A film that the DC Extended Universe needed, and a hero that audiences have long deserved.
THE BEST DC MOVIE SINCE NOLAN’S DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY
In trying to catch up to its competition’s historic success on the big screen, the folks behind the DC Extended Universe initially ignored a critical detail—that many of their heroes can make an impact on audiences all by themselves. The bombastic ensemble movies are alluring projects, but if a superhero’s personal journey is compelling enough, they don’t need to share the screen with any of their peers to leave a lasting impression.
Wonder Woman is a resounding affirmation of that fact. It feels like an an act of redemption from the DCEU; after two disappointing ensemble films (Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad), Wonder Woman is here to solidify the importance of solo superhero outings as you build toward sprawling crossovers, and to remind us that one hero, alone, can make a world of difference.
In a lot of ways, Wonder Woman is a character study for Princess Diana of Themyscira. Her mission to stop Ares, the God of War, and bring some semblance of peace to a world plagued by violent conflict is interesting, enough, but the film’s greatest purpose is in showing Diana’s rise from a sheltered princess to one of the most inspiring heroines ever to grace the screen. The near two hour and twenty minute running time is more than justified for this personal journey, and while the early goings might not have the best pacing, the story finds its stride soon after to give us a captivating character arc.
This wouldn’t be possible without the enchanting performance by Gal Gadot, who might just be the most accurate casting for any character in a superhero film, yet. Gadot’s earnest portrayal captures all of what has made the character beloved for 75 years. As Diana, she is just so lovable, so genuinely selfless and compassionate that even the most cynical moviegoer will be compelled to root for her.
There is a childlike innocence to Diana that is rare in heroes. Early on, there’s a moment where she realizes that she’s strong enough to crush stone with her bare hands, and her immediate reaction is to smile like a little girl who just got her first hit playing softball. It’s impossible to see that without smiling, yourself, because you realize that the adventurous young girl who we saw early on in the film is still residing in the young woman who became a capable warrior among the Amazons on Themyscira.
Diana’s maturation doesn’t stop once she can best her fellow Amazon warriors, either. In fact, you might say that she doesn’t truly become Wonder Woman until a good part of the film has passed. Her fearless venture into no man’s land on the World War 1 battlefield was more than deserving of its prominence in the film’s marketing. It’s a defining moment for the character’s incomparable courage, and it’s destined to go down as one of the most iconic sequences in superhero film.
Certainly, part of her willingness to enter the dangerous war zone is because her superhuman abilities ensure her survival, where a normal being would be helpless, but her unflagging determination plays an equal role in spurring her onward. Diana has a no-nonsense approach to her mission. She’s not a woman for technicalities and semantics; she’s intent to smash through the political, and other man-made hurdles that stand before the goal of peace.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the ultimate culture shock that Diana experiences as she completes her journey through the world of mankind. It serves as the basis for much of the film’s humor, as Diana often stumbles through the conventions and norms of human society. She may be fluent in hundreds of different languages, but wearing a dress isn’t exactly in her repertoire of skills. A revolving door initially proves to be a challenging foe for her. She’s nothing short of awestruck by the savory sweetness of ice cream.
Complimenting her humor and her heroism is Steve Trevor, a United States Army Air Service captain who’s right in the thick of the World War 1 conflict as a spy. Chris Pine delivers a fantastic performance as a man who is baffled by such a mighty, incomparably-benevolent being like Diana, but also admires her for the very same reasons. He acts as a guide for Diana through modern civilization, navigating her around the confounding conventions of mankind so that she can confront the enemy which is vastly superior to humans.
Diana and Steve Trevor are a microcosm of the balance that the film strikes in its tone. The movie has all of the mirth and cheer that the public has clamored for more of from the DCEU, but, thankfully, it didn’t devolve in anything campy. Wonder Woman is an incredibly uplifting story, but it is also an incredibly sobering one. It doesn’t hold back when it needs to be serious, particularly during its enthralling climax. It doesn’t try to beautify World War 1 or Diana’s mission. This story is resolute to show the horrors that come with such a widespread conflict, albeit, with restraint so that adolescent viewers should be able to digest it.
You’ll find a similar balance in the environments that Diana and Steve venture through. The island of Themyscira is a sun-drenched, verdant utopia that echoes Greece’s coastline, and other Mediterranean geography. It’s in stark contrast to the rest of the world we see in the film, which, by comparison, is murky, hazy, and tarnished by man’s folly. The city of London has an ashy curtain that seems to drape every street and alleyway.
It’s obvious what symbolism that director Patty Jenkins (Monster) and the visual crew were going for, but they could have achieved the same with a broader color palette. As well, there are a few scenes at night where they might have be wise to dial back the realism and brighten our view.
Late in the film, the color orange takes on more metaphors than you would ever expect from a single shade. In a span of around thirty minutes, you’ll see the color serve as ruthlessness, as fury, and eventually as tranquility.
Wonder Woman feels like a savior in our world just as its titular heroine does in hers. It brings an air of quality and levity to the DCEU, reinvigorating what was a troubled franchise. Far more importantly, it provides female moviegoers with the empowering female superhero that they have long deserved. Don’t think for a moment that Wonder Woman is strictly for the girls, however. No matter your sex, and no matter your age, this is a film who all should see, and a hero all should aspire to be like.
+ A brilliant character arc for Diana that is moving, and even a little thought-provoking
+ Unforgettable performances by Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, and plenty of good ones from their fellow cast mates
+ Thrilling action where Wonder Woman displays a stunning combination of strength and elegance
+ Contains a multitude of beautiful themes regarding one’s duty to the world, and what it means to be a hero
— The beginning of the movie has a few awkward transitions between scenes
— Some scenes are visually darker than need be
Jeff Pawlak is a veteran writer for the Geekiverse, and has been a passionate Wonder Woman fan for many years. He’s glad that she’s poised to take center stage in the DCEU, which he’ll be watching with great interest as it rolls along. Catch him on Twitter @JeffreyPavs for all his thoughts and reactions.
Other articles from Jeff Pawlak
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