THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Molly Jane Kremer. In the superhero movie race Warner Bros has chased after rival Marvel Studios’ alacrity, box office intake, and general reception for years. With Wonder Woman, the first female-led solo superhero film of the current era, Warners has found itself pulling out ahead of Marvel for the very first time.
Funny enough, Wonder Woman is the most Marvel-ous of DC’s filmic output so far. It has a hefty dose of the period-set derring-do found in Captain America: The First Avenger. There’s also a dash or two of the mythological depth (and fish-out-of-water gags) in Thor. Finally — finally — it looks like Warner Bros. might be making some headway in the eternal struggle between DC and Marvel by learning how to play the game.
The best news is, at long last, we finally have an objectively good DC movie. That’s thanks to director Patty Jenkins who, considering the mixed reception of the past three DCEU installments, certainly had her work cut out for her. (Her last film was 2003’s Monster.) With a charming but perfunctory script, where odd conveniences push the story forward (especially in the second act), and certain reveals ultimately become too predictable, Jenkins works wonders.
What’s more, there’s little to remind you of Zack Snyder’s two previous entries into the DC Extended Universe. (Mr. Snyder has a producer and story credit.) This film can even be enjoyed without having seen Princess Diana’s introduction in Batman v. Superman, and aside from the film’s framing sequences it could easily stand alone from the shared universe. (For those who worry about such things, there’s at least one thrilling sequence of Diana emailing fellow Justice Leaguer Bruce Wayne. For continuity’s sake.)
There are fleeting moments of the Snyderian here, though the filmmaker’s heavy-handed attempts at mythologizing (see Man of Steel) are actually warranted in this particular outing, considering the subject matter at play.
Gal Gadot has a wide-eyed, infectious optimism behind her character’s unfaltering compulsion to do good. (The closest example would be Christopher Reeve’s iconic turn as Superman.) Her endearing naivete, emotive empathy, and brutal battlefield skills combine into a very apt personification of Wonder Woman. Ardent fans should be relieved.
Lucy Davis, wonderful in her own right in Shaun of the Dead, is effervescent and delightful as Etta Candy. The film sets her aside far too often, as is the case with Elena Anaya’s intriguing Dr. Maru/Dr. Poison. Anaya’s well-conceived villain certainly demanded more screentime, but here she’s wasted as a disposable baddie.
Chris Pine — for these cape franchises, the last Chris standing — is excellent as Steve Trevor, grounding the film as Diana’s damsel, straight man, and guide in Man’s World. The script is cautious with their relationship, and rightfully so. It makes sure to keep Diana fiercely independent and self-reliant even with a male love interest hanging around.
Steve does right by Diana throughout most of the film, which mostly keeps Wonder Woman from tripping over its period-specific sexual politics. Though the lack of female characters in the latter half of the film — it has as few ladies as the average superhero flick once we leave the Amazonian isle of Themyscira — is far more noticeable here. After the screen has been dominated by nothing but strong, capable women for the first half hour, the contrast is glaring.
Above all, this movie feels like a sincere effort at course correction after the critical beating and comparatively middling box office the DCEU took in 2016. The “ideal to strive towards”, the moral compass advertised in Man of Steel, seems to have been found in the thrilling and heartfelt Wonder Woman. Illuminated by dawn’s light in the film’s final moments, we finally get to join her in the sun.
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, and Richard Suckle.
Screenplay by Allan Heinberg.
Story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs.
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, and Elena Anaya.
Rated PG-13 for genuinely stirring Amazonian warfare.
8 out of 10