A Movie Worthy of an Amazonian (Wonder Woman – Review)

wonder_woman_poster2b252852529If this is what it’s like to be a Greek goddess, sign me up. This movie has it all! Interesting mythology, great characters, amazing fight sequences, a well thought out plot, and an atmosphere that just makes you feel good. It’s exactly the kind of superhero movie that’s both wanted and needed right now. The latest film in the DCEU has finally come out! Directed by Patty Jenkins with a screenplay by Allan Heinberg (from a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs), Wonder Woman stars Gal Gadot as the titular Amazon warrior as she makes her way through a war-torn Europe during the first World War. With the aid of Steve Trevor (a US Military Pilot who washed onto the shores of Themyscira, played by Chris Pine), Diana Prince (as she’s referred to in the movie – they never actually call her Wonder Woman) sets out to bring an end to the war before any more atrocities can be committed. But, it’s never as simple as that, is it? (This review strives to be spoiler-free, but for anybody really averse to spoilers, you might wanna wait to read this until after you’ve seen the movie. I’m not gonna go into too many specifics, especially about the latter half of the film, but regardless, this is your warning.) 

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Promo Art for the film, featuring Menalippe (Lisa Loven Kongsli), Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and General Antiope (Robin Wright)

As everyone knows at this point, DC has quite a hit-or-miss record with their DCEU movies. The Christopher Nolan Batman films were a masterpiece of filmmaking, but they weren’t really “comic book films” – at least not in the way that Marvel and DC seem to want the term to mean. So, DC relaunched their film universe with 2013’s Man of Steel. Directed by Zack Snyder, Man of Steel certainly wasn’t a bad movie. It had its moments, for sure, but it never managed to really capture the character correctly. Fast forward three years to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and you’ve got Zack Snyder’s overly ambitious follow-up to Man of Steel that introduced audiences to Ben Affleck’s Batman, Ezra Miller’s Flash, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. While I personally liked the film (particularly the Ultimate Cut), a lot of people didn’t. A few months later, Suicide Squad comes out and essentially gets everything wrong that was possible to get wrong. So, to say that Wonder Woman and director Patty Jenkins had a lot riding on their shoulders would be an understatement. Between being the only film between the last two disappointing films in the DCEU and the upcoming Justice League and being the first superhero film helmed by a female director and the first female-led superhero film in the DCEU, the pressure was on for Wonder Woman to deliver. And, like her character in the comics, Wonder Woman delivers and makes it look easy.

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Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

When Wonder Woman, quite literally, burst onto the scene in the climax of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, she quickly became a fan favorite for all who saw the movie. The biggest question on everyone’s mind after that scene was “Will the solo Wonder Woman be able to be as good as Gadot’s performance in this film was?” I’m pleased to say that the answer is a resounding yes! Gal Gadot’s performance takes everything you loved about her performance in Batman v Superman and turns it up a notch. She delivers a performance that truly does justice to the character. What’s particularly brilliant about Gadot’s performance is the ease in which she portrays the various sides of Diana. This movie covers a lot of ground in the emotional arc of the character. Diana has to go from young, hopeful idealist, to the somewhat jaded woman we saw in Batman v Superman, but the thing about Gadot is that she is able to perfectly pull it off. When she’s being naive and overly optimistic, it never feels hokey or forced and when the character ends up more jaded by the end of the film, it feels perfectly in character. It’s a testament both to Gadot’s acting prowess and to the quality of Patty Jenkins’ directing and Heinberg’s script. Plus, in addition to hitting all the emotional beats with ease, she brings a lot of humor to the role. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is obviously designed more as the comic foil to Diana, but Diana is often very funny as well. Similar to Thor in the first Thor film, a lot of the humor comes from how Diana reacts to the very different world she’s in. But there’s also lots of moments where it’s just her and Steve, and Gadot and Pine’s comedic timing and the ease with which they play off one another are what carries those scenes and nails the punchlines. This is a genuinely funny movie for quite a bit of it.

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Gal Gadot’s quite skilled with a bow and arrow.

This movie is one of the best comic book movies made. I don’t say that with exaggeration. It really is that good. For similar reasons as to why The Dark Knight is considered as good as it is. Firstly, it knows what it wants to be. Beneath all the special effects and fighting is a fish out of water story where Diana has to make the adjustment to the reality of the world while still maintaining some semblance of her optimism. That’s the story. Can you save the world, even if it’s truly broken? Is it even worth saving? That’s what the movie’s about. Throw lots of wonderfully choreographed action sequences into the mix – like, seriously, the action in this movie is outstanding. The movie utilizes slow motion in its action scenes a lot, but usually in a smart way. It’s always done to emphasize Diana’s powers. Often, she’ll be deflecting bullets or using her lasso, and it’ll be primarily special effects. But then she’ll start kicking ass, and the months she spent training really pay off. The action is truly stunning. It’s not even just limited to Gal Gadot; the entire sequence in Themyscira features some of the best fight choreography I’ve seen in a superhero movie. Patty Jenkins was smart and didn’t feel the need to cut to different camera shots every half a second during fight scenes; instead, she oftentimes allowed one camera angle to last for several seconds. The fight scenes are intense and sometimes hectic, but you can almost always follow what’s going on in theme, and as of late, that’s been unusual in superhero movies. Even the final, climactic battle works. I saw some criticisms of it being another unnecessary CGI-fest of a finale, but I disagree. There’s nowhere near as much CGI as there’s been in other movies, and the final fight in this movie actually truly feels earned. It’s the culmination of multiple different plots and character arcs, and the stakes feel real and important. It just works.

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Diana (Gal Gadot) and Charlie (Ewan Bremner) on the front lines of the war.

Sprinkle well-written characters, smart dialogue, good pacing, good acting, a confident command over the tone of the film, and a strong soundtrack onto all of that and you’ve got yourself one hell of a superhero movie. This movie is a period piece. It’s a war movie. It’s a movie about mythology. It’s a character study. It’s a love story. It’s an origin story. It’s both a comedy and a drama. It is all of those things all at once, and somehow it works. It’s truly a credit to Patty Jenkins for making all of these disparate elements come together into one cohesive vision. There’s a lot going on and a lot of different genres, but it always feels like the movie has a grip on what it is. The tone fluctuates between light-hearted and dark. There’s a lot of comedy in the first half of the movie, and it almost always works well. It’s a really smart way of easing the audience into everything that’s going on. Then, once the plot really kicks into gear, the movie switches its focus onto the horror of the war. In fact, that’s something the movie handles really well. For all its fantastic elements and silly scenes, there are a lot of quiet moments where Dianna just observes the horrors of World War I. She sees soldiers starving, dying, missing limbs. Gal Gadot’s face conveys Diana’s utter heartbreak without her having to say a word. There are lots of these moments littered throughout the second half of the movie, and they’re all done with care and respect, and they all impact Diana in different ways. She comes from this sort of idyllic, safe, paradise and when she’s exposed to the horror of the real world – during a war, no less – she doesn’t know how to handle it. It’s a pretty tough subject matter for a summer superhero movie to try and tackle, but Patty Jenkins doesn’t shy away from it. She embraces it and makes it a central theme in the movie, which just adds to the reasons why this movie stands apart from other comic book movies of late.

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General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Maru/Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), two leaders of the German army who are trying to develop a gas so deadly it’s unstoppable.

The other big thing this movie does that sets it apart is that it really develops the central villain. The picture I’ve used here is not of the main villain, though they are also fairly well developed minor villains. It’s been apparent from the marketing that Ares was going to factor into the movie in one way or another, and boy does he. Going into specifics would venture into spoiler territory, but the point I am making is that he was developed really well. The character – and his backstory – is introduced early on by Hippolyta (or Antiope, it wasn’t exactly clear) and then continually referenced by Diana until the climax. Ares doesn’t appear on screen a whole lot, but his presence is felt throughout the entirety of the film. A chunk of it is spent on Diana trying to figure out who Ares is – since, as the God of War, she believe him to be responsible for World War I, and thus has taken it upon herself to stop him), and this plays out a bit like a mystery film, full of red herrings and suspicious characters and backstabbings (sometimes literally). It’s a fun element for the movie to have, not completely revealing who your bad guy is, though talking about him repeatedly throughout the movie. Having a villain be so developed without even appearing on screen is great. Plus, Ares is interesting. His backstory is interesting. You understand the stakes and why it matters to Diana. He’s not just some generic “oh we need a bad guy for the superhero to fight” villain, and – unfortunately – more and more that seems to be the route that comic book films take. They spend no time on their villains, so the stakes don’t feel high. But this movie doesn’t take that route. Between establishing the war to be horrible, establishing General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) are truly horrible, and making sure Ares has a palpable presence and is well developed, Wonder Woman spends quite a bit of time on its villains and why they matter.

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Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and Diana (Gal Gadot) hide outside the German headquarters.

If there wasn’t already enough to praise, I have to praise the romance subplot in this movie. Like all summer blockbusters, there’s a bit of a romance plotline – this one between Diana and Steve. Unlike most blockbusters, this romance doesn’t feel forced. It happens naturally, it’s not the most important aspect of either character or of the movie, and it doesn’t really take the forefront of the film in any way. It just sort of happens in a real, understandable way. And so it works. You see the chemistry from the moment they meet, but it feels real. You see the impact the two have on each other and how they challenge each other’s beliefs and grow into better people by working with each other. More than anything, the two are shown to be equal partners. There’s none of that nonsense where one of them is “made complete” by the other. They’re both strong, independent characters with their own urgency who come together based on mutual attraction and respect. It’s nice, it’s not made into a big deal, and it works. We already knew it was gonna happen based on how the photo featuring Steve was framed and focused on in Batman v Superman, but it was nice that effort was put into actually making it feel vital and real.

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Diana (Gal Gadot) and Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen)

There is so much more about this movie that I could say, but this review has rambled and gone on for long enough. Long story short, this is a really good movie. It’s funny and moving and full of action and suspense and strong character moments and interesting themes. It’s well directed, well written, well acted, and presents itself with a confidence that ultimately works. It knows what it wants to be and what it is and isn’t afraid to show it. The characters are treated with respect, as is the audience. The fight scenes are done well, the history of the character and her mythology is done well, the elements involving World War I are done well and with respect, and the villains are developed well. It’s got pretty solid pacing and an ending that feels both satisfying and earned. It really is one of the strongest superhero movies that has been made in recent years. Everyone involved should feel proud of their work. It would appear that the DCEU finally has a quality hit on their hands. Hopefully, this bodes well for the future as more movies unafraid to take risks and be their own thing, like Wonder Woman, would do wonders for the genre.

I give Wonder Woman four and a half out of five wands. Go see it.

Wonder Woman opens in theaters Friday, June 2. It’s directed by Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, and more.

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