(This review is in two parts. The spoiler free review is at the top, with a clearly labeled section with spoilers following after it.)
I have followed Wonder Woman’s development since Warner Bros confirmed that she would be brought to the big screen in October of 2013. Watching the creative process was discouraging due to directors leaving the project and the crushing disappointment of all the other DC films so far. I had lost all hope in this film being any good until we started seeing stunning footage and amazing trailers. Despite being burned before, I couldn’t help but begin to believe that my favorite hero might get the movie that she deserved.
I was not disappointed. Wonder Woman is an excellent movie.
Patty Jenkins did what so many others said was impossible. She brought Wonder Woman to life in a way that will please comic purists and general movie-goers alike. It has everything that the other DC movies lacked: color, genuine humor, and most importantly, appropriate pacing that gives us time to form emotional connections to the main characters. I have no idea how she managed to herd all the cats at Warner Bros into doing things her way, but I will be eternally grateful to her. She managed to make a super hero movie that is action packed but has a distinctly feminine tone to fit with a female protagonist. AND it somehow still makes sense in the dumpster fire of a cinematic universe that Snyder created. Miracles CAN HAPPEN!
Gal Gadot knocked it out of the park as Wonder Woman. She does an excellent job of contrasting Diana’s vast ancient Amazonian knowledge with her naiveté of man’s world. She stays true to the character’s comic book roots by caring deeply for others, while also being an incredibly kickass fighter. We follow her as she discovers the extent of her own powers, cheering for her successes and mourning her losses. I’ll admit I had serious reservations about Gal when she was first cast. Her un-athletic body type and lack of acting credits worried me (getting your ass groped in Fast and the Furious isn’t exactly confidence inspiring) but her Diana is charming, relatable and strong.
The Amazons are one of the highlights of the film. They are pulled directly from the pages of George Perez’s Wonder Woman run, which should make a lot of purists very happy. Through excellent costume design, on-location shoots, and casting scores of real athletes, the production team creates a vivid culture that sets the tone for Wonder Woman’s personality throughout the film. Hippolyta (Connie Neilson) is a wonderful mother to Diana and magnificent Queen of the Amazons, but Wonder Woman’s badass aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), is sure to be the fan favorite. The action sequences with the Amazonian army are incredible, with some of the best fight choreography and horsemanship I have seen in recent years. I got goosebumps watching an army of incredible, multi-ethnic female fighters in action. You will too.
The supporting cast does an excellent job of helping the story along, while keeping the focus on Wonder Woman herself. Chris Pine balances Steve Trevor’s roles as a leading man, love interest and side kick. He is a capable, cocky American soldier who’s heartfelt need to end the terrible war that is ripping the world apart inspires Diana to join in the fight. I haven’t been a big fan of his before, but he does a great job in Wonder Woman. The rag-tag bunch of fighters he assembles to help them win the war are less compelling. They are multiracial, which is great, but they are mostly two dimensional and not always very well acted. There are a lot of set ups without much payoff, leaving us with the feeling that some of their story was cut on the editing room floor. Lucy Davis plays Etta Candy, an often forgotten character from early Wonder Woman comics, and is a fun addition to the film, although their shopping sequence is a bit drawn out. She is a stark contrast to the Amazons, but a welcome female presence in the male dominated culture of man’s world.
The movie’s biggest weakness is its villains. They are canon characters from the Wonder Woman comics, but for the most part they seem underwhelming. There is some doubt as to how big a threat they pose, and the ending is predicable. The final battle slips into Snyder-esque visuals that could have been cut and pasted from the Doomsday battle in Batman v Superman. It’s a change in style from the rest of the film, but I suppose that we had to see Snyder’s fingerprints somewhere on this project. This is probably the least damaging sequence where he could rear his ugly head, and there are still some really great moments in there that show Diana’s true character.
Wonder Woman is easily as good as any of the Marvel origin story movies, but doesn’t quite reach the level of The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. It is easily the best DC movie since Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It is also the first of the recent DC movies that I’d feel comfortable sharing with children. Over all, the film is a wonderful triumph after so many years of cynics saying it was impossible and I look forward to watching it again and again.
WARNING: End of spoiler-free review. DETAILS AND SPOILERS AHEAD!!! CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
As a longtime reader of Wonder Woman comics, I am thrilled that they didn’t sanitize Diana’s backstory to make her “more relatable” for movie audiences. She is still the only child of the Amazons, sculpted from clay by Hippolyta and brought to life by the Greek gods. They tweaked the Greek mythology a bit, but Diana’s basic story stays intact, along with her super powers and Lasso of Truth.
Wonder Woman starts with an unnecessary modern day intro, which unfortunately reminds us of its ties to Batman v Superman, but the real movie starts on Themyscira. We follow Diana as she grows from an overprotected child-princess into a trained warrior with an idealized view of combat. Young Diana (Lilly Aspell) is delightful, with witty lines and impressive horsemanship. Jenkins takes the time to develop the Amazons and their relationships with each other. Their battle on the beach is a sand and sandals action sequence on the scale of any in 300. Watching the Amazons triumph over their invaders is amazing, but it is also heartbreaking to watch them discover the deadly power of guns and General Antiope, one of the best characters in the film, is killed. In these moments we watch Diana learn the harsh realities of war, and the horror of it starts her on the path to man’s world. Some critics are calling this portion of the movie a “slog of a backstory,” but from a storytelling perspective it lays the foundation of Wonder Woman’s character for the rest of the film. I think this was time well spent and it is my favorite section of the movie. (Considering that the trailers for Justice League have shots of the Amazons in battle, I think it’s probably setting the stage for a lot more than just this movie too!)
The movie uses Steve Trevor to bridge the gap between the audience and the more far-fetched aspects of Diana’s origin. It is an effective tactic, which was also used in the Wonder Woman animated film of 2009. Gal and Chris have great chemistry and they manage to make some fairly campy scenes work. The best example of this is a scene on Themyscira where Diana walks in on Steve Trevor while he is bathing, and there is an “above average” elephant in the room. We later learn that while Diana has never seen a man, she is very well read on the subject and is unsurprised by the features of Steve’s anatomy. There are some delightfully awkward moments between them that successfully lend humor and humanity to what could have been a very severe story.
Unlike Lois Lane and Superman in recent DCEU films, Diana and Steve Trevor have a surprisingly balanced relationship. When they first meet on Themyscira, he is the charming “fish out of water” who is completely ignorant of Amazon society. However, when they travel to man’s world the roles are reversed and Diana is the one forced to navigate a completely foreign culture. They learn from the each other and it becomes clear that each has their own strengths. Diana is in a different league as far as her fighting skills and education, but Steve uses his street smarts and connections to help her reach her goals. The best thing about their romance is that it takes a back seat to Diana’s larger mission. Their connection helps Diana learn to understand the nature of mankind, but their romantic moments are just sprinkled in between larger events. Both characters are motivated by their drive to end the war, not their budding feelings for each other. It’s a huge relief that Wonder Woman avoids the trap of becoming a story about their romance. Steve plays his part, but it stays Diana’s story.
The movie does suffer from being predictable. Anyone who knows classic comic book or movie formulas will guess what is happening pretty quickly. Dr. “Poison” Maru (Elena Anaya) is under utilized. The movie tries to set up General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) as Ares, the Greek god of war and Diana’s ultimate foe, but the minute we see David Thewlis as Sir Patrick we guess that there is more to him than meets the eye. It is revealed that he is actually Ares and the climactic battle that ensues is the least inspired part of the film. They move away from the acrobatic method of combat that Wonder Woman uses through the rest of the film into a Batman v Superman style big blast battle that levels everything around them. It’s a little desensitizing and there are a few points where I wonder if keeping stuffy Sir Patrick’s face and mustache on the God of War was a good creative choice. There is also a fair amount of monologue-ing as Ares tells Diana that she is a young god/demi-god (which finally explains New 52 style electronic blasts that we see her use) and that Zeus created her to defeat Ares. (WHY WOULD YOU TELL HER THAT? DUMB SUPER VILLAIN!) It is an interesting tweak to the reason that Zeus brought her to life, and also explains why Hippolyta was so worried about her becoming a warrior. I like these details, but wish they’d been revealed in a more elegant way.
The most interesting thing about this fight was that we see Diana finally let loose. It is awe-inspiring and a little terrifying. She momentarily gives up on humanity out of sorrow and anger, and her feelings are understandable. Jenkins does a superb job of setting this up throughout the movie. The gradual creep from losing her aunt Antiope and other amazons on the beach in Themyscira (possibly the first deaths she has seen since the amazons are immortal), to her seeing the horrors of trench warfare and the deaths of innocent people at the hands of modern weapons, and finally the loss of Steve Trevor all takes its toll on her. We understand Diana’s fury and frustration and the devastation of WWI is the perfect backdrop for it. As an audience, it is especially tragic because we know that Ares’ comments about humanity ring true. The “War to End All Wars” is really the birthplace of modern combat techniques and weaponry. These factors make it all the more inspiring and uplifting when Diana overcomes the trauma and, because of the wisdom and love she has gained from her time with humanity, turns on Ares and defeats him.
With Diana’s comments about “walking away from the world” in Batman v Superman, I was very worried that this movie would end with Diana giving up, but the movie ends on a note of hope. The war is over and people are celebrating in the streets. Diana has suffered many losses, but she loves humanity and has not lost her belief that they can learn to be better than they are. The last real shot of the story shows Diana FLYING to the rescue as the world’s first superhero. She has discovered her purpose, grown into her powers, and will continue to protect humanity. It’s really amazing and it was one of many points in the film where I teared up because my inner geek-girl was so happy…
Too bad they HAD to bookend the movie with another modern scene that includes Batman. It doesn’t ruin the ending, but doesn’t really add anything either.
Despite its flaws, Wonder Woman is a really enjoyable movie. It stayed true to the legacy of one of the world’s most recognizable icons. Fans of her comics, animated features, or even Lynda Carter’s TV show will recognize the hero that they love, and a new generation of Wonder Woman fans will be born.