It’s been a long four years since Man of Steel premiered and started the new DCEU shared universe. It has been a universe of muted colours and asshole heroes, and one that has been hard to be optimistic about future entries in, but I am happy to report that Wonder Woman is a great movie and that you should definitely see it.
It’s not a movie without issues mind you, and it has a lot of the issues that even the best superhero origin stories do. The big CGI laden battle at the end is kinda blah. There’s a twist you might see coming from a mile away that leads up to said battle. There’s a huge lack of closure for some characters. None of this stuff is deal breaking though, and honestly I feel kinda nitpicky pointing it out. There are some things about good superhero movies that I can accept at this point, and a boring final battle is one of them because the big final battle with an ill-defined bad guy is ok when you have a hero who is incredibly well-defined and nearly perfectly portrayed.
This is true of Wonder Woman. Instead of being a brooding, cynical jerk like her predecessors in the DCEU she’s bright, caring, kind, and steadfast in her belief in doing the right thing. She’s also pretty much perfectly portrayed by Gal Gadot, who embodies all of this …. well.. perfectly. She slips into the role so easily it’s as though she were born for it. She’s all at once a convincing warrior (more on that in a moment) but also a young woman naïve of the world of men. There’s grace, subtlety, and humour in her portrayal that is oh so welcome in this universe.
When she meets her first man –in the form of Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor– and learns that there is a war going on her first instinct is to leave her hidden paradise home and join the fray, to live out the destiny of her people to bring peace to the world. As you can imagine the world is not everything she thought it would be and this includes the war. For her, it is a battle she has trained her entire life for. For Steve it’s a thing he must do because of the horrors he has seen. If you see something bad happening you can do nothing or you can do something, and for their own very different reasons they both need to do something.
This is true of the rest of the team they assemble too. Sameer, a man of colour who finds some solace in the fact that all men are equal on the battlefield. Eugene, a scot using battling his PTSD, and Chief, a first nations man who finds freedom on the battlefield that his people lost in the American Indian Wars.
In Steve she finds an equal, which is awesome. He’s her love interest to be sure, but she doesn’t fall for him because of his good looks or wit, she falls for him because he’s also steadfast in his belief in doing the right thing. They’re wired the same way and he accepts her for who she is. Gadot and Pine also have an easy chemistry, their banter is witty, caring, and sweet, and when it comes time to fight they recognize each others strengths and compliment each other brilliantly. They are one of the great onscreen couples I’ve seen this year and certainly one of the best in a superhero movie to date.
The action in Wonder Woman is, for the most party, pretty good. In particular the middle act set piece, where Diana, Steve, and the team cross the no man’s land at the World War One front, tear up a German machine gun nest, and liberate a town, is spectacular. The use of her abilities, an in particular the lasso, is pretty spectacular to watch and the way the men come together to support her really pays off.
This is one of the areas where Zack Snynder’s influence is felt the most. The whole movie is brighter and more hopeful, but a lot of the action uses some pretty gratuitous slow motion. THat’s not to say that it doesn’t work. It works really well, but if you’re not a fan of the style your mileage may vary.
It’s also worth pointing out that the first big action sequence in the first act features Robin Wright as an Amazon general who not only flies through the air and shoots three people with three arrows fired in the same shot, but starts with her leading a vanguard into battle with a huge shit-eating grin on her face. It’s a truly glorious moment.
As previously mentioned the third at set piece has a twist you’ll see coming, is overly laden with CGI, and again you can feel the Snyder influence in dark, night-time fight however it stays on point thematically so well that this is easy to forgive.
Wonder Woman is a great film by virtue of the fact that it doesn’t do that thing that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman both did: try to deconstruct its hero. Characters like Wonder Woman don’t need deconstructing. There’s a purity there, much like Captain America in Marvel’s franchise. She doesn’t change to suit the world, she stands fast and the world changes to match her ideals. She’s an example we can all aspire to, and that’s exactly what a hero like her should be.
So there it is. Go see Wonder Woman, and if you have kids make sure you take them too. Here’s hoping that this course correction for the DCEU isn’t a one off.