Movie Review: Wonder Woman
By Matthew Huntley
June 13, 2017
That's exactly what we get as Diana narrates her life leading up to the photograph, beginning with her upbringing on the mythical island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons, a race of superhuman women who train as warriors. A young Diana dreams of becoming a warrior herself against the wishes of her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who's told Diana she was carved out of clay and brought to life by Zeus. However, there's a deeper truth to her origin and Hippolyta fears if Diana learns it, she'll be more susceptible to Ares, Zeus's son and the God of War who corrupted mankind and prompted them to attack the Amazons and whom the Amazons believe will return one day. But Diana is stubborn and desperately wants to be the one who wields the sword Zeus left the Amazons in order to kill Ares, and so Hippolyta agrees to let her train under her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), who pulls no punches and encourages her niece to channel her true powers.
Diana's story continues and segues into the movie's parallel plot when an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes off Themyscira's coast after stealing a German airplane during World War I. Diana saves him, but he's been pursued by German soldiers, who end up attacking the Amazons with gunfire, leading to tragedy. After telling Diana who he is via the Lasso of Truth, Steve informs her there's a great world war happening “out there” and Diana comes to believe Ares is the sole cause of it. She insists on sailing back to London with Steve and saving the world, but Steve tells her it's more complicated than that, and his mission, at the moment, is to hand over a critical journal he intercepted from the Germans to the British authorities. The journal contains information about a new form of mustard gas developed by the scarred Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), who's working under the evil and maniacal General Ludendorff (Danny Huston).
In terms of plot, Wonder Woman is fairly traditional and safe, and as an adaptation of a DC Comics property, it often mirrors rival Marvel's Captain America. But as familiar as its developments may be, they don't merely serve as a backdrop for the action sequences. In fact, the movie catches us off guard by allowing its story to actually build toward the action so the action itself takes on greater meaning. It's not on-screen all the time and comes only after the characters speak and plead their case for why any violence has to happen in the first place.
So, when we see Diana for the first time as Wonder Woman - in full superhero garb and walking toward the camera in slow motion - it excites us because the movie has paced itself and waited patiently for this moment. In the hands of a lesser director, we might have been compelled to laugh and wipe it off as something frivolous or cheesy, but because we respect Wonder Woman and what she stands for, it excites us and we feel like cheering. The movie's closing shot has the same effect and it reminded me of two other indelible superhero movie moments: the scene at the end of Superman II when Superman crushes the hand of General Zod; and when Peter Parker busts out of the rubble in Spider-Man 2, essentially becoming Spider-Man again. Such moments are rare but remind us just how invigorating the genre can be.
Wonder Woman is not just spectacle, though. The dialogue also carries weight, especially Pine's as he attempts to teach Diana that war is not as cut and dry as she thinks. I was surprised by how much I responded to the movie's underlying themes and the characters' convictions about wanting to make the world a better place. So often we're asked to simply wade through superhero movie dialogue and wait for the action sequences to wake us up, but here both aspects keep us alert.
It's been a while since a movie has given me chills because of how much it stimulated me and centered around a protagonist I truly believed in, but Wonder Woman did just that. It's all the positive adjectives you could think of to describe an exemplary superhero movie experience (you know what they are). Sure, there are room for improvements, including Gal Gadot gaining more abilities as an actress, but with the same quality and attention to detail as this first entry, I'm confident any future Wonder Woman installments would not only arouse the genre as a whole but perhaps progress it toward something even greater. Who knows, maybe we haven't tapped into all its powers just yet.