Yes, it’s good. This is going to be a positive review. People can stop saying I hate movies now.
Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman is the film that DC and Warner Bros. desperately needed right now. Just as a refresher, in this cinematic universe we have a Superman who thoughtlessly throws villains into buildings and causes multiple 9/11 level events and a Batman who’s a reactionary neo-con that wantonly murders relatively minor criminals by running them over with his car. The Suicide Squad–a gang of supervillains!–saved the world with more regard for human life. Along comes Wonder Woman, a heroine who fights to save people. It took DC four films to do this.
Wonder Woman–called here by her given name, Diana–is an Amazon princess living on the man-free island of Themyscira, populated by warrior women who train to defend the world should the world ever need it. When a British spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on her island Diana is more intrigued than guarded, curious about the world of men. World War I is on, Trevor explains; he simply took a wrong turn. Assuming that war is the doing of Greek war god Ares, Diana volunteers to accompany Trevor to the front line.
Diana’s greatest strength is not her glowing lasso or ability to jump half a mile in the air, but rather her genuine concern for humanity. Gal Gadot, who I’d written off after her wooden performance as Wondy in Batman v Superman, owns the character of Diana, inhabiting the hero like only Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr. have before; her performance is definitive, inseparable from the character, masterfully balancing the simultaneous strength and tenderness of Diana. Chris Pine is just fine as Steve Trevor, who really exists only to serve as a love interest and usher in the plot. Women have been serving this role in film since literally the beginning of cinema, so I ain’t mad.
Themyscira is one of the most beautifully filmed locations to ever be but on camera; I spent a lot of time wishing the film had remained there just a little longer. Connie Nielsen plays Diana’s mother Queen Hippolyta and Robin Wright her warrior aunt Antiope, both of whom make a fine impact with limited screen time. When the film leaves Themyscira for the real world everything becomes monochrome and rain-drenched. Ugh.
Even the action, which I feel is a perennial problem with the superhero genre, is done well here. Diana’s powers provide thrilling visuals as she takes down swaths of German soldiers by herself. Even her signature and highly daft lasso of truth comes in handy. Although, considering the slow motion shots that increasingly infect the action scenes I have the feeling Zack Snyder might have snuck into the editing bay after hours. And, as these movies are wont to do (I criticize, yet have no better alternative), it ends in fifteen minutes of explosions with two CGI models kamehameha-ing each other in midair. Bad? No. Good? No.
Unlike the previous entries in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe, for all you plebeians who don’t obsessively follow news on comic book films), Wonder Woman has a plot, and characters, and escalation, and coherent themes. Kinda like a movie. And unlike films by DC’s much more successful counterpart, Wonder Woman actually commits to it’s shock moments; it’s so refreshing to see a character not return fifteen minutes after being “killed.” I have no excitement for the upcoming Justice League, but I’m a lot more interested in solo films like Aquaman and The Flash now that DC has proved they can make a great movie.
So. Now to the part where I discuss the one actual problem with the film: the villains. I don’t know why superhero films nowadays seem to give such disregard to the villain, but the offerings here rank among the absolute worst. Danny Huston (who needs to stop doing this s*** and get back to acting, because I know he can) plays a German general with Elena Anaya as his mad scientist assistant, unironically nicknamed “Doctor Poison.” They are both forgettable and entirely generic villains who laugh to punctuate their evil and gaze in wide-eyed ecstasy as they watch people die. Yawn. But here’s the real problem with this: the film repeatedly brings up Ares, he’s even kind of the catalyst for the plot, so you know he’s going to show up at some point, maybe even for the final battle? Maybe? Perhaps? Not hinting anything. So when Ares (maybe, possibly, no spoilers) shows up, one can’t help but feel the two prior villains were merely place holders. And one would be right.
That said, the above is a criticism that exists in every superhero film and one that it rests on the genre as a whole to solve, not one singular film. Wonder Woman on the whole is a delight, offering action to excite and a heroine that audiences will surely fall in love with, especially in the midst of her mediocre male cohorts.
Verdict: Wonder Woman is a genuine delight, proving (as though it needed to be proved) that the ladies can kick enough ass to outshine the boys. If you want a hero to root for, Diana is waiting for you.