In hindsight, it shouldn’t be so surprising that Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, turned out as great as it did. She was barely in Batman v Superman, directed by Zack Snyder, but she easily stole the show.
Movie Review: Wonder Woman
By Felix Quinonez
June 19, 2017
When she jumped into the fray of the cluttered final battle, it was one of the few moments when that movie, however briefly, came alive. DC didn’t just finally get it right; they knocked it out of the park. Wonder Woman is thrilling, heartfelt, and endlessly entertaining. The movie has plenty of action, soul, and a star making performance from Gal Gadot.
The movie kicks off in the present day, France with Wonder Woman working as some kind of curator at the Louvre (even superheroes have to pay the bills). She receives a very elaborate package from none other than Bruce Wayne. It turns out to be a photo that serves as the movie’s framing device and transports us back in time.
Suddenly, we are in the mystical Themyscira when Diana is just a child. But she is already full of life and she watches in awe as the other Amazons train. She desperately wants to join them, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), won’t allow it. Nielsen exudes an effortless elegance and strength.
Predictably enough, Diana eventually does get her way when her aunt, General Antiope, (Robin Wright) decides to train her. Wright is stunning as a hardened and caring warrior. She doesn’t have a huge role but makes great use of her screen time. And eventually, Diana grows to become a strong warrior who surpasses everyone’s expectations.
The island of Themyscira is beautifully shot and seeing the women train was great, but it’s too bad that the movie never focuses on any other aspects of their lives.
One day Steve Trevor, (Chris Pine) an Allied spy, crashes on the water off the beach of their island (it’s a little unclear how he broke through the force field). Diana sees this and wastes no time in saving him.
But unfortunately, some German pilots on his tail also make their way onto the island. And what follows is both thrilling and harrowing. As the Germans storm the beach, the Amazons are quick to take a stand to protect their home.
The women are strong and brave, but many of them, including Antiope, fall to the guns of men. It’s a powerful and moving scene with a real sense of urgency.
The battle feels like there is genuinely a lot at stake, something not a lot of comic book movies have been able to pull off. The violence is brutal and at times hard to watch.
Not surprisingly, the women don’t trust Steve and some want to kill him. But instead, Diana uses her magical lasso on him. It compels him to tell the truth, and they learn about his mission and that World War I is raging outside of the island. He has to get a notebook with secret information back to his commanders in hopes of ending the war.
Diana thinks that the only reason men are killing each other is because Ares, the god of war, has instilled evil into their hearts. She decides to help Steve put an end to the fighting by stopping Ares. She leaves with him to London to join the battle.
From there, they embark on their journey to “man’s world” and the movie becomes, at least for a while, a fish out of water story. And Gadot sells the befuddlement with a wide-eyed mixture of confusion and awe.
Seeing our world through her eyes is one of the movie’s highlights. When Diana meets Steve’s secretary, Etta Candy, (Lucy Davis) she is genuinely perplexed by her job. To Diana, Etta’s duties sound an awful lot like slavery. Davis gives an entertaining and delightful but luckily not overused performance.
It’s great to see how Diana reacts to what we accept as normal. Because if you think about it, the casual sexism and misogyny that is accepted as “normal” would totally seem crazy to an outsider. And before their mission really gets going, Diana gets a taste of what “man’s world” is really like when she is shushed, told to cover up and escorted out of rooms when men are talking.
In what seems like standard practice, they pick up a few comrades along the way. As far as rag tag teams go, theirs is nothing mold breaking but they are entertaining enough. The team is made up of Charlie, (Ewen Bremner) a sniper suffering from PTSD, Sammy, (Saïd Taghmaoui) A French Moroccan con artist and secret agent. In one of the movie’s funniest moments, Sammy explains that he wanted to be an actor but is “the wrong color.” Lastly, we have Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), a Native American smuggler who can get people across the front lines.
Along the way there are some genuinely thrilling set pieces. In one particularly captivating scene, they find themselves at one of the trenches. Steve explains that it’s impossible to cross it and that they have to go on with their missions but Diana refuses to leave without helping.
She puts her hair down, sheds the clothes given to her by men and boldly, and symbolically, ventures out into “no man’s land” (the deadly space between trenches during World War I).
The scene is electrifying and instantly iconic. Diana slowly makes her way, confidently deflecting bullets with her bracelets. As the fire becomes more and more severe, she speeds up and along the way, she does what heroes are supposed to do; inspire. Following her lead, Steve and the rest of the team charge in after her. But the fire only increases, and she is momentarily held back but never beaten.
Eventually, the rest of the army joins in and Diana makes it to the other side, taking out the gunmen. A chase ensues and seeing Diana unleashed is incredibly exciting. During a CGI-heavy-but-not-overwhelmed scene she uses her lasso in the fight and it’s as glorious as you could hope for.
But when a sniper sets his sights on them - and innocent bystanders - Diana has to take out a high tower. Because it’s obviously out of reach, Steve, Sammy and Charlie use a detached car door to launch her up to the tower. And Diana, becoming the embodiment of female agency, smashes down not just the building but symbolic walls and would be oppressors.
Lately, it seems that DC movies have been so eager to show us the failings of our heroes, so it is genuinely awe-inspiring and breath taking to see Wonder Woman’s resilience and heroic side take center stage.
Unfortunately, when she finally confronts Ares, she learns that a vile villain didn’t put the evil in men, but it is instead something that is part humankind itself. And there is no simple way of defeating it. But she also learns that there is a capacity for good within mankind that makes it worthwhile to fight that evil.
It’s too bad, though, that it all seems to lead to a final battle that is disappointingly by-the numbers, but at least it’s not obnoxiously over the top like the one in Batman v Superman. And the bad guys are a bit underdeveloped but no worse than anything you might find in the MCU.
But when everything that came before is so strong, this adds up to a small complaint. The movie is a home run when DC desperately needed one. And Gal Gadot is the heart of the movie and her performance is both heroic and innocently optimistic.
She is simply wonderful. She looks and acts like a hero but she also exudes kindness and sweetness. And fortunately, Steve Trevor, played winningly by Chris Pine, makes for a great partner in crime. Pine gives a charismatic, entertaining and heartfelt performance. He is both confused and enchanted by Diana.
Together, they make a great team and have a charming budding romance. The two of them share wonderful chemistry that is quickly established in the movie. Early on, there is a sweet scene on a boat that plays like a delightful first date filled with nervous and awkward exchanges. The script, written by Allan Heinberg, has plenty of witty, fun dialogue between the leads but luckily it knows when it’s time for a romantic moment.
Perhaps influenced by its World War I setting, the movie has an old-school charm that is a welcome relief from all of the Snyder influenced self-seriousness and general lack of fun that defined the previous DC movies. And the fact that it’s a self-contained movie shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s great that the movie never stops itself to set up five other movies.
That a woman directed it becomes most clear from the fact that there is no male gaze. The camera portrays Wonder Woman as a figure of strength rather than as an object to be lusted over.
But the fact that the movie was made by a woman does not mean it’s only for women. Wonder Woman never feels the need to push the male characters aside. It has no “angry feminist” agenda to sell. The arrival of a female hero doesn’t mean her male counterparts will be replaced. It’s just meant to show that women and men can coexist as equals on the screen and in life.