It’s a great time to be a fan of superhero and comic book movies. Studios are releasing them at a breakneck pace, and for the most part they have been pretty good. There are a few notable exceptions of course, and the DCEU has been home to most of those exceptions in the last few years. Films like Batman v Superman were just too dreary and failed to let the heroes involved shine. Even Suicide Squad, which was at least entertaining, was still a bit of a mess overall. Wonder Woman finally got her own movie in the DCEU, and based on the trailers and other released information I was cautiously optimistic. Does Wonder Woman buck the trend of tired, sad entrants into the DCEU? Keep reading this spoiler-free review to find out.
Since Wonder Woman has already been introduced in the DCEU (albeit rather poorly in BvS, but most of BvS was rather poor), the movie starts with a bit of reminiscing and flashback. Here we get a look at a bit of the Wonder Woman origin story. It’s a brief recap for anyone who may not be familiar, and it shows us just enough of Diana growing up on Themyscira among the Amazons. From a very young age it’s clear that Diana wants to be trained as a warrior, though her mother — Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) — tries to prevent that. Thankfully her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) has other ideas, and begins to train the Princess in secret. We get to see a bit of the Amazon life on Themyscira, and learn about how the Amazons came to live there. It is truly an idyllic place, but as you’d expect, something has to happen to cause Diana to leave. If you’ve seen any of the trailers you already have a pretty good idea of what that catalyst is. Diana sets out to protect innocent people, and prevent senseless killing, and we’re on our way with the rest of the story.
The overall story is solid. We understand Diana’s desire to help, how the transition from idyllic island paradise to the world of men affects her, and how some of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the outside world seem strange to her. That’s not in any way to say that Diana is naive, quite the opposite. She is incredibly intelligent and well-read, there are simply many things that she has not experienced. This leads to some humorously awkward conversation between Diana and Steve Trevor (Chris
Evans Pine) as well as some perfectly innocent and charming interactions in her first taste of the world at-large.
For a super hero movie, there was quite a lot of storytelling here, and that’s perfectly fine. There is plenty of action, don’t get me wrong, but we see Diana experiencing the world for the first time, and how experiencing the world in the middle of World War 1 shapes her actions and responses. She is a character that wants to protect the innocent and help prevent suffering, but she’s thrown immediately into an overwhelming situation where there’s really very little that she can do. I’ve talked more about plot here than I usually do, but there’s a lot that can be said without getting into too many specifics that would delve into spoiler territory. That’s not a bad thing at all.
Visuals here were fantastic. Everything on Themyscira is bright, beautiful, lush, truly a paradise. As we move to the middle of World War 1, the palette is obviously more subdued, and the tone shifts to a more drab color selection. Wardrobes are very effective, from the warrior attire of the Amazons, to the army uniforms and overall dress for the rest of humanity outside of Themyscira, everything fit with the appropriate time period. A few of the very obviously CGI sections were a bit muddled in a way that I wouldn’t think a movie with this type of budget should have been, but everything else looked pretty great.
I’ve been on board the Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman hype train for awhile now, and this movie has done nothing to diminish that. I’ve said before that she was by far the best part of BvS (again, admittedly low bar to clear), but here she’s really given room to shine. You’re able to really see the transition from her relatively sheltered life on Themyscira to the harsh realities of the rest of the world. From early on we see how she’s willing to jump in and help (sometimes quite literally) even when others won’t. Chris
Hemsworth Pine makes for a mostly believable soldier in the position he is in, and even manages to mostly keep his cool when confronted by the Amazons and an environment that he very clearly does not understand. Steve Trevor and Diana share a somewhat awkward chemistry due to what would be a pretty obvious attraction for Steve. He is, however, respectful throughout (as he should be). Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is great, as one would expect from the veteran actor. Etta (Lucy Davis) has one of my favorite lines in the movie that really pokes fun at a very specific movie trope. The rest of the cast is mostly pretty good. The ragtag group that Diana finds herself travelling with is very diverse with some very over-the-top personalities, but nothing that detracts too much from the rest of the story.
Everything from the story, the characters/acting, the score, etc. really came together to form a cohesive and complete movie, which while not perfect was quite a lot better than anything we’ve seen out of the DCEU recently. It is notable to mention (though really, it’s 2017, it really shouldn’t be THAT notable) the director, Patty Jenkins. This was the first major super hero film to be directed by a woman. Hopefully with this first one out of the way we’ll start to see more and more, because surprise, women can be fantastic directors too…
Wonder Woman is a first for a lot of reasons. Some of these reasons are pretty pathetic (there’s no good reason why we have seen so few major superhero movies with a female lead, and none at all with a female director before now), but I think most importantly, Wonder Woman represents the first truly good movie in the current DCEU. It’s not without flaws, but it presents a coherent, well thought out vision for how Wonder Woman should appear in the DC Extended Universe. I hope DC can continue this momentum and use this as a launching point to make some better movies, because they’ve got some great characters, they’ve just misused most of them pretty horribly in recent films. Thankfully they managed to get Wonder Woman right.