Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
“Wonder Woman” is a war movie. Patty Jenkins first - and I hope not last - entry into the DC expanded universe is primarily set during World War I, but while the main bulk of the violence is not featured at war-time, it’s the internal struggling that our heroine is battling that is most vital. Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) made her debut last year in the watchable “Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” and her appearance, was, arguably the best thing in the film, even with the titular characters duking it out for three hours. She was initially positioned as a possible adversary to Bruce Wayne, before coming on board for what will be the Justice League this November and Jenkin’s feature flips back through time to deliver an origin story that all the best old-fashioned superhero movies are made off. “Wonder Woman” runs like a well balanced machine that functions beautifully on it’s own while also getting the world excited for future installments.
Allan Heinberg’s script (with story credits for both Zack Snyder and franchise newbie Jason Fuchs) provide a rich and compelling backstory, filled with smart, slick, and funny humor. Which is so refreshing, as the DCEU has been struggling with that as of late. Sure movies like, “Suicide Squad,” “Man of Steele” and “BVS” were all monster hits. But they were the kind of hits that only transpired on the bottom line for the studios profit margin, and not ones that lived inside the hearts of moviegoers. In fact, the last true good DC film was “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012. Unlike their crosstown rivals (Marvel studios) DC hasn’t been able to crack the golden nut, and I’m sure they rolled their eyes every time a Marvel film came out to stunning critical and fan reactions. So how refreshingly ironic, that a pair of woman (Gadot and Jenkins) get to deliver the best DC franchise film yet, and show the men how it’s done.
The backstory, as I mentioned earlier, follows an elite population of female warriors called the Amazons on the island of Themyscira and when we first meet Diana she is just a small child running around getting into trouble. Born from equal parts clay and her mother’s willingness to have a child. She is clearly loved by everyone, especially her doting mother Queen Hippoltya - (don’t you love these names?) - played by a stern Connie Nielsen; and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright, a warrior from head to toe), but Diana wants more than to just stand by idle and watch, she wants to fight.
And fight she does. As we see her progression in age, Antiope trains her to be ten times the fighter any of her other pupils are. “I want her to be better than you” the Queen tells her sister. Various montages and swelling musicals scores fill the next few scenes as Jenkins highlights how Diana came to be in her homeland. All of this takes a spill, however, when a lone fighter aircraft crash lands in the middle of their island with Chris Pine as the pilot. He plays a British intel spy named Steve Taylor and his introduction comes after Diana saves him from drowning. He is just one of the many heroes alongside Diana in this film.
The film’s first major battle is a standout. Set on the beach in daylight hours that it looks vastly different from so many nighttime sequences of the genre, complete with throwback weapons (arrows and horses) and a mad dash of heroines kicking butt and taking names. The stakes are never low, and the emotional gravitas of these earlier scenes often come to fruition in gut-wrenching ways.
With Diana’s struggle to understand the impact Steve has on her life, he struggles to explain what is happening with the world outside of their paradise island. War, and not just any war, the war to end all wars. Most of the Amzaons refuse to fight - which is understandable because they fled the mortal world after being damaged helping the human race - Diana on the other side, is destined to journey the world. She wants to complete her mission in what she believes represents all Amazons: to kill Ares, the god of war. Of course, her innocence is steeped in mythology that one might find unorthodox. Steve, most of the time, just listens in awe. The funniest bit is when Diana tells him that she was born of clay and brought to life by her mother; his response is a slow, and hilarious reaction of “That’s neat” and “we have different ways of making babies where I come from.”
Most of the scenes between Gadot and Pine are remarkable, with all the innocence and passion one such relationship should begin to have. It’s fun watching their facial expressions, as Diana steps foot on human soil for the first time, and how quickly Steve has to tell her to put her sword away in public. But, if anyone knows Diana, she doesn’t take orders very well - and it’s clear the writers made sure that she calls the shots.
Gadot is the perfect Wonder Woman, the kind of can-do role model that young girls (and boys) can look up to in respect. She always fights for honor and the best interest of the people, she always wants to help. And when she is finally thrown into battle, well, let’s just say, she rivals even the best male counterparts of her kind. Jenkins stages these fight sequences with such grit and sass that you wonder how DC has dropped the ball for so long, any future filmmaker in this universe should take extensive notes.
It’s only in the films final twenty minutes that, instead of being a film about truth, power and justice, becomes one about unnecessary CGI destruction. The final battle is a good one, but you can’t help but think how much better the film would be without it. Yet, that’s just a small quibble in a film that get’s so much right. I hope this paves the way for future female directors getting the chance to direct mainstream blockbusters and kudos to Warner Bros and DC for finally delivering on their comic properties high potential. And for the first time since 2012 I can say, with a gleeful smile on my face, DC is back in business. A-