Directed by Patty Jenkins | Written by Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs, and Zack Snyder | 142 min
That sound you heard this past weekend was the massive, communal exhale by millions of filmgoers who made Wonder Woman the huge hit it deserves to be. The movie is the long-awaited female-led summer superhero picture that matches the good times we’ve come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ending DC’s stretch of dour, messy catastrophes by giving us a story with heart.
Diana of Themyscira (Gal Godot) was the bright spot in the otherwise lugubrious Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice last year, the Amazonian hero the only one having any fun, with the catchiest and most rocking superhero theme music we’ve heard in years. I can happily report it makes a welcome return in her own feature.
Here we get her backstory. She’s effectively immortal, raised in an other-dimensional island community of warrior women by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen, regal), and aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright, fierce). Their greatest enemy is the Greek God of War, Aries, who’s out there, fomenting World War I. Diana learns of the threat when an American spy working with the Brits, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands off a Themyscirian beach, the Germans in hot pursuit.
This draws Diana, capable, confident, and naive, into a world at war, accompanying Trevor to London and eventually to the front in Europe, where she sees some action, deflects bullets with her bracelets and flips a tank or two.
I knew the picture would deliver from the first 10 minutes, the vision of Themyscira both gorgeous and delightfully camp, not a far cry from Desmond Davis’s 1981 picture Clash Of The Titans—though much better than the recent remakes. The action sequences are especially creative—Katniss Everdeen could learn a thing or two about acrobatic archery from the Amazons. When Diana is exposed to the grim reality of life and death in the trenches, she takes it upon herself to fight the enemy head-on, and Jenkins borrows a lot of the slo-mo Snyder is so fond of, but uses it more deftly in both hand-to-hand combat sequences and when Diana is creaming the afore-mentioned heavy artillery.
Her character is an interesting one. She’s far more progressive and liberated than the women of the era (such as the underutilized Lucy Davis), but coming from a sheltered, idealized environment leaves her unprepared for the hardships and compromised values she encounters. It’s a fresh take on the superhero mythos, where the lead takes a journey from guileless to heartbroken to resolute in the values she was brought up with, finding strength in love despite a secret about her origins that threatens to derail her mission.
It helps no end that Gadot shows a solid and nuanced grasp of her character. She’s simply too cool to ever be the butt of a joke, but she’s savvy enough to know the kind of movie this is, that a tough earnestness is what’s required. And, for the first time in the DC-verse, the filmmakers have acknowledged there’s a reason Marvel has done so well with this kind of material. Jenkins and her screenwriters borrow generously from Thor (the fish-out-of-water laughs) and Captain America: The First Avenger (the strangely wholesome period war movie tropes, with Pine in the Hayley Atwell/Agent Carter role), but not slavishly. The picture also owes more than a little to Guillermo Del Toro, especially his first Hellboy movie. The villains here, played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya, are totally cut from the Mexican director’s evil steampunk cloth.
But, in some ways, despite these excellent forbearers, Wonder Woman drops the ball. The conclusion is more than a little daft, mirroring many a dull superhero CGI-fest for no good reason. There are hiccups in its internal logic—how exactly does Diana learn to deflect bullets when all she was trained to do was fight swords, spears, and arrows?—while some scenes feel rushed as character opportunities are squandered. There’s also Diana’s support team, a group of largely useless “chums,” who Trevor recruits for a mission to stop a terrible weapon, played by Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, and Eugene Brave Rock. They’re given reasonable introductions, and they’re summarily amazed at Diana’s exploits and powers, but their arcs are abandoned in the third act. Worse, Taghmaoui and Brave Rock’s characters suffer more than a little from ethnic stereotyping. And this movie’s handling of languages is totally confused.
All this acknowledged, I still had a lot of goodwill towards the picture and its warrior princess. Wonder Woman manages to present a genuinely badass leading female hero and gives her a sense of righteousness and, most importantly, fun, that we’ve been missing. The film’s success, critically and commercially, means we’ll see its like again, and that’s even more welcome news.
For now, let’s enjoy Wonder Woman. The movie is a ways from perfect, but it is good, which is what it had to be.