woman is a really good film befitting of a slightly better ending than the one it gets, even if it still hits some decent dramatic notes in wrapping things up.
Despite that crappy finish, Wonder Woman still excels on the strength of its leads and some slick direction from Jenkins. WW is the buffer fans deserve before Justice League. It’s the sorbet that clears the palate after the sour taste of Batman v Superman. More than that, it’s a worthy cinematic arrival for a beloved comic character, one that’s long overdue. It has taken 76 years for Diana Prince to get her own movie. Fans deserved a film that got it right on the first try. Thankfully this one does.