This is hands down the best film based on DC characters in the DC expanded universe so far (as opposed to stand-alones like Burton or Nolan’s Batman film or Donners’ or Singer’s Superman films), easily beating Man of Steel, Suicide Squad and Batman V Superman on every measure. And as a die-hard Supes fan, I don’t say that lightly. Patty Jenkins enters into the realm of the great tentpole film directors and takes her place! With credits like Monster, Arrested Development, and Entourage under her belt, we shouldn’t be surprised. Writer and producers Snyder and Johns make a great attempt at full redemption for the flaws of the previous EU DC films with this entry, as it captures everything a hero movie, and a Wonder Woman film, should be! Now having made these daring claims, let me defend them.
The story and tone shine through in classic comic book fashion. This is a war movie along the lines of Saving Private Ryan, Valkyrie or Band of Brothers, that happens to have Wonder Woman in it, with a little bit of brilliant framing formed by flashbacks initiated after Diana receives a letter from Bruce Wayne inquiring about her past and the picture that he found of her in B V. S. Diana remembers back to her childhood and over protective mother Hippolyta, who prevents her from training as a warrior like the other Amazons, thus instilling a rebellious and stubborn streak in her demigod daughter. The queen fears her power as a demigod, and keeps her identity as such from her daughter. It is only through the secret training of headstrong general Antiope (Robin Wright of Princess Bride fame! Princess Buttercup leading the Amazon army!) that she begins to discover her true strength.
Steve Trevor ( a charming and emotive Chris Pine) comes to their island accidentally, and a series of hilarious and charming character scenes follow which play on the cultural differences between an isolated island of women and the outside world. Diana is eventually drawn out after pursuing Germans kill Antiope. Diana believes WW1 is the work of war god Ares, and Antiope’s death and her headstrong sense of good and justice from stories of Greek Epics compel her to follow Steve to fight in the outside world. Hilarious adaptation to London and modern life ensue, wryly and comically pointing out the falsity of keeping women suppressed, as Diana tries to be herself in the outside world.
After recruiting a compelling and well developed motley crew of compatriots to go on a secret mission to thwart one last plot by the Germans to win the war before the Armistace, Diana faces challenges that not only test her fighting skills, but her very polar and black and white view of good and evil in the world, shaking her identity as do-gooder when Trevor brings her to the reality that there is good and bad in all humans, a battle that no hero can fight and win for everyone, that you can’t save everyone, and the world is not as clear cut as she believes. This harsh journey brings her against a vicious German general (cameo by Gen. Stryker from X-men 2, an actor who always plays evil generals apparently), a disfigured female weapons developer, and Ares himself! Suffice it to say her journey is action packed, well paced, and changes her profoundly.
The female empowerment and strength of Diana is fully present in a subtle way. Her strength and power are innate to her character and the film never beats you over the head with the girl power angle. There funny assertions of female empowerment (Trevor’s secretary’s job sounds like slavery to Diana, Diana initiates and controls the sexual encounter and it is not a big deal or a central plot element after, Diana not rely on Trevor to save her, just to inspire her deeds) and that is a fantastic element of this film. Gal Gadot does an amazing job of combining strength, innocence, intelligence, vulnerability and doubt into those gauntlets and that tiara! The power of the female extends even out of the theater, as a female only showing of the film at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas caused a male backlash and controversy. (http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/26/entertainment/wonder-woman-women-only/ )
On the mechanics and technical side these aspects of the film are a ‘wonder’ as well! They have a great use of 3D, which I don’t often indulge in but was told to for this film, and seamless CGI which was used to give a great sense of “pop” and color to the characters and scenes. The battle scenes have nice balance of slow motion action to make the 3D elements slow down and stop ever so briefly, momentarily freezing and popping out into and iconic frame like a comic book, then speeding right back up into to the action, which exciting but never overwhelming or hard to follow like for instance Transformers or the third Hobbit film. The scope and scale of the shots and of battles were very balanced and appropriate. They have great settings real world settings in Italy and London, and Thermyscia’s CGI and real world sets are beautiful.
The film had great pacing and a smart script, setting up scenes logically and allowing room for characters to develop without getting lost or off plot. Awesome performances by Chris Pine, his back up crew and especially by Gal Gadot, who goes from headstrong naiveite to having her world views shattered, but core beliefs reaffirmed, and coming out more grown up, wiser, and sure on the other side. These performances anchor an already solid film Ares has an impressive design, even if his human form was a bit underwhelming. Some battles were a bit unbelievable given the harsh reality of the WW1 setting, but it’s almost not noticeable. The weakest performance had to have come from Connie Nielsen Diana’s mother, who did not convey the strength or fierceness of her daughter. And I refuse to believe Ares can die or that she’s done away with him for good. I mean WW1 ends and WW2 beings 10 years later! But Diana’s monologue at the end was right in asserting that the battle between choosing to be good or bad is a battle no superhero can win or fight for everyone, and that knowledge empowers her as she hopefully leaps into the future. That’s what I love about this movie. I felt inspired and hopeful and that I learned something important. Which is what superheroes are all about! Man of Steel and B V. S didn’t even get close to summoning that it me. Here’s hoping DC has learned its lesson!