Following the massive renaissance of Marvel branded comic book films that began with the first Iron Man film in 2008, it was only natural that Warner Brothers (parent company of DC Comics) would attempt to mimic the success of building a “cinematic universe” with their own branding (and they are not the only ones). This all began with the Superman led Man of Steel, which was released in 2013 to what could best be described as a resounding “meh”. It was by no means a terrible movie, but nothing about it really gripped you and made the people who saw it invested in the future of DC films. A common criticism was that they took Superman, one of the most universally recognized symbols of hope and justice, and made him far too mopey and grim. This stylistic choice to go “dark” with their movies was nothing new for DC, and it certainly differentiated itself from the more family friendly Marvel films, but in the end it did them no favors.
Fast forward a bit to 2016, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released as part of DC’s bid to really get the ball rolling and pull together Justice League members for the potential Scrooge McDuck levels of cash that superhero team-up films have been shown to make. Unfortunately critical response to Batman v Superman was controversial, for lack of a nicer term. It was panned for sloppy writing due in large part to trying to introduce so many characters in one film (Batman, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, Doomsday among others), while continuing to catch flack for a tone that many people felt killed entertainment value by being too depressing and nihilistic. A little later in the year, Suicide Squad was also released, and honestly the general consensus on that movie is so abysmal that all I can really say about it is that at least it wasn’t boring to watch.
So why talk so much about the critical failures that DC has experienced so far in their latest foray into cinema? This is because for many, Wonder Woman seemed like their last chance to win back the trust of their fans before Justice League comes out in the tail end of this year. Furthermore, unless you count movies people prefer to forget such as Catwoman and Elektra, Wonder Woman is the first blockbuster comic book movie led by a heroine. Wonder Woman herself is often used as a symbol for feminism, for obvious reasons considering she is a god damn warrior demigoddess that kicks insurmountable amounts of ass. It is even the first film in the booming comic book adaptation industry to be helmed by a woman director, Patty Jenkins. Basically, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, this piece of cinema is a major stepping stone for female representation. So, with all this talk of how much was on the line here, did Wonder Woman succeed? To put it simply, hell yes. But let’s discuss the different pieces that make up the whole.
To start with, what is immediately apparent from the start of the movie is how stunning the visuals are. Instead of the more dreary color palettes that a lot of DC films have been adopting, Wonder Woman is vibrant and varied and truly “pops” from shot to shot. It feels a bit more comic-booky in that way (if you know what I mean by that), and I truly appreciated it. The camerawork is also phenomenal. This is apparent both in the massive vistas of Themyscira, her home, but also within the multiple action set pieces. Oh boy, the fight sequences. Zack Snyder did not direct this film, but he did produce it, and that fact is most apparent when the pace picks up and bullets begin to fly. His vision for fight scenes is full of a lot of quick cuts and slow motion, and while that can be a bit hit or miss at times, it worked wonderfully within Wonder Woman. Watching her whip the Lasso of Truth around is perhaps one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had watching an action sequence within any movie, and the close quarters combat moments are choreographed so well they would make Batman himself jealous. I haven’t even touched on the special effects, which while not nearly as flamboyant as something like Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, looked absolutely fantastic when they were in use.
Naturally, while a movie can look as pretty as its budget allows it to be, it can still be a flop if it fails to tell a good (and coherent) story. Suffice to say, Wonder Woman had almost no issue doing so. Beginning with a short prelude set up by the end of Batman vs. Superman, the film soon cuts to Diana (Wonder Woman’s actual name for those unaware) growing up on her island home of Themyscira. It is here that we get spoon fed exposition on the creation and purpose of the Amazons, the looming threat of Ares the God of War, and Diana’s relationships with her mother and aunt. Not to make this sound like a bad thing, however, as all of this information is given to us fairly organically through the use of childhood experiences and bedtime stories. Fast forward an unspecified number of years, and the dashing Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands a plane in the waters around the island. Diana, now a grown woman played by the absolutely powerful Gal Gadot, saves him from drowning, and it is through Steve that she finds her call to action. World War I has been going on for a few years at this point, and Diana becomes convinced Ares is the source behind the bloodshed. She dons her armory, says her goodbyes (not ashamed to admit that I teared up a bit here) and sails off with Steve never to return to Themyscira. Or at least, as far as we know, because she will probably find a way back in future sequels.
After the onset, a recurring theme throughout the experience is Diana’s “fish out of water” syndrome within the “real world”. Within some moments, this is played out for some rather refreshing comedy, as Diana comes from a culture of warrior women and does not understand many societal conventions. This allows Chris Pine to play a very entertaining foil to Gal Gadot as he guides her along. Or rather, he tries his best to considering Diana just decides for herself and he tags along. More important than the comedic value of Wonder Woman’s displacement, however, is the stern contrast of her ideals with that of the world of men. She is headstrong, somewhat naive, yet idealistic and believes wholeheartedly that people are inherently good. When people are in trouble, she jumps in to help without a second thought. This clashes directly with Steve Trevor, a world weary man who has experienced the worst humanity has to offer. Yet instead of his influence weighing her down, it is Diana that inspires hope within him to keep moving.
The aura of hope and inspiration extends beyond just Steve and to the rest of the colorful minor cast as they follow her into battle and proudly support her as she charges forward through her quest. Inspiration is important, because as optimistic as this movie can be, it puts a major emphasis on the horrors of war. Sadness and despair loom just outside of Wonder Woman’s sphere of influence, and you are shown wounded soldiers and corpses strewn about the battlefield. One particularly memorable minor character is even displayed to suffer greatly from PTSD. It is from the ashes of all the terrible events around her that Diana rises, however, becoming a symbol of the best that humanity can achieve. This is aided by the soundtrack of the film, which swoops in with a very “heroic” orchestral tone at just the right moments to really give emphasis to Wonder Woman’s actions. While not particularly remarkable (aside from the main theme and the song that plays over the end credits), it serves its purpose well.
When all is said and done, Wonder Woman did exactly the job everyone hoped it would do. It took a struggling franchise that many were beginning to lose faith in and breathed into it new life. While it was definitely not without its flaws (the last act had some particularly weak writing strewn about for instance), those issues do nothing to dissuade how great this movie actually was. I’m not ashamed to say I teared up twice, laughed quite a bit, and had to keep myself from cheering out loud during one sequence. I do confess that normally I am more of a Marvel guy, but something that DC has always done better is portraying characters that can be held up as symbols of the highest limits of human achievement. By that standard, Wonder Woman exceeded expectations. Patty Jenkins better return to direct the sequels.
- Absolutely stunning visually
- Optimistic and full of hope
- Best action scenes DC has done since who knows when
- Massive achievement for women in entertainment
- A few logic gaps in the writing
- Some dialogue towards the end was a little cringy