For all of the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, things haven’t been quite as smooth for DC Comics. Reception for Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad have all been mixed at best, so no matter how promising Wonder Woman looked there was always going to be concern. But it’s not just DC who need a home-run, as all eyes are on the first lady of comics to open the floodgates and prove that female superheroes can carry a successful movie (because Halle Berry’s Catwoman sure didn’t). There’s a lot on the shoulders of actress Gal Gadot, whose cameo in Dawn of Justice was one of the highlights, but how does she handle it when all the attention is on her?
Wonder Woman follows many of the beats you’d expect from a superhero origin movie. We’re introduced to her world of Themyrscira and the Amazons before the story kicks in as Steve Trevor’s plane crashes near the island. With a ‘war to end all wars’ aka World War One going on beyond the safety of their island, Diana goes with Trevor to help stop the war, wielding the kind of power no man could ever understand. There’s a lot of history and backstory to cram into the movie. It’s a necessary evil but it does make the opening twenty minutes a little more bloated that you’d like it to be. You do get a nice bit of insight into the world Diana has grown up in, but the movie definitely picks up once it reaches Europe and settles into its groove as a war movie with a superhero.
We saw a taste of what we could expect during Dawn of Justice, but Gal Gadot is truly captivating on screen as Wonder Woman, completely owning the role both in and out of the costume. With a whole movie focusing on her, it only serves to show the full range of the character of Diana Prince, who can both obliterate an entire battlefield of opponents and stop to show compassion to an innocent bystander. If I’m nitpicking there are a couple of moments when you feel like you’re watching Gadot act rather than watching Diana Prince, but there are plenty of moments when she nails some emotional scenes, and when she needs to she stands up and completely owns the character.
Her sidekick, Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, provides a great anchor point into the real world for her character. The two have strong chemistry on screen, and Trevor is a fully developed character in his own right rather than a tool to get Wonder Woman from point A to point B. His comedic timing is also on full display in this movie, and provides a lot of little moments through the movie that just work. Wonder Woman isn’t a comedy, but there are a lot of well executed moments of comic relief to lighten the tone of the movie. Given the amount of important side characters nobody really drops the ball here. Really the only downside is that the villains feel underdeveloped, and they really only exist here to give someone for Wonder Woman to hunt down.
The final climax is fantastic, and the kind of display you need when dealing with a superhero that wields the kind of power that Wonder Woman has. Being an origin story you do see a progression of power as Diana begins to learn who true limits, so seeing it all come together towards the end is rewarding from a narrative progression standpoint as well as for fans of the comics. It also doesn’t fall into the trap that Man of Steel (and arguably Dawn of Justice) did where the final fights were dragged out in order to make it feel more bombastic than it was.
There is quite a bit of action packed into the movie, though they’re bundled in groups rather than evenly placed through the movie. There’s a lot of slow motion at work, especially to emphasise some of the more athletic displays from both Diana and the other Amazonians. It threatens to be overused, but there are enough big moments that don’t rely on slow motion to help keep it in line. The action is fun – though without anyone to really threaten Wonder Woman it often feels like playing a game on easy mode. Wonder Woman is one of the strongest heroes in the DC library though, so it comes with the territory. It doesn’t make it any less awesome to watch though.
This isn’t really an action movie though, as for all the action there it’s really only to emphasise the humanity of Wonder Woman. The action is fun, but where the movie shines is when it’s displaying what Diana is capable of without the sword and shield, and for as comfortable as Gal Gadot looks in the middle of a fight it’s here that she really shines as Wonder Woman. It also doesn’t make the mistake of making Diana a perfect character, or overplaying the female empowerment angle. She’s learning a lot through this movie and growing in small ways, and instead of waving the banner for just women, it does so for humanity.
The biggest challenge this movie had to deal with was juggling narratives. It has to serve as an origin story for not just Wonder Woman but the Amazonians and the island of Themyscira, as well as telling a coming of age tale, two fish out of water stories and be a war movie all in one. There’s a lot to deal with, and in a lesser director’s hands it’d fall apart. Thankfully each part holds up well. There are elements which are weaker than others – I’d argue Themyscira served it’s role but was a little lacking because of everything else that had to happen – but by the end of the movie everything feels like a necessary piece of the movie’s puzzle.
To put it simply, Wonder Woman is the best DC movie since the Dark Knight, and perhaps the best origin story since the glory days of Batman Begins and Iron Man. Gal Gadot continues to prove her casting is an inspired decision and everything comes together to produce a compelling story of both mere men and god-like superheroes. There is a great blend of humour, action and genuine heart which makes Wonder Woman one of the most enjoyable superhero movies in recent times. Talk of DC’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.