It’s been a long, long journey for Wonder Woman to finally make it to the big screen. Initially conceived as a mixture super-heroics, classical myth, feminist politics, subtle perversion by William Moulton Marston (along with his two uncredited female companions/collaborators) in the 40s for DC comics, the character quickly became a campy objectified joke in an invisible jet. Linda Carter’s goofy TV series may have been a pop culture icon, but it didn’t help. Wonder Woman was always more of a popular image than a character. Of course, many writers worked to restore her to her former glory in comics over the last few decades, but she never got the iconic book like The Dark Knight Returns that established her as a superheroine of depth like her penis-packing Justice League super friends. Every now and then there would be an attempt at a movie by someone like Joss Whedon, but they never seemed to come together. Batman and Superman would always get rebooted first. Well, that finally changed. The long overdue Wonder Woman blockbuster is finally here, and not only has she gotten the movie that she deserves, she just might have given hope to the early failings of the DCU.
The story obviously kicks off with an origin. That was inevitable. The audience is transported to the hidden tropical island of Themyscia, a land with only women. They were sent from the gods to show humanity love and hidden away after a war with Ares (The god of war. He likes fighting). Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was conceived after. She was sculpted from clay by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and dubbed Diana. Hippolyta who hoped to raise her without knowing violence, but her sister Antiope (Robin Wright) knew that Diana was destined for an Ares rematch and trained her to be a warrior. It’s all pretty old-timey greek myth stuff and just as creaky as it sounds. Thankfully director Patty Jenkins and her team of screenwriters know that it’s important to treat this material with reverence, while also keeping it mercifully brief. So, it’s all spat out quickly with minimal cheese, and things pick up dramatically once the modern world comes to Themyscia.
Well, not that modern actually. A First World War fighter pilot named Steve (Chris Pine) crashes his plane into Themyscia where he is quickly rescued from the perusing Germans by Diana and her battling Amazonian sisters. The leaders quickly realize that Ares must be up to his old tricks creating a global conflict and send Diana back out into the human world to stop it. In some hilarious culture clash comedy scenes with a pop feminist bent, Steve pulls Diana through early 20th century London where she scoffs at how poorly women are treated, and huffs about the inhumanity of those running the war. Soon Steve gathers a motley crew of character actors like Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock to form a small resistance team with Diana. They hope to stop the Germans from releasing poison gas, Steve hopes to end the First World War, and Diana hopes to find Ares and stop war altogether. And with that the movie is set up.
So, as you may have gathered Wonder Woman doesn’t exactly have a script tight enough to bounce quarters off of it. It’s a long winding road with much world-building required before the key conflicts can even be established. So the pacing is a bit all over the place, often feeling both dragged out and rushed. Thankfully, director Patty Jenkins does her best to keep her movie moving and entertaining at all times, even when the narrative takes a while to rev up. She fills the film with humour without in any way mocking the character or undermining the drama (I mean, you’ve got to at least acknowledge how ridiculous the lasso of truth is). The action scenes are swift and intense when they arrive. There’s an athleticism to this Wonder Woman beneath her stoic strength. She bashes, bruises, and blows up all human foes with style and a certain brutal grace. Jenkins consciously shoots Wonder Woman as an icon during these scenes and gets plenty of gasps and cheers. This hero is ready to play with the big boys, no doubt about it.
Yet, beyond all the pure pop entertainment and satisfaction, the film has enough on its mind to avoid feeling hollow. There are satirical jabs at sexism, but also an empowering sense of gender, class, and race politics, a layered exploration of the morality of war, and even time spent toying with the nature of classical myth. It’s a superhero blockbuster with more on its mind than most without ever for a second feeling pretentious. Beyond that, the film is exquisitely cast and Jenkins knows how to work well with actors. There isn’t a single bad performance in the film, but of course, none of the scene-stealers detract from the leads. Gal Gadot proves to be a perfect Wonder Woman, strong, powerful, knowing, loving, pained, thoughtful, funny, and just plain bad ass. She clearly took the role seriously, and delivers a performance that both lives up to the icon and reveals depth she’s never shown before. Gadot is Wonder Woman now, and clearly deserved the role on every level. Chris Pine has fun taking on the wisecracking sidekick/love interest in a superhero cinema gender reversal. There’s a certain knowing humour to his portrayal without sacrificing any of the dramatic depth he needs to impart. Together they make an ideal pair, both a strong buddy action duo and a charismatic screwball romance sparring partners. They are a joy to watch and carry the film on their backs with ease.
Sure, eventually Wonder Woman succumbs to the usual CGI cluster cuss climax with an underwhelming villain that dogs most superhero origin stories, but at least not without sacrificing the ambition of its themes or strengths of its potent heroine. There are so many things that could have gone wrong with this production, but Patty Jenkins thankfully avoided the big superhero blockbuster traps to deliver a summer movie worthy of the icon at the centre. This is the
This is the Wonder Woman we deserve, thrilling, thoughtful, silly, exciting, and endlessly entertaining. That it came out of the same DCU that delivered such distractingly sombre and overthought hogwash as Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad is a shock. After all, this film is smart, fun, and makes sense. With a little luck, it’s a sign of a new direction for this dreary superhero cinematic universe. In Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Warner Brothers now has a movie superhero as strong as any in Marvel’s roster. Hopefully, the studio will continue to treat her well. Wonder Woman was long overdue a shot to battle with the big boys on the big screen and she’s now officially