The long-awaited big screen debut of the world’s most popular female superhero successfully breaks the mold and the DCEU curse.
Following on the heels of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the film in which the demigoddess Diana was introduced, Wonder Woman is the first much-anticipated live-action solo movie for the comic book character. Directed by Patty Jenkins, the film had to conquer a lot of challenges to prove itself. The DC Extended Universe movies have thus far, at best, underwhelmed audiences around the world, and many feared that Wonder Woman would go the same grim, dreary route as its predecessors. To top it off, it bore the burden of being an effective feminist icon in these highly-charged times. But overcome the odds it did, bringing to life a superheroine who’s a breath of fresh air – innocent and purposeful, resolute and receptive, good-hearted and fierce, courageous and vulnerable. And for once, it brings us a superhero who actually wants to be a superhero – to right wrongs, to put an end to evil, to fight for truth and justice.
While not without flaws, the film successfully balances the heaviness of its main theme – to end the War to End All Wars – with bursts of humor, a hint of romance, and Diana’s mythic heritage.
Wonder Woman tells of the title character’s origins told in flashback as Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), the heroine’s alter-ego, finds her memories triggered when she receives a photograph from Bruce Wayne at the Louvre where she works in the antiquities department. The photo, which comes with a note asking for an explanation, shows Diana posing with four men against a ruined backdrop during World War I.
As a child, Diana is brought up on the paradise island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons. It is a peaceful and isolated female-only nation, populated by the world’s fiercest immortal warriors. Raised by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana grows up believing she has been sculpted out of clay and given the breath of life by Zeus. She also learns of Ares, the god of war who led a revolt against his father, Zeus, and was defeated but is believed to once again be sowing turmoil in the world beyond Themyscira’s shores.
Diana grows up watching her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), and the other warriors on the island and wants to be like them. Hippolyta, seeking to shelter her, initially forbids Diana to be trained but eventually reluctantly agrees to let Antiope instruct Diana. Antiope relishes the opportunity and trains the child more rigorously than any other warrior. Many years later, Diana, along with everyone else on the island, gets a first glimpse of her supernatural abilities and the shock of their lives when, while sparring with Antiope, she strikes her bracelets together and it results in a massive explosion.
With Themyscira sealed off from the rest of the world by a magical force field, Diana knows next to nothing about the outside world, and of men. That is, until one day, when she witnesses a World War I plane fall out of the sky and crash off the coast of the island. She rescues American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from the downed plane, and a battle ensues between the Amazons and the German forces pursuing Steve.
The Amazons triumph against the invaders but at a steep cost; while the warriors’ skills with the sword and bow and arrow are impressive, against guns and bullets they are not invincible. Diana soon extracts the story from Steve with the help of the Lasso of Truth and finds out that he is working for the British government and attempting to tip the odds of the war in the Allied Forces’ favor by preventing the Germans from producing and using poison gas against soldiers and civilians alike. Diana, believing that Ares must be orchestrating the war, and that the Germans who are under his influence will revert to their own good nature once freed, is persuaded to join Steve and help him succeed in his mission. Erroneously, she concludes that General Ludendorff (Danny Huston), the mastermind behind the poison gas, is the human incarnation of Ares and that killing him will end the war.
From Themyscira to London
Diana travels to London with Steve, where he intends to touch base with his superiors. This is where Gadot starts to truly shine as Diana, playing her as an endearing fish out of water under Jenkins’ direction. In their equally-capable hands, we see Diana as highly-educated but inexperienced, quick-witted but not caustic, self-assured but never arrogant. She finds the modern world perplexing, such as the constricting and impractical street clothes that women wear, as well as society’s treatment of women, including her observed working relationship between Steve and his secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis). Gadot brings forth a believable and comical wide-eyed innocence as Diana experiences the civilized world, and ice cream, for the first time.
Chris Pine, who doesn’t let his established movie star status get in the way of playing Steve, Diana’s sidekick and love interest, delivers an effortless performance as a war-weary man who is both skeptical of and fascinated with Diana. He brings together a masterful combination of bewilderment and awe, often to great laughter. Pine and Gadot’s on-screen chemistry and banter are refreshing and natural. Many of their scenes, especially of the minor skirmish in a London alley, call to mind the fun, buoyant Hollywood movies of the 40s through the 70s.
Having secured funds and support from Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), a high-powered British politician, Steve enlists the help of a trio of trusted mercenaries: Charlie (Ewan Bremner), a Scottish sniper; Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), a Middle Eastern undercover agent; and, The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American scout and smuggler. The three bring an added dimension of humanity to the harshness of the movie’s war scenes.
To No Man’s Land and Beyond
Gadot’s strongest moments in the film as Wonder Woman happen when, because of her compassion for people and desire for justice and peace, she goes against what’s expected of her as a woman in order to do what is right no matter the obstacles, and charges courageously into the fray.
Together, the group sets off for Belgium to destroy the weapons facility where the diabolical Dr. Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya) a.k.a. Doctor Poison is manufacturing the poison gas. In perhaps one of the genre’s best fight sequences, and the crux of the movie, Diana comes to her own as Wonder Woman when she emerges from the trenches to face off against German forces, rallying Allied forces in the process and clearing the Belgian village of Veld of enemy troops. She achieves all this despite her allies’ initial doubts and insistence that anything meaningful can be done in No Man’s Land.
Afterward, the group learns of a gala to be held nearby. Steve plans to infiltrate the party alone to find the gas and destroy it, but Diana sets off on her own with the intention of killing Ludendorff. Before she can do so, Steve stops her in order to prevent her from jeopardizing his mission, which allows Ludendorff to release the gas on Veld, killing everyone there.
In her grief, Diana blames Steve for interfering and pursues Ludendorff to a base where troops are loading the gas into a bomber aircraft headed for London. She fights and kills Ludendorff but is disillusioned when this doesn’t stop the war. Sir Patrick arrives and reveals himself as the human incarnation of Ares, as well as truths about Diana that challenge- everything she grew up believing in.
Unlike others of its ilk, Wonder Woman largely gets by without too many action sequences; instead, it prefers to focus on its main characters and flesh them out, which is refreshing. However, there’s no escaping a huge battle in the final act of a movie such as this. Here, the film becomes muddied by an incoherent, anti-climactic and poorly CGI’d one-on-one showdown between Ares and Diana and, as expected, the resulting mayhem and destruction. Thankfully, Gadot’s embodiment of the unwavering heroine whose strength lies in her compassion for humankind and heart for justice more than makes up for the weak denouement.
Wonder Woman is head and shoulders above its DCEU predecessors. Instead of the angst-ridden and bleak superhero films we’ve gotten used to from the franchise, Wonder Woman is refreshing in its hopefulness, innocence, and straightforwardness. Breaking away from the mold, our heroine embraces her abilities and the good she can do with them, confidently strides into battle, and never questions whether she should be fighting for what she believes in. This is why she resonates with people all over the world – male or female. It may not be a perfect film, but at this crucial moment in history when peace, justice and women’s rights are threatened, it is an important one.