Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when a pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny.
Wonder Woman is the latest DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman. Though the latest in this cinematic universe, this film chronologically takes place much longer before the others, almost entirely detached from the modern day concerns of the films we’ve seen thus far.
It was great to see DC Comics finally have a film released in their unfortunately cobbled-together universe that feels well-made through and through. It is even more pleasing its direction was helmed by a woman and starring a woman as the lead character. In a genre full of so many heroines, it’s unfortunate that the popular trend of superhero movies has taken this long to feature one.
On its surface it’s easy to draw comparisons between this film and Captain America: The First Avenger. Both involve super-strong heroes garbed in patriotic attire, meant to be ideal combatants that take part in a world war, but Wonder Woman takes a much more different approach. Based on the photo in Batman v. Superman that teased the events of this film, I expected she’d be fighting officially on behalf of a certain side. While she allies herself with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to fight against the Germans, she’s also entering into a world where the men in charge don’t even want to see a woman in the room, let alone fighting the fight for them. This is handled well, with humour and realism. It is less idealistic about how Diana would be received by stuffy English leadership, yet empowering in how she does not waver in the face of dismissal.
Gal Gadot does a great job of portraying a stranger in a strange land. She’s a naïve young hero who wants to save as many people as she can in a world where everyone cannot be saved. Her chemistry with Steve Trevor is great as well, who is both challenged by Diana’s nature and mystified by her. They rally together along with a decent supporting cast, each with their own valuable sets of skills and personal demons.
It’s a fish-out-of-water story that succeeds in a number of striking ways, thanks to how much Diana’s home of Themyscira — the hidden island of the Amazons — contrasts with the world at large. This has two well executed effects, one of which is the film’s sense of humour. Watching Diana brazenly interact with a world so sexually repressed and restrictive of women makes for some legitimately funny scenes that help to lighten the grim nature of the First World War. A more substantial way the worlds contrast is just how idyllic Diana’s homeland is versus the grey mess that was Europe during the Great War.
This contrast between character background and setting is also at the heart of the conflict for this film, presenting something more than simply stopping a bad guy. While that does factor into the story, it’s much more about Diana’s ideals coming face to face with harsh reality. She’s already a person possessed of phenomenal strength and reflexes; she can shove over a tank like its nothing and deflect bullets like flies. She must learn, however, that what she faces is not overcoming a singular foe and ending the war, as she believes. She faces the darkness that humanity gets wrapped up in, with neither side being wholly innocent or responsible, and must come to terms with and learn how to deal with such a bleak reality.
The weakest part of the film was Ares, the villain himself. What he represents is interesting, but as an active antagonist he doesn’t amount to much more than a big bad for Diana to fight in the climactic sequence. It doesn’t hold the film back very much, it’s just unfortunate because a strong villain can turn even a good superhero film into something even better.
While many people have already — the film is a runaway success — you should go see Wonder Woman if you haven’t already. It’s a great superhero film with fun characters, a lot of great action, and an above average story. It also shines the spotlight onto a deservedly iconic heroine, hopefully setting a trend for films to come. I loved Wonder Woman’s appearance in Batman v. Superman, which left me hopeful for the DCEU’s future, and I’m so happy I was not disappointed here. I just hope this film is not a diamond in the rough, but instead a turning point for the DC films from here on out.