Wonder Woman is a beautifully directed superhero movie origin that digs into Diana’s transformation from naive warrior to inspiring hero.
Set in the DC Extended Universe established by the likes of Man of Steel, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman is an origin story in the most literal sense. Framed by present day sequences, Wonder Woman follows Diana (Gal Gadot) from her childhood on Themyscira through her transformation into the superhero of modern times. Young Diana grew up on Themyscira as the daughter of the land’s ruler, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and trained under the tutelage of her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). But everything she knows changes when a man crash lands in the water just beyond Themyscira’s shores.
Diana rescues Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a soldier who tells the Amazons of the Great War that has claimed countless lives across Europe. Believing Ares to be the cause of such devastation, and wanting to save mankind from the God of War’s wrath, Diana leaves Themyscira with Steve, traveling to Europe in the hope of finding and defeating the Amazons’ sworn enemy. With the help of Steve’s secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and their ally Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), Diana and Steve set out to find General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his scientist Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya) – after assembling a small team consisting of Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).
Wonder Woman is the first of Warner Bros’ two DCEU entries to hit theaters in 2017, and arrives on the heels of its two preceding DC Comics films receiving poor critical responses and divisive reactions among fans. In the wake of Batman V Superman’s largely negative reviews, hope was placed on Suicide Squad to be the first film of the DCEU that was generally well received – only for that hope to shift to Wonder Woman after David Ayer’s film also suffered poor reviews. Of course, Wonder Woman also bears the pressure of being the first female-led comic book film to hit theaters in over a decade – and the first superhero movie with a $100+ million budget directed by a woman, with Patty Jenkins at the helm. Fortunately, Wonder Woman is a beautifully directed superhero movie origin that digs into Diana’s transformation from naive warrior to inspiring hero.
To Wonder Woman’s benefit, the majority of the film takes place long before the events of the DCEU proper, allowing Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg plenty of room to explore the evolution of Diana without too many constraints placed on it by existing in a larger superhero universe. With a story by Batman V Superman and Justice League director Zack Snyder, Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs (Pan), Wonder Woman still fits within the DCEU, and doesn’t feel out of place in terms of continuity with the films that came before it. With Wonder Woman taking place almost entirely on Themyscira or in Europe during World War I, the film has a unique opportunity to explore its titular character in a context when the world has not yet learned about superheroes – and Wonder Woman takes full advantage.
Wonder Woman‘s WWI setting also provides a landscape that is ripe for action, since the war’s level of carnage was due to the advancement of weapon technology (while militaries continued to use traditional tactics and strategies). Yet Wonder Woman never depicts ‘typical’ war action sequences, thanks to Diana’s Amazonian fighting style, entering a WWI battle fully confident she’ll be able to take on the advanced weaponry with her classical arsenal, which consists largely of her sword and shield (and her formidable Lasso of Truth). The disparate fighting styles make for some exceptionally dynamic action sequences, all of which spotlight the hero’s – and Gadot’s – skill in battle.
Additionally, the action never gets repetitive as each major sequence incorporates different elements or settings to offer something new. One of the best battle sequences features the Amazons taking on a group of human soldiers wielding WWI weaponry. Since the Amazons are some of the best warriors in the world, and Robin Wright’s Antiope is a standout among them, they’re somewhat evenly matched with the human soldiers – though it isn’t a typical fight since the Amazons, and Diana especially, are also learning about mankind’s advanced weaponry. Wonder Woman continues to build on this uneven matching of skills and weaponry to provide compelling and exciting action sequences throughout the film, as Diana and Steve pursue Ares.
Beyond the action, it’s Diana’s personal journey throughout Wonder Woman that forms the core of the film, and is where Jenkins’ DCEU entry succeeds best. Gadot brings the many sides of Diana to life beautifully, though it’s perhaps her fish-out-of-water humor that stands out most. Raised on Themyscira and traveling to the human world for the first time, there’s plenty about London and the modern ways of life that Diana has never experienced. Gadot plays each of these moments with equal amounts of innocence and curiosity. But what’s most fascinating about these scenes is that Diana’s curiosity for the world is portrayed with a positive sense of humor. Rather than making Diana’s innocence or ignorance the butt of the joke, these moments shine a new light on certain aspects of humanity – those which are rarely questioned but absolutely silly from an outsider’s perspective, effectively encouraging the audience to laugh at themselves through Diana.
Chris Pine as Steve is the main, and incredibly charming sounding board/tour guide for all of Diana’s questions and curiosities about mankind, though Etta Candy also serves in a similar role as the straight man to Diana’s fish-out-of-water routine. But where Etta is entirely relegated to that humorous stock character role in Wonder Woman – in which Lucy Davis nevertheless excels – Steve’s relationship with Diana, and his own discovery of what it means to be a hero is developed through teaching and learning from Diana. Unlike the female romantic interests in male-led action films, Steve has his own journey of discovery over the course of Wonder Woman, in which Diana plays a pivotal role. Conversely, Steve is instrumental to Diana’s growth from the naive warrior (who holds mankind up on a pedestal) to one who knows of humanity’s failings and still chooses to protect them.
Where Wonder Woman struggles to stick the landing is in the film’s major villain, Ares. Although the character has a presence throughout the film, since Diana’s entire mission is defeating him, neither his character nor his motivations are adequately developed. While Diana’s journey is well-established and evolves over the course of the film, the bulk of Ares’ development is ham-fisted into the final act of Wonder Woman through a self-explanatory and trite villain monologue. The underdeveloped villain is a common issue of many comic book movies, particularly those depicting origin stories, since the film’s focus is more on the hero, as is the case in Wonder Woman. That said, Ares does act as the perfect foil to Diana in terms of their relationships with, and feelings toward humanity. So although he isn’t quite a three-dimensional character, his presence and ultimate conflict with Diana does work to support her journey and development into a fully-realized hero.
As for the overall look and feel of Wonder Woman, the story of Diana is depicted through beautiful imagery brought to the screen by Jenkins, cinematographer Matthew Jensen (Chronicle), production designer Aline Bonetto (Amélie), and costume designer Lindy Hemming (The Dark Knight). The settings of Themyscira and the various locations across Europe during WWI offer a rich backdrop that helps to ground Wonder Woman, forcing the extraordinary powers of the titular hero into stark contrast. In terms of the visual effects in Wonder Woman, there are instances in which Gadot’s CGI-enhanced stunt work treads into the ‘uncanny valley,’ but for the most part the action scenes don’t suffer for these moments.
All in all, Wonder Woman is a cohesive and gripping comic book-adapted origin story that gives the most famous female superhero a live-action entry worthy of the character’s legacy. There weak spots in those brief moments of impossible-to-miss CG and Ares’ character development, but even with those flaws, Wonder Woman is exceptionally strong. Arriving at the time it does, Wonder Woman faces immense pressure both within the context of the DCEU and, to a larger extent, Hollywood as a whole – but Gadot and Jenkins rise above expectations to deliver an incredibly exciting and inspiring movie.
Wonder Woman is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 141 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content.
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