Warner Bros.’ attempt to get in on the Marvel comic book universe game has been off to a rocky start. While the first few DCU movies have their supporters, the detractors are legion and vocal, tired of the studio’s insistence that grimness is the same as gravity. The ‘Wonder Woman’ movie arrives with a mixture of excitement and trepidation – excitement because this character is long overdue for a blockbuster, trepidation because the team behind ‘Batman v. Superman’ is still in charge. Thankfully, they finally got one right. This film is a blast and deserves any and all success coming its way.
The big-budget tentpole by director Patty Jenkins (‘Monster’) isn’t perfect. It’s overburdened by mythology, which often hampers most origin tales. Fortunately, the sequences most hurt by this come early. That happens as we get a crash course in the character’s origin on the tropical island of Themyscia, populated entirely by women. In the faithfully convoluted backstory, we learn that Diana (Gal Gadot) was a god fashioned out of clay by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). She was destined to battle evil and banished god Ares to save humanity, but lived isolated amongst the Amazons in her hidden home. Her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) trained her for battle despite her loving mother’s wishes and… blah, blah, blah, it’s all fairly stilted and devoid of life, a combination of Greek mythology and comic book lore that could have been a movie to itself, instead condensed to an all-too-brief rush of overused imagery and mannered performances from actresses with important parts but little character to play. (There’s also a weird mixture of accents in an attempt to excuse Gadot’s.) However, the backstory is important and Jenkins at least knows that while reverence is necessary, brevity is crucial.
Things pick up when WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes into the island and is rescued by Diana before battling some pursuing Germans along with her warrior sisters. They quickly surmise that Ares must be back and up to his old tricks (you know, god of war and so forth). Diana insists on taking Steve back to the modern world to help save him and humanity. She does and soon finds herself in early 20th Century England, gawking in shock at all the blatant sexism and warmongering while Steve pulls her around. It’s here that the film comes alive with Jenkins’ playfully using Wonder Woman for some welcome feminist humor without ever making the icon the punchline. From there, Steve pulls together a motley crew of character actors (Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock) to hit the front lines and try to stop the Germans from unleashing poison gas. Steve hopes to stop the war. Diana wants to stop all war by battling Ares. Maybe they’re both right?
What impresses most about ‘Wonder Woman’ is the way the filmmakers are able to honor their overtly politicized and reverently mythologized pop icon while still having fun. The film is filled with humor and almost all of it works. Yet it’s never too mocking of the material, nor does it feel like it’s copying the Marvel playbook. The movie has its own tone to deliver a cinematic Wonder Woman, one that serves as pop feminism social critique, exploration of human morality, and just some straight-up badass superheroics.
Jenkins nimbly balances tones and purpose, allowing her film to deal with serious issues without ever losing sense of the fun and action. Even though the plot can feel a little bogged down in exposition at times, pacing is often inconsistent for the sake of cramming in so much material, and she’s stuck with the DCU palette of dark hues and underexposure, these flaws are of the minor nitpick variety. For the most part, the film is an absolute blast, providing Indiana Jones style thrills while still addressing relevant themes. The action scenes are glorious, showing off everything that Wonder Woman is capable of without ever leaning too hard into CGI rubber reality. It’s a thrill ride that treats the title character with the respect she deserves, while still being knowing enough to acknowledge the absurdity of the material (like… say… the Lasso of Truth) without diluting the sincerity.
Gal Gadot proves to be ideally cast. Granted, she showed promise in last summer’s ‘Batman v. Superman’, but had little to do there except strike badass poses with only slightly more dramatic weight than she brought to the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise. Here she’s challenged to live up to an icon and provide weight that Wonder Woman has never received outside of comics. She does so handily, serving up dramatic speeches with gravitas, deadpan comedy with confidence, and action with athletic grace. Gadot is so good, any and all doubt ever felt about her ability to live up to the legend will vanish within minutes. She is Wonder Woman now, and DC officially has a cinematic representation of one of its comic book icons worthy of stretching into a franchise.
Chris Pine is also a delight. He gamely plays the wisecracking sidekick/love interest role with wit, charm and class. At times, Pine and Gadot bounce off each other with the breezy ease and charming romance of a screwball comedy so well you may even forget that superhuman heroics are around the corner. Jenkins cast every supporting role to perfection and has already proven how well she works with actors. To curate and collaborate with such a memorable ensemble without losing track of the superhero thrills and war movie chills isn’t easy, Jenkins just makes it look that way.
‘Wonder Woman’ doesn’t just work, it’s likely a superhero blockbuster that will be beloved by many for quite some time. The DCU may have gotten off to a shaky and confused start, but at least everyone involved respected Wonder Woman enough not to shortchange her in this long overdue feature. The movie has some minor issues, but only those that plague almost every single blockbuster of this scale. For the most part, it’s a thrill ride executed with style, humor, sincerity, and just enough subtle intelligence to keep the think-piece blog posts coming for a few weeks. It’s hard to imagine a Wonder Woman movie turning out much better than this. By Monday, the character should be an enshrined cinematic icon, Gal Gadot will be one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and Patty Jenkins will be able to direct whatever the hell she wants. Kudos to all involved. You earned it.
I have a day off next week and plan on catching an afternoon showing of this. Gadot is smokin’ hot and I’ve always liked Pine as an actor. The fact that it’s a period film has me excited to as I love seeing Hollywood re-create moments in history.
Phil, is the movie as orange and teal as the trailers would have us believe? It looks as severe as last years Point Break remake. Is the movie itself that stylized?
The orange and teal stuff is mostly from the prologue and the amazon island. The rest of the movie has the shadowy, underexposed look from the Snyder movies. The DC movies definitely have a house style like the Marvel movies, for better or worse.
We’ll be seeing it at the cinema soon. My other half is a big fan. I’ve not read the whole review, to avoid spoilers, but it’s good to see that it’s (hopefully) pretty good! The last few big super hero movies from both camps have been a bit lack lustre, like Civil War or Batman vs Superman.
this movie SUCKS,Big Time.
The 94 critic score and 93 audience score on rotten tomatoes would beg to differ but congrats anyway for being cool enough to hate a very popular movie
Gal Gadot CAN’T ACT.
That is kind of a stumbling block.
Yeah all the critics that have praised her acting are wrong and you’re right. Thank you for your insightful comment
I loved Wonder Woman. But I am 100% in minority in that I still prefer Man of Steel and BvS Director’s cut over it. I just don’t understand the hate some people have for those movies
Some of the FX were iffy in the action scenes, and the ending needed a bigger emotional impact.
I’m in the same boat. I loved BvS and Man of Steel. I thought Wonder Woman was also great. Suicide Squad was only ok.
My only minor gripe was with some of The music. The electronic theme sounded great in BvS, but seemed out of place in a WW1 setting.
So have they announced a date for the sequel? I’m hoping after this movie’s success, they’ll fast track the next movie and put some of that other Extended Universe stuff on the back burner. I know Wonder Woman is in Justice League, but I don’t want to see her lost in a sea of other heros. I want Wonder Woman. I would love for it to be another period piece.
It’s just okay. I think much of the praise comes from the fact that people are surprised that DC didn’t screw the pooch on this one the way they did with Man of Steel and (particularly) BvS. I liked a lot of it, but I also thought many of the action sequences went on for far too long and the main villain (who I won’t spoil here) is another in a long line of dullards we seem to get in these superhero films (from BOTH Marvel and DC). Honestly – how hard is it to develop a decent antagonist?
I think they could have made the third act half as long and would have had a better movie on their hands. The first act is a little drawn out as well, but at least it’s necessary to the story. The best part of this movie is the middle 45 minutes.
I think you’re selling the thoughtfulness of the antagonist short. I think that’s it’s far more original that the “bad guy” isn’t entirely the bad guy. Yes, the villain bad but that’s more a symptom than the root cause. Especially with the way it was played out, with the audience essentially laughing along with the characters at the seeming absurdity of the supposed villain. But if you look at the villain as the metaphor it represents, how do you “defeat” that “villain”? It’s not as simple as defeating some bad dudes. (I was going to comment on the parallels to the current US political climate but will refrain to avoid sparking a political cat fight.)
I love debates on comic book movies. Shit’s serious business. I hope they never stop churning out these cash cows.
I think it’s a really good movie. It’s about the best movie I can imagine someone making about an admittedly silly, antiquated character from the 1940s for modern audiences. I had fun.