*Spoiler Free Review*
Thanks to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the world has already met Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, but before she was known by that name, she was simply Diana, Princess of the Amazons. Trained from a young age to be an elite warrior, Diana is pulled into man’s world when an American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crashes onto the shores of Themyscira. Upon hearing of “the war to end all wars” that is currently underway, Diana realizes that only she can do something about it and sets out with Trevor to save man’s world.
With Wonder Woman, we are now four films into Warner Bros.’s DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel was the first and probably the best reviewed, but it still earned middling reactions from fans and critics alike. Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad did not fare as well. So, the question now is, how does Wonder Woman stack up? Could it finally be the DCEU’s first across the board success? Read on to find out…
Let’s start with the setting. Now, I’m sure there might be some who aren’t really into the idea of this film being set during World War I. This decision has earned a lot of comparisons to Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger, which is fair, there’s a lot here that’s comparable to that film, but this character was born out of war and personally, I thought this was the perfect setting for Diana’s origin story. Sure, the character wasn’t created until the ’40s, and they could have set this film in World War II and gotten even more Cap comparisons, but I felt setting it in WWI was about more than just distancing this film from Steve Rogers’s first mission. This was the first war of its kind, on this kind of scale. The threat that this war poses to humanity is the perfect thing to draw the always compassionate Diana out of Themyscira and into man’s world. Just like how WWII was the perfect time and place for the birth of Cap, there’s no better way to announce this character to the rest of the world than when she first steps onto the battlefield here. Just as our world was changed by WWI, so is this world as she climbs the ladder to trek across no man’s land. Story wise, I thought this film was everything a Wonder Woman origin story should be.
Now, getting to one of the biggest questions leading into this film: how is Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman? I liked what I saw of the character in Batman v Superman, but I needed to see more to make my informed decision. While I liked Gadot a lot in this movie, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone if I said she’s not the best actress in the world. She certainly wasn’t horrible, in fact, I thought she was actually quite good at times, but there were a couple of brief moments in which I felt she was unable to elicit the raw emotions that said moment required (one particularly glaring moment, early on in the film, springs to mind). It’s unfortunate, though, because it really is just a couple of moments where her performance wasn’t up to snuff. Despite this, though, I still thought she made for a pretty great Wonder Woman overall. Gadot just has such a terrific presence on screen and she was especially convincing in all of the action scenes, which was the most important part for me, so I can forgive those one or two moments.
I hate to say this because I loved him in this film, but there might have been a little too much of Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor (it is supposed to be Wonder Woman’s movie after all). I can forgive that, though, because he was terrific, especially seeing as how the main reason for this was to help carry the film where Gadot’s performance could not. I thought he and Gadot had excellent chemistry together, lighting up the screen in both sweet moments and humorous ones. He really brought the best out of her in their shared moments.
Back on Themyscira, the standouts there were definitely Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta and her sister, Diana’s aunt, General Antiope, as played by Robin Wright. They are Diana’s two closest relationships and they both have different, but equally important approaches for raising this young woman. I appreciated how the rest of the Amazonians all adopted Gal Gadot’s accent. She’s the character that has to go out there and continue on in this franchise, so by doing this they were essentially saying this is what this version of Wonder Woman is supposed to sound like. Also, while I’m on the opening of the movie, I would be remiss not to point out Lilly Aspell’s fantastic performance. She was just adorable as young Diana, immediately conditioning you to love this character.
I definitely could have used more of Etta Candy, Trevor’s secretary portrayed by Lucy Davis, in the film. She was terrific but a bit underused. She’s so much fun while she’s involved in the story, but at a certain point in the movie, she disappears almost completely. Almost coinciding with her exit, we’re introduced to Trevor’s team, made up of Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie and Eugene Brave Rock as the Chief. These guys added some additional fun to the mission at hand and helped make up a bit for the lack of Etta Candy. Danny Huston and Elena Anaya both made for excellently twisted villains as General Erich Ludendorff and Doctor Maru, aka Doctor Poison, respectively. I also liked David Thewlis’ performance in his role as Sir Patrick Morgan. He added an interesting dynamic to the film’s proceedings. There were a couple nitpicky things that I would have done differently with him, but it’s hard to go into that without spoiling anything.
One of the more surprising aspects of the film for me was just how much humor there is in it. This film does not suffer from the same old gloom and doom approach that the DCEU films have adopted up until this point. Upping the comedy quota doesn’t always fix that problem, but in the case of this film, the comedy really worked. Most of the humor stemmed from the typical sort of misunderstandings of Diana experiencing life in this new world and that stuff worked like gangbusters for me. One of my favorite moments was between Diana and a street vendor, a moment I immediately recognized as it was ripped straight from the pages of the comics.
It addition to the humor, what really helps this film stand apart tonally from the prior films is the overall hopeful outlook that our lead character personifies here. Batman’s never been the guy to offer up a sunnier outlook on life, and while that’s usually Superman’s department, the Man of Steel that we’ve seen in the movie universe has yet to get with that program. I’m so happy that we finally have a superhero in this universe that can show us that hope is more than just a symbol on Superman’s costume. Wonder Woman truly is a hero for the people and I absolutely loved how they depicted that in this film. Wonder Woman, as a character, has a lot of heart and this movie does as well.
As a whole, I thought Patty Jenkins did a tremendous job helming this film, which was no easy task. The true sign of a great actor’s director is when they can find a way to highlight their performers’ strengths while concealing their weaknesses and I thought that Jenkins almost always managed to make this work with Gadot. The fact that this is only Jenkins’ second feature film (after 2003’s Monster, where she directed Charlize Theron to an Oscar win 14 years ago) just makes what she pulled off here even more impressive. This movie has a large scope and the visuals were fantastic. I also thought she absolutely crushed the action sequences. The CGI is spotty in a few places, but mostly in very minor instances, not in the big fight scenes and never when it came to Wonder Woman whipping that golden lasso around. That stuff looked awesome!
This film certainly has a couple of negatives, but nothing that really hindered my enjoyment of it. Even including the aforementioned CGI and performance blunders, I felt that there were only a handful of missteps in the entire film. One, in particular, that really bugged me came during a big scene in which I felt that Diana really became Wonder Woman. It’s supposed to be a big impactful moment, but the timing of it all takes so long to play out that it almost felt comical and not in a good way. But again, it’s just in tiny moments. As a whole, this movie rocks!
So, back to my original question, what does this film mean for the DCEU? Personally, I think it means great things. As a comic reader, I’m more of a DC guy than a Marvel fan. When it comes to the films, however, I’ve been a bit disappointed with what we’ve gotten so far. I liked parts of Suicide Squad even though altogether it was a sloppy mess, and I enjoyed both Batman v Superman and Man of Steel for the most part, though, I had a few big problems with each film. I’m happy to report that I had way fewer negatives with Wonder Woman. This is now my favorite DCEU movie.
All said and done, I feel like this film is the DCEU’s first real win for me, a win they so desperately needed, and I couldn’t be happier that it was with a character as important as Wonder Woman. Frankly, it’s insane that it’s taken so long for this character to get the big screen treatment. I’m really hoping this film is the turning point for the DCEU. I hope that they can build upon this foundation and take the good will this film has earned them and continue pushing forward into a new era for the DCEU. For the first time since last year, I’m really hopeful for the future of this franchise. I’ve been cautiously optimistic as of late, but after seeing this film, I can’t wait for Justice League, but more importantly, I can’t wait to see Wonder Woman kick some more butts!
Wonder Woman hits theaters June 2, 2017.