The DC Extended Universe needs a win. After the incredibly awful Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the lukewarm Suicide Squad, which I actually enjoyed, the entire comic book-based film franchise is sputtering — for lack of a better term — to this November’s Justice League. DC and Warner Bros. have their hearts in the right place; they want a franchise to at least match what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is doing, but as of right now, they are so far behind that not even the hardest DC film fan has hopes for Zack Snyder’s attempt to create a massive team-up film. All of that changes with Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is not just the best DC comics film not named The Dark Knight, it’s better than most Marvel films, which is the highest compliment that I can give it. Director Patty Jenkins not only “gets” the character, but impeccable casting in Gal Gadot, and a story that takes place 100 years ago, during World War I, helps separate Wonder Woman from the unmitigated mess that Zack Snyder has made with the other two members of “the holy trinity.” There is no Batman here. And no Superman, Aquaman, Flash, or Cyborg. Someone in the big chair at Warner Bros. let Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg tell the story they wanted to tell (with help from Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs), without trying to push any additional agenda, and freed from those shackles, Jenkins and Heinberg give the character room to fully live and breathe.
Wonder Woman opens in present day, with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), an art collector, receiving a package from Bruce Wayne that includes the original print of that photo taken in Belgium, 1918, that was featured so prominently in Batman v Superman. As Diana stares at the photo, the story of how it came be is told, starting with Diana as a child (played by Lilly Aspell) on Themyscira, an island of Amazon warrior women, who serve as the guardians of the world against Ares, the god of war. Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), is trying to keep young Diana shielded from the war culture that surrounds her people, but Hippolyta’s sister, Antiope (Robin Wright), wants to train Diana to be a warrior, as is her birthright as a member of the Amazon people. When a teen Diana (Emily Carey) is caught training against her mother’s wishes, it forces her mother to ask Antiope to make sure that Diana is trained better than any other warrior, and Antiope honors her queen by turning her niece into the greatest warrior on Themyscira.
Diana, now an adult and played by Gadot, witnesses a German airplane appear from a tear in the sky and crash into the ocean around the island. Without pause, Diana dives in to save the pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a spy who was being chased by the Germans after he stole something very important to their greater war effort. Trevor’s crash leads a battalion of German soldiers to the shores of Themyscira, and the Amazons are introduced to modern warfare in a bloody, brutal battle. With the battle won, Diana gives up her birthright on the island as princess to return to our world with Trevor in hopes of fulfilling her destiny by killing Ares, who she thinks is the cause of the Great War. With sword, shield, powerful bracelets, and a glowing Lasso of Truth in hand, Diana and Steve set sail out of Themyscira and into a world torn apart by war.
Thus begins Diana’s introduction into the more modern setting of 1918 London, as she meets Trevor’s secretary, Etta (Lucy Davis), and his superiors, including Sir Patrick (David Thewlis), who is leading the war campaign for Britain. Trevor stole the journal of a scarred German scientist named Maru (Elena Anaya), also known as Doctor Poison, who is developing a gas that could turn the war to the Kaiser’s favor. Trevor and Diana defy their orders, gather a team of men, and head to the front lines to try and stop Maru and the vile General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) from developing the gas and destroying Europe. Diana is confident that Ludendorff is Ares in human form, so she intends to kill him, ending all war.
Wonder Woman works so well, because Gal Gadot is perfectly perfect in the role. She commands the attention of the audience on screen, and never feels like a gimmick. There’s character development here. And Gadot stays true to the character. This is the Wonder Woman that fans have wanted, ever since Lynda Carter hung up the bracelets in the 1970s. She not only has the look, but she has the action film skills to back it up. This Wonder Woman is the kind of character that inspires not only boys and girls, but also men and women, purely because of Gadot’s powerful performance.
Chris Pine is more than just a love interest here. He’s given things to do to move the story forward, and while he has no real backstory, that’s okay, as this is Wonder Woman’s movie, and Steve is there to help introduce her to us the world, and the world to her. Robin Wright is magnificent as Antiope. Who knew that Wright could be such a badass? Watching her fight on-screen was wonderful — pun intended, and it will probably be used again and again, please forgive me. The casting as a whole in Wonder Woman really makes this film stand out. There are no cameos or silly, wasted roles, or even ties to the greater DC Comics mythos. For a film that’s 2:21 long, everything is in its right place and any downtime is served to flesh out the story.
Patty Jenkins is the perfect choice as director. She knows how to block a scene for the fullest effect, and uses slow motion shots during the high action scenes. But unlike Snyder, she knows when to wield that power for the greatest effect. In fact, near the end of the second act, after an intense battle scene on the fabled No Man’s Land stretch between the trenches on the western front, I began to wonder why Jenkins hasn’t been tapped to spearhead the rest of the DC Universe films, as she obviously gets it. Jenkins doesn’t try to deconstruct this heroine. She lets the character be who she needs to be, and Gadot delivers by giving us the hero we’ve all wanted to see for years.
And make no mistake: Wonder Woman is a hero. There is no gray area. She fights for good, driven by her desire to end all war, to save as many people as she can, and to kill Ares once and for all. She inspires on screen, and really, that’s all that comic book fans want to see. Marvel understood that from the beginning (well, starting with 2008’s Iron Man), and now, DC may be figuring that out. No one wants to see a moody Superman killing people, only saving Lois Lane or his mother when they’re in danger and not caring about anyone else. They surely don’t want to see Batman using a gun to kill people, which goes against the very spirit of the character at his very core, and they definitely don’t want to see these heroes fight each other.
Wonder Woman does so many things great that it’s hard to pick out any flaws. It’s such a wonder-fully (see, told you) constructed action-adventure film that had the audience cheering over and over, rooting for the hero to save the day, against all odds. It doesn’t try to re-invent the comic book movie, but it does something that DC films have never done: it presents the character that fans have known and loved for over 75 years with the pomp, grace, and yes, wonder (see, now I can’t stop) that she deserves, and as the credits rolled, I had honest-to-god goosebumps running up and down my arms.
It would be easy to say that Wonder Woman gets the DC Extended Universe back on track, but the verdict on that is still out, and will be until November when Justice League brings the best of DC’s characters together to save the world. And with Zack Snyder still in control of that one, things are not looking good. But for now, we all have the hero we need in Wonder Woman, and I can say, without any remorse, that she and the film are both, you guessed it, Wonder-ful.
Wonder Woman is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on June 2.
TheHDRoom may be paid a small commission for any services or products ordered through select links on this page.