Finally! After the below average Man of Steel and its terrible follow-ups, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, DC has course corrected (at least momentarily) with Wonder Woman. Not only is it far and away the best entry in the DC Universe, but it is also represents the best output from the comic-book giant in the near-decade long gap since The Dark Knight.
Wonder Woman opens like a Disney fairy tale with Diana (Gal Gadot), a young Amazonian princess, growing up and training on the hidden island of Themyscira. One fateful day, a WWI spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crashes on the island in a desperate attempt to escape a pursuing German fleet. Convinced that the Great War is the work of the last surviving Greek deity, Ares the god of war, Diana joins Steve in an effort to take down General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) before he unleashes a brutal, lethal gas weapon on the Allies on the eve of armistice.
Sporting a well-balanced fish-out-water story with a period war drama, Wonder Woman is both refreshingly hilarious and moving (two elements the previous DCU films eschewed). This is particularly due to an emphasis on character and story (shocking). Diana has an engaging story arc, displaying a vulnerable yet strong persona. Her naivete with the outside world provides the film with some of its biggest laughs and Gal Gadot’s sly smiles and furor reminds its audience that these films are meant to be fun.
Gadot, one of the very few bright spots in Batman v Superman, is simply amazing bringing a sense of unexpected poignancy to the part. She exudes the exotic aura of a mythical princess whilst keeping the character fairly grounded (despite her proclivity for heroic football field-lengthed leaps). Her chemistry with Pine, himself much more than a token love interest, is remarkable and their relationship throughout the film isn’t emblematic of a forced romantic interlude (the only thing forced concerning Pine is an obligatory semi-nude scene). The supporting players are enjoyable with nary a hint of ascribed idiocy to artificially inflate the intelligence of the main characters (a trope that’s becoming more and more annoying – partly due to the laziness of the screenwriters, not to mention the lack of confidence towards the creations they’re scripting).
Director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg deftly avoid the easiest trap that could have consumed such a production – that of crafting a flawless, omnipotent vision of perfection to service as a marketable role model. Good role models are ones that earn their reputations by overcoming more than just narrative peril. Recognizing that character flaws aren’t symptoms of weak characterization but relatable, humanizing traits, Jenkins successfully brings to life a character that is far more than a costumed stand-in for a beloved icon. This is a trait that the best comic book adaptations share from Tony Stark in Iron Man to the Guardians of the Galaxy as a whole. With this consideration in mind, it’s not surprising that others have alluded that this film is more akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than its own bespattered brethren.
Well, that and color. COLOR! Unlike the moody gray, blue, and black hues that stained and obscured the canvases of the other DCU productions, Wonder Woman is a polychromed stimulant to the series. While its slow-motion effects and CGI go a bit over-the-top (especially during the climactic battle), they do little to hurt a film whose more intriguing struggles aren’t solely compressed in action spectacle.
Truth be told, there are many parallels with the original Captain America: The First Avenger (the period war setting; the patriotic colors and shield; love interest with an officer; the time jump) and Thor (fish-out-of-water; fabled, unknown city from ancient mythology; invulnerability and old school armor; human love interest). Some are a consequence of the original comic book story while others are more questionable (without delving into spoilers). Call it either homage or rip-off, inspiration or coincidence, but the overall result is effective, applying the best attributes of the other films while discarding their more glaring missteps.
While not without its own missteps, specifically a predictable twist and an over-the-top physical climactic battle that is tonally disparate from the rest of the production, Wonder Woman lives up to…well…its title and serves as a perfect paradigm for how to weave good social messages in a mainstream film without flagrancy and condescension.
With the exception of present day bookends – à la Captain America – Wonder Woman is a stand-alone, period movie. This is a quality which may serve it well if the rest of the DCU falls prey to the same pitfalls that plagued its previous attempts. If Wonder Woman ends up being the lone good film in the series, it single-handedly makes the entire endeavor worth it just for brilliantly bringing the character to life after a far too long wait.