In a year filled with sequels that are introducing or expanding cinematic universes, fans are finally getting a breath of fresh air with one of the oldest and most iconic characters in the genre. A few years ago, a female-driven superhero movie sandwiched between the testosterone-driven juggernaut of Marvel and DC’s chiseled leading men seemed unlikely. The idea of the blockbuster “cinematic universe” movie is starting to slowly cannibalize itself with repetition, but Patty Jenkins’ near-perfect Wonder Woman may have just put the whole genre on her back, along with putting every other superhero film on notice. With inspired performances from Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, and Chris Pine, Wonder Woman is an origin story that rises above the tried and true formula that we’ve been used to for almost a decade. It tells a story about duty, redemption, human nature, and ultimately, love as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman comes of age in war-torn 1910’s Europe.
Setting the movie during the Great War was a risk, but during the movie it becomes clear that it is an allegory for the divide between gender, race, and society that are largely still faced today. Where most period-movies of the same genre (Captain America: The First Avenger) took a look at these times through the rose-tinted glasses of a heterosexual white male, Wonder Woman flips the conventions on its ear—telling audiences an earnest story about equality with the titular character at the center. Jenkins’s Wonder Woman carries an air of apprehension, partially due to the tepid reaction to last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it is its own self-contained movie. Gadot gives the movie and the genre a breath of fresh air, helping carry the movie through its humorous and (surprisingly) dark moments. Wonder Woman, much like Superman: The Movie before it, is bigger than just superhero movies, it’s an important movie, period. Here is everything that Wonder Woman got right, and a few things that it stumbled upon on its way to greatness.
What It Got Right
Gal Gadot: Haters can put their worries to rest—Gal Gadot kills it as Wonder Woman. I’m happy to say that she goes above and beyond to not only make this her breakout role, but the definitive version of the character. From the moment she’s introduced, to the instantly iconic moment when you finally see her in her traditional Wonder Woman armor—she embodies the spirit and the beauty of Diana Prince. She also shows a few ranges character-wise that I didn’t expect throughout the movie. From childlike naiveté to the heartache of losing her loved ones, Gadot bounces off of her co-stars and handles the emotional weight of the movie at a level that is awe-inspiring. She doesn’t just become Wonder Woman, she IS Wonder Woman and I can’t wait to see where she can take the character from here.
Chris Pine: The chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine is the connective tissue of Wonder Woman, as the movie focuses much of its runtime on the relationship between Wonder Woman/Diana and the wily double agent Steve Trevor. Pine acts as the wingman of sorts to Wonder Woman’s understanding of how life outside of Themyscira works—providing equal parts commentary and comedy. The “fish out of water” scenes with he and Diana work because of his commitment and authenticity to the morally torn spy that he’s playing. Pine nails the character without overshadowing Gadot by chewing too much scenery, showing an emotional honesty that most secondary characters in the Superhero genre can barely reach.
The Themes: Taking place in the middle of the disgustingly tragic World War I, Wonder Woman places its characters interestingly within a turning point of the world. Framing the ascension of Diana within this period as an agent of change, the movie allows audiences to see how backwards things were back then through the purity of its main character. Women aren’t equal, races don’t intermingle, and politics intertwine with the lives of innocent people—themes that are touched on within the movie. Wonder Woman’s biggest theme is perhaps a bigger message about the world itself—the importance of love. Perhaps bigger than her quest to learn about humans, Diana’s discovery of what it means to care for people regardless of who they become is a powerful message throughout the story—told in an earnest way that doesn’t feel cheap. Wonder Woman draws a clear comparison to the problems that plague our current society, also. Posing a question to the characters in the movie and the audience at large about who we point the finger at for the ills of the world, Diana becomes familiar with an enemy that isn’t just a single omnipresent threat, but the machinations of man itself. This is a movie that has something to say, and it speaks through the right character to display it.
Wonder Woman is Badass: We got a glimpse of how cool Wonder Woman was from her small cameo appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that’s just a small fraction of the badass things that she shows off in her debut solo movie. Director Patty Jenkins frames every bit of her movements with the flair of some of the most esteemed comic book artists, creating action scenes that are equal parts brutal and almost operatic—with Wonder Woman pirouetting through the air to take out multiple attackers. What stands out the most is that that she’s ultimately true to her character as nurturer and protector. She’s a hero in every sense of the word and the movie doesn’t take any shortcuts in showing how selfless the character is. Whether it’s crossing the dreaded “No Mans Land” with only a shield in one of the biggest set pieces in the movie, or her earth shattering final fight in the third act, Wonder Woman has put every single superhero from Marvel to DC on notice.
Self Contained Story: In a cinematic universe filled with overstuffed movies and seemingly endless cameos—Wonder Woman is a rare superhero movie that manages to keep it contained to one character. There are no stingers, no end credit Easter eggs, no cameos, and no other MEN that take the attention away from the titular character. And the movie is better for it. In the same way that this movie is setting the table for female-led superhero movies, it also makes a case for the big two (MCU, DCCU) to scale back on their insistence to sell another movie in order to tell a better story. Kudos to Patty Jenkins and writers Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs for understanding the importance of creating a lasting character instead of a two-hour trailer. Hopefully we’ll get the same for the upcoming Aquaman movie as well.
What It Got Wrong
Weak, underdeveloped antagonists/protagonists: With so much attention given to Wonder Woman/Diana’s evolution, it’s a given that a few things would fall through the cracks, namely the secondary characters. They simply aren’t given any time to grow or become people that we care about. Starting with the underwritten antagonists Erich Ludendorff and Dr. Poison, played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya respectively—they are your run-of-the-mill moustache twirling baddies with German soldier uniforms. Neither are given an archetype other than “evil,” and when one of them is given a moment of possible sympathy, it’s neither transformative for them (or Diana) nor particularly earned within the movie. The same goes for the ragtag group of soldiers that accompany Steve and Diana throughout the movie. They are a band of multicultural, similarly broken characters that are faced with the harsh realities of a racially separated world and psychologically draining world war. However, other than a few throwaway lines of dialogue, their revelations are usually over within a few minutes and ultimately toothless. It’s a shame that we don’t get a lasting impression of these characters, but it is understandable that some edges would be cut to fit in all of Wonder Woman’s backstory and evolution.
Third Act Is a Little Goofy: Simply put, the third act of Wonder Woman goes full on, Dragon Ball Z-style Anime in a good and bad way. In an attempt to not only wrap up every loose end in the movie as well as introduce a plot twist (that I won’t spoil here) that most will see coming within 30 minutes, the movie falls into the same issue as every other movie in the genre. There are a plethora of different emotional beats and action scenes that take place within this timeframe and it turns a reasonably paced movie into a jarring rollercoaster ride to the end. This isn’t enough to sink Wonder Woman as a whole, but the third act is an admittedly small section in the movie that didn’t hit it out of the park. This doesn’t change that fact that Wonder Woman is an all time classic—restarting a stale genre with a fresh breath of air and giving viewers a new hero to rally around. Wonder Woman isn’t just important for the box office, but it’s important for the argument surrounding diversity everywhere.