DC Comics finally got it right.
After the disappointments many considered Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad to be, DC needed Wonder Woman to be good enough to satisfy the character’s fans, win back moviegoers who were put of by the last two films in the nascent Extended Universe, and build up enthusiasm for November’s Justice League. In the face of that enormous pressure, director Patti Jenkins delivers a top-notch comic book movie that may have some minor flaws, but should do all those things. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is the best DC movie outside of Christopher Nolan’s brilliant The Dark Knight.
The movie starts on Themyscira, the island of the Amazons where Diana, who will one day be Wonder Woman, is raised by her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) and her fierce, warrior aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright) in idyllic solitude from the rest of the world. The movie stumbles out of the gate a bit- the pacing is too slow, and the women (Robin Wright especially) struggle a bit with the weird accent for the Themyscirans. Once American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands his plane near the island while being chased by Germans during World War I and is rescued from the ocean by Diana, the plot kicks in- Diana thinks the god of war, Ares, is behind “the Great War”, and decides to return to the world of men with Steve to stop him.
Chris Pine and Gal Gadot have excellent chemistry as Steve and Diana, and a good amount of the fun of the movie comes from the way the two play off of each other. There’s also a lot of humor to be had from Diana being a “fish out of water” in the world of men- I laughed out loud at the scene where she tries ice cream for the first time. The movie is funny at times, in stark contrast to the almost relentlessly grim tones of the previous DCEU movies.
Let’s talk about Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman for a moment. Many were puzzled at her casting as Wonder Woman, saying she was too skinny, didn’t have the physicality, or she wasn’t a good enough actress. Like the people who thought Ben Affleck would suck as Batman, these people were wrong. She may not be a great actress, but she is a great Wonder Woman. Not only does she look the part, but she pulls off all the action scenes believably and she does a fantastic job at showing us how much Diana cares for everyone around her. Essential traits of the character- compassion for the innocent and the desire to defend them from those who would do them harm- come vividly through in Gadot’s performance.
The action scenes are well-done and directed by Jenkins- there are a lot of cool, slow motion shots in the fight scenes, and they’re exciting in the way you expect from blockbuster movie. The standout is the scene where Steve, his cohorts, and Diana are pinned down in a trench on a World War I battlefield, and Diana fearlessly emerges from the trench in her full costume for the first time to lead the charge against the enemy while taking heavy fire from them. The scene is spectacular, and worth the price of admission.
There are a couple of minor flaws besides the pacing of the opening scenes. One is that I saw the twist that happens near the end of the movie coming, and I was hoping I was wrong. I wasn’t, and it’s a bit disappointing. Another is that the villains aren’t all that memorable, and in one case, seem badly cast. I will say that one villain, Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya) looks like a fascinating and creepy villain, but she’s underdeveloped and underutilized. And finally, the climactic battle is almost too much like all the other superhero movie climaxes- a CGI slug-fest. That’s alright though, when the rest of the movie is so good.
Bottom line: Slight problems aside, this is a great movie worth seeing in the theater. Hopefully, the ship has been righted, and the Justice League movie will be just as good.
***1/2 out of 4 stars