Director: Patty Jenkins
Runtime: 141 minutes
First thing’s first: Wonder Woman is really good, and I’m not even a fan of the source material. Studios have struggled to bring this superhero (arguably the most widely-known female character in comic-books) her solo movie. While the 1970s TV series made her a household name, her image seemed too camp and absurd for a live-action film treatment. (I watched one episode where she rescues a caged gorilla.) Is it possible to be outside the target demographic and buy into a movie about an Amazon demigoddess who fights with a sword while wearing what looks like armoured lingerie?
With the exception of a present-day framing device, Wonder Woman ignores the events of last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This is Wonder Woman’s standalone film and not an advertisement for DC’s upcoming The Justice League. Director Patty Jenkins gives a bare-bones origin story that gives viewers a better understanding of the 75-year-old legend. Because Jenkins is used to working with actors on a dramatic level (she earned Charlize Theron her Best Actress Oscar for Monster), Wonder Woman feels more grounded than she’s ever been.
Unlike Batman, Spider-Man and Superman, Wonder Woman’s upbringing is wholesome. As Diana, she was raised by her Queen mother on Earth in Themyscira, a secluded island home to a race of Amazon women created by Zeus, the king of gods. As a girl, Diana begins training for battle with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright). As a young woman, Diana is a warrior carrying out her wish to save others. She encounters man and human for the first time in Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a pilot who crashes his plane into Themyscira. Steve tells the Amazons that World War I is underway and that he escaped Nazis with information about their deadliest weapon. Without hesitation, Diana accompanies Steve to London to stop the war, believing it is the result of Ares, the god of war and son of Zeus.
Too often when movies try to please mass audiences, they simplify the characters and they end up being uninteresting. With Wonder Woman, the characters are well defined. Jenkins spends enough time on Diana’s upbringing on Themyscira, and her interaction with her mother, the Amazons, and Steve breathes life into what could have been a by-the-numbers origin story. Jenkins also knows a thing or two about comedic timing; Diana’s childlike-curiosity about men and sexuality inspires frank and nicely-written banter between her and Trevor. The film’s light-hearted tone is appropriate because that is the nature of Wonder Woman: love, truth and justice. However, this light-heartedness is contrasted by the grim setting that is World War I. That’s where the drama comes in – Diana has never known a world of hate, greed and violence.
The film has plenty of action set-pieces, and one that’s destined to become a classic is the No Man’s Land battle, where Diana officially becomes Wonder Woman. Although the action scenes don’t avoid gimmicks like slow-motion and fast cutting, Jenkins doesn’t employ Zack Snyder’s murky-hues from BvS. The Themyscira battle sequence is sky-blue bright, making it easier to draw audiences in. The final climax may involve the traditional clashing between two immortals among falling debris, but what makes it work is that you care about the characters.
Gal Gadot is credible as Wonder Woman, bringing the right mix of kindhearted, confident, seductive and badass. She never comes across as a parody. Love and truth lives in Diana’s DNA, but her naivety to human experiences builds up to comedy and unexpected heartbreak. Moviegoers often root for a superhero; rarely do we worship them like this. No less impressive is Chris Pine, who is given more to do than the thankless role of “love interest”. Diana and Trevor’s chemistry radiates more heat and believability than Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in Thor, Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man…the list goes on.
Depending on your perspective, Wonder Woman is an exceptional superhero movie that lives up to the hype, or an enjoyable one with some flaws that cannot be avoided (how is it that Trevor is the first human to enter Themyscira?). However, it stands perfectly on its own, not just as a superhero movie, but as a character story. She’s been an over-the-top character living in an over-the-top world for 76 years, but you will believe in this Wonder Woman.