June 1, 2017
Let’s just get this out of the way upfront: Wonder Woman is great.
It’s a brilliant shift for the DC cinematic universe – proving they can have just as much fun as any of those other comic book movies – yet it isn’t such an outlier as to lose its place as part of something larger than itself. The special effects are mostly convincing, the fight sequences pack a heavy punch, and the dialogue is witty and well-served by the charm of both Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Chris Pine as Captain Steve Trevor.
In this first ever live-action film depicting Wonder Woman’s origins, we meet Diana as a child on the island of Themyscira. She is a princess in a society inhabited by the immortal Amazons, a race of women warriors created by the gods to “influence men’s hearts to love, and restore peace” to mankind. As she grows up, Diana trains to become the strongest and most powerful warrior on the island. Her abilities are first put to the test when Captain Steve Trevor, an American World War I pilot and spy, crashes into the waters around Themyscira with a group of German soldiers on his tail. Diana and the Amazons defeat the Germans and save Steve’s life. When she hears about “the war to end all wars” raging outside her own serene borders, Diana becomes convinced it’s the work of Ares, God of War, and believes it is her sacred duty to leave the island, find Ares, and defeat him.
Much of Wonder Woman’s fun comes in the fish out of water experiences that Diana and Steve navigate together. He can’t believe she’s never seen a man before, and she can’t believe women aren’t treated as equals in his world. Gadot brings warmth and an easy smile to the person of Diana Prince, but I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to explain the patriarchy to Wonder Woman, y’know? Chris Pine’s Steve gets the most laugh-out-loud funny line in the movie, but he resists the temptation to ham it up. Pine displayed a new level of depth in last year’s Hell Or High Water, and that ability to tap into the emotional center of a character is present here as well.
Gal Gadot is a perfect fit for her role as well and may just be the best superhero casting since Robert Downey, Jr as you-know-who. In Wonder Woman, Diana is young and inexperienced, but relentless in her pursuit of peace. She is a well-trained fighter, but untested, and it’s nothing short of delightful to watch her discover the extent of her abilities. Her genuine curiosity in the world around her, her unfailing empathy, and her feminist ideals lend multiple layers of meaning to her superhero moniker. Diana is full of both wonder and wonders, and Gadot captures both in equal measure.
For all its greatness, however, Wonder Woman is not a perfect movie. It falls into the trap of drawing its villains with broad strokes and gets bogged down in its depiction of who and what Diana is truly fighting against, which ultimately takes some of the power out of the resolution. The film introduces a crowd of interesting characters who get left by the wayside when Prince and Trevor take hard turns into each consecutive act, and the pacing of the story suffers for it.
As part of a group of movies that has struggled to please crowds and critics alike, however, these seem like minor issues. Wonder Woman is already one of the best reviewed superhero movies of all time, and for my money, it’s well deserved.
Just before the final showdown, Trevor leads Diana and his ragtag group of comrades in a toast: “May we get what we want, may we get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve.” I couldn’t help but think about the three most famous DC heroes in those same categories. With his unassuming human disguise and his fight for “truth, justice, and the American Way,” Superman is the hero we want. Batman, that selfish vigilante motivated by revenge, is probably – and unfortunately – the hero we deserve. But in a day when empathy is in short supply and fear and hatred are spewed in 140 characters or less, Wonder Woman, with her expectation of equality and belief that love and compassion can save the world, is truly the hero we need.
Star rating: 4 out of 5