Man of Steel? Mediocre at best, a mistake at worst. Batman v Superman? A heaping pile of garbage with a few gems hidden within. Suicide Squad? A total mess, if not an innocent and sometimes enjoyable one. Safe to say, the DC Extended Universe was faltering big time, especially compared to the well-oiled machine that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Who in the world could have the power to save this sinking ship of a franchise? Well, her name is Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot), and lucky for us, it’s her sacred duty to save the world.
Right off the bat, we are sent to the mystical Themyscira, an island paradise shielded by the Greek gods of myth from corruption by the outside world. The vibrant colors, clear air, and flowing water all make for a captivating environment, one I’d love to visit were I allowed to set foot on the island. That’s right- Themyscira is women only (cue cries of sexism from Internet trolls), and not just any women. These are the Amazons of Greek mythology, fearsome warriors who were created to oppose Ares, god of war, and teach mankind the ways of peace and love. And the Amazons themselves? Yeah, they’re pretty sweet, flipping and flying through the air whilst shooting arrows or throwing swords. Seeing them charge into battle against invading German forces is as exhilarating as it sounds; it was also a chilling sight to see that even these great warriors, trained from birth in the art of war, were still no match for guns and bullets. My only complaint about the Amazons was that I didn’t see enough of them- here’s hoping we return to Themyscira in potential sequels.
Once the American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) arrives, bringing news of an all-consuming war, paradise is shattered, and Diana decides to accompany him back to Man’s World in the hopes of ending the war by slaying her mortal enemy, Ares, whom she suspects is behind it all. Diana’s first exposure to our world is one of the highlights of the movie; what from discovering ice cream for the first time, to cooing over babies, to innocently discussing the “pleasures of the flesh” with Trevor, completely oblivious to his mild discomfort and shock at hearing a woman speak of such things, I honestly couldn’t stop laughing. Where Suicide Squad tried way too hard to be funny, Wonder Woman’s many moments of humor are organic and are not there simply for humor’s sake.
The cast was brilliant. Chris Pine’s turns out a hilarious and often extremely emotional performance as Steve Trevor, Diana’s sidekick and love interest (yes, there is a romance story in this movie, and it is the best one I’ve seen in a superhero movie so far). Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright, Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope, respectively, are dignified, steely, and loving all when they need to be. Robin Wright was just born to play badass characters, as Season 5 of House of Cards reminded me. Danny Huston and Elena Anaya are certainly successful in their portrayals of the evil General Ludendorff and Doctor Poison. Their villainy almost reaches levels of campiness, but the actors so embraced their roles that I found this to be a delight rather than an annoyance, although I was left wishing Doctor Poison was a more fleshed out villain. Lucy Davis’ Etta Candy was quite funny, and I only wish she and Diana had more scenes together, as it’s just as interesting to see Diana interact with the women of Man’s world as it is to see her interact with men. Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock as Chief are all awesome as the band of mercenaries who accompany Steve and Diana on their mission; I’m truly glad they were in the movie as much as they were. Each of them manages to convey a deep message to Diana in just a few lines of dialogue. Sameer’s struggles against racism, Charlie’s struggles with PTSD, and Chief’s reflection on how war had destroyed his people in the past all struck the necessary chords and were able to paint a picture of the complexity and darkness of our world.
But the standout, of course, is Gal Gadot as the titular hero. Her glorified cameo in BvS proved she could handle the badass aspect of Wonder Woman on screen, and this movie proves she truly is Wonder Woman. While I felt like I was watching “Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne” in BvS, here I felt like I was literally watching Wonder Woman on screen. The joy on her face when she saw the baby? Genuine. Her anger at failing to save lives? Genuine. Her sorrow when seeing the true horrors of war? Genuine. What Christopher Reeves is to Superman, what Ryan Reynolds is to Deadpool, what Chris Evans is to Captain America & Robert Downey Jr. is to Iron Man, Gal Gadot is to Wonder Woman. It was amazing to behold. Her power was undeniable and incredible, yet it did not sacrifice her emotion or her compassion.
The story is the other standout here. This movie is flat out inspiring. Diana herself is inspiring. Her stubborn idealism is refreshing in a time where superheroes are becoming more and more cynical on the big screen (I’m looking at you, Superman). The single greatest scene in the movie, and I think, one of the greatest scenes in any superhero movie ever made, is when Diana rises from trenches in full superhero regalia and charges across No Man’s Land to rescue a village, which then inspires the men in the trenches to run out after her. I’ll admit, I got chills. And why did she do it? Because it was her duty to save lives. She didn’t question why she was there, she didn’t question whether it was worth it, she just did it because she knew she had to. Finally, finally, we have a hero being a hero. The story is timely in a way that is almost eerie. It’s no surprise that Diana eventually must confront hatred and violence in its deified form. She must confront the fact that this hatred, this violence, exists inside all humans, and that no god, no matter how evil or powerful they are, forces humans to act on the darkness inside them. The only thing stronger than this? Love. Yes, this is a true Wonder Woman story, and its message of the power of love over hatred could not come at a better time. Certain people in our country would do well to listen.
Granted, the movie is not without its flaws. The final climactic battle is a bit predictable, even as its emotional message abounds. The twists in the plot came as no surprise to me, but as I’ve read my fair share of Wonder Woman comics, perhaps that’s my own fault. More time spent on Themyscira would’ve been appreciated. The ending was a bit rushed, and I felt that certain plot points which were quite monumental were not given the time they deserved. These flaws pale in comparison to the great successes of the movie, however. I left the theatre with a big stupid grin on my face; it’s been a while since I’ve left a superhero movie feeling so inspired to try to emulate the message of the hero. Wonder Woman is a massive accomplishment (a standing ovation to director Patty Jenkins); I truly hope that this movie will have the positive impact on both boys and girls it needs to have.
The world’s been waiting for you, Wonder Woman. I’m glad you’re finally here.
Summary: Wonder Woman is a triumph. Gal Gadot’s performance, combined with exhilarating action and a truly resonant and inspiring story, outweigh the movie’s flaws. The end result is a superhero story for the ages. 8.5/10
The Good: Gal Gadot, the cast, the action scenes, the badass Amazons, the surprising amount of emotion, a timely story, genuine humor, a hero who inspires, the No Man’s Land scene, an epic musical score.
The Bad: Rushed ending, generic final battle.
The Ugly: In this movie? War and hatred. It’s always ugly.