**SPOILER WARNING–this review covers major plot points of Wonder Woman, proceed only if you’ve seen the movie**
Last year, rumors about how the Wonder Woman movie was a “mess” started circulating. It was soon after the release of Suicide Squad, and Batman v Superman and their respective critical drubbings (and ostensible box office successes). It was an easy narrative for the media to pick up on despite the fact that the source was a wildly dubious anonymous letter from a former WB “employee.” Director Patty Jenkins took to twitter and issued a very firm, “Nope!” but she was clearly frustrated with the rumors. However, she knew her final product would show the truth…and she was right to be confident in her film because DAMN.
Wonder Woman introduces us to fully realized, multi-dimensional characters. Even the supporting cast have quirks and nuance. The world Jenkins creates is warm, gritty, terrifying, and awe-inspiring. The fight scenes are works of art. The whole film is imbued with great humor but not in the form of one-liners or quips, but in the way that real life can be funny. Except for the final boss fight and, I’d argue, one casting error, this might be one of the greatest superhero films we’ve ever seen.
Wonder Woman is a game changer. It looks like its opening weekend haul is going to be around the $100 million mark. Critics love it. Audiences gave it a solid “A” Cinemascore. It’s not only a big deal because it features a woman superhero AND was directed by a woman, though those things are important, but also because it infused the world it created with love, hope, and optimism.
Jenkins has admitted she was unhappy she hadn’t been part of the casting process for the lead of her blockbuster. But she readily stood by the hand she was dealt, and indeed, she and Gal Gadot have clicked into a perfect place to put together the most anticipated film of the summer. I was originally one of Gadot’s detractors when her casting was announced, she was too skinny and too inexperienced, I pointed out. I thought Gina Carano might have been a better choice. But after seeing Carano’s performance in Deadpool I was glad the producer’s hadn’t gone with my casting choice! I was wrong, so wrong. And Gadot, well, she’s a Wonder.
Gadot’s Diana is fierce, clever, brave, beautiful, warm, earnest, naive, stubborn, sexy, and most importantly, badass. Her chemistry with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is instantly electric. Steve is clearly instantly smitten with Diana, and his instinct is to protect her even though she hardly needs it. She is mostly curious about him at first, though her interest is more than merely innocent, and her forwardness makes him a little uncomfortable. She pops in to update him on his status with the Amazons as he’s getting out of a bath, and despite his discomfort, she never averts her gaze until she finally realizes he’s a little unnerved by her presence. The scene is played for laughs, but it also flips a typical trope, and gives the audience a chance to ogle an “above average” man. On Themyscira, he’s the one who is lost and confused, and more than a little dazzled. In London, Steve has to temper Diana’s enthusiasm for everything, and tries to direct her curiosity. However, after a confrontation with a few London thugs, he quickly realizes who the superior warrior is and fights by her side, always protecting her back, rather than pushing him behind her. The mutual respect that results between them is part of their incredible chemistry. I’ve never rooted harder for a couple I knew would inevitably get together.
Wonder Woman is an origin story, so we start out on the island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons. Diana is the only child on the island, and she is clearly beloved by everyone…except perhaps her tutor. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson), wants to shield her only daughter from violence and the outside world. Young Diana has other ideas though, and sneaks off to train with her Aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). Their secret training sessions can’t last forever, and Hippolyta eventually discovers them and begins to verbally flay Antiope, but Antiope patiently points out that they can’t keep Diana sheltered forever. The love these two show for the daughter of Themyscira is evident, in every word and facial expression. These two don’t have nearly enough time on screen.
When Steve Trevor crashes in the ocean nearby and Diana rescues him, their idyllic repast is finally broken. Germans follow close behind him, storm the beach, and attack the Amazons. Antiope leads her army on horseback into the battle while Hippolyta leads her archers. This fight scene is so incredible I could watch an entire movie about just this, with Antiope leaping over soldiers and shooting them down. Robin Wright is a complete badass, her passion is something you rarely get to see in her House of Cards steely Claire.
After Steve Trevor informs the Amazons of the war to end all wars raging in Europe, Diana is convinced this is the work of Ares. She and Steve leave Paradise Island, to her mother’s sorrow. Steve isn’t quite on board with the Ares theory, but he would like to get back to London, ASAP.
The London scenes are cute fish-out-of-water scenes reminiscent of Thor, but arguably better done. Diana declares London, “hideous,” compared to her home paradise, and the comment might have been a small aside to the audience as well. Steve tries to direct Diana through the busy streets, but she is easily distracted by everything she sees (“A baby!”), and her sense of wonder about her new experiences is a breath of fresh air. Time to get her into something more London-esque, leading to a fun but not too lengthy sequence with Etta Candy (Lucy Davis-I would also happily watch an entire movie about Etta Candy, she also stole every scene she was in, and wasn’t in nearly enough!), trying to find something suitable for Diana that would make her “not look like the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen.” Diana storms into Parliamentary sessions and meetings despite Steve’s requests to stay back. Diana doesn’t understand London’s gender norms and they’re played as absurd, which they should be. We also meet Steve’s friends and allies, Sameer, Charlie, and Chief. A suspiciously helpful minister, Sir Patrick (David Thewlis, whom you might remember from the Harry Potter series) funds their trip to the front. All these characters are fine on their own, but together as a team they really click and you just love seeing them work together.
The final act of the movie takes place on the Front, and here we feel a little of the first Captain America movie. Diana finally sees the horrors of war, and realizes how terrible violence is on innocents. Steve knows they have to block out all the terror and grief around them if they’re to succeed in their mission, but Diana cannot just let this pass. She’s been told “No, you can’t do that,” too many times. She takes down her hair, puts on her tiara, brings out her shield, and walks into No Man’s Land.
The No Man’s Land scene was one that Jenkins fought for, as the studio wasn’t sure about it. But this is when we finally see Wonder Woman, stride confidently onto the field of battle in her full Amazonian regalia. Deflecting bullets and bombs, Wonder Woman shows her growing confidence in her power. The entirety of the battle is phenomenal. It showed amazing physicality, and you were never lost in the geography of the movie. It wasn’t 52 cut shots per scene. And it even managed one callback to the battle of Themyscira. The fellow sitting next to me shouted, “OH HELL YEAH!” at one point, and there was at least one “BOOYAH!” People cheered! It was gorgeous and emotional.
The final fight takes place near a munitions plant, as Diana finally faces down the big boss. The CGI in this battle is overpowering, and rote, almost like it was just included because that’s what superhero movies do. Luckily, it wasn’t overly long. It seemed to highlight that most of the movie had relatively seamless use of CGI, minus some background work. But, and I hope this isn’t a spoiler, Wonder Woman prevails by realizing what the true source of her power is. She realizes also that man isn’t inherently good or evil, but defined by the choices they make. Some men are evil, and some are heroes, but all must make their choices.
Some reviews have compared Wonder Woman to The Dark Knight, and I mulled which I liked better as I left the theater. But what sets TDK just a bit higher is, of course, Heath Ledger’s Joker. I liked the villains, Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya) aka Doctor Poison, as she clearly relished in her work. She’s over the top, she’s a great villain and had the most fun. General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is an evil empty suit, he has some minor scary moments to show he’s super evil, but overall, he’s just a red herring. And both of them are fairly minor.
The story of Ares and Zeus and the old Greek gods that was presented in the beginning worked really well. And Ares as a big bad was a great idea, the personification of War made sense within the context of the story. But Ares casting just didn’t work, and his plot seemed overly complex (but not like Zemo’s plan in Civil War, which…I’m still not sure why that happened). Luckily, the rest of the movie was so strong and the characters were so well-defined that it’s easy to forgive a slightly weaker third act and a lackluster final fight.
Patty Jenkins direction was phenomenal. The tone was perfect, sometimes funny and sometimes dramatic. The pacing is breakneck, and leaves you wanting more of everything and everyone, 130 minutes feels too fast. It’s never rushed, but you’re never bored. The victories feel earned. The cinematography is beautiful. The universe feels so complete and real, even if the plot isn’t perfect, you’re so invested in the story and characters it’s easy to fall for this version of Wonder Woman who has finally arrived in our lives.