A story unto its own, starting small and going big — that’s what the D.C. Universe needed, and that’s exactly what it got with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. It feels like the studio’s tentpole has been re-set with this film, delivering a focused origin story and a respected celebration of an iconic superhero. Lead actress Gal Gadot is as strong and present as her character and Chris Pine is a worthy and supportive second. The film is not likely to please every feminist in the world, but it is definitely a good start and sets a precedential tone for the future of female led and/or female directed superhero flicks.
Wonder Woman tells the story of Princess Diana of Themyscira (Gadot), an Amazonian demigoddess brought to life from clay by Zeus and her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Sister to the God of War Ares, Diana (traditionally known as the goddess of war) acts as a warrior of peace. Originally created in the comics during WWII to fight alongside the Axis front, Jenkins’ film brings her to life during WWI, “the war to end all wars”; and when Steve Trevor (Pine), a spy for the British, washes up on her shores with the German combatants not far behind him, Diana seizes the opportunity to realize her life’s purpose of defeating Ares by putting an end to all violence through the destruction of the metaphorical Great War.
On the fringes, the Germans are attempting to create a poison gas strong enough to penetrate gas masks. This introduces the film’s subtly terrifying antagonist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) whose experiments have left her face partially deformed and equipped with a flesh-toned synthetic facial covering comparable to a Frankenstein-ish Phantom of the Opera. As a villain, she is compellingly effective. Dangerously intelligent, but lurking in the shadows, Dr. Maru is a silent killer and represents a microcosm of the film’s true antagonist — mankind itself and the insidious capacity for evil, violence, doubt, and mistrust.
The theft of Dr. Maru’s plans brings Steve Trevor into the fold as he enlists Diana to help him in turning the tide of the war. Little does he know at first, her mission is much more ambitious. Their initial back and forth (with him being the first man she has ever met) is charming and is an entertaining wink at gender politics, but it also soon makes way for some great comedic bits — such as Diana repeatedly and over-confidently asking him the way to the front while he distractedly goes through the proper channels of rank to deliver his stolen plans. The love story is small but powerful and provides a solid basis for Diana’s character growth without being its sole impetus.
Wonder Woman belongs to the rank of infallible godly superheros (such as Thor) and the film does well, particularly in its visuals, to set her up as a mythical figure. It also, however, provides somewhat of a catch-22 for the film. Diana is virtually impenetrable, — physically, morally, emotionally, etc. — and seems to act as a beacon of feminine virtue, armored not only with strength, but with the tenets of peace and love meant to stand in opposition to “man’s” anger and violence. Although hailing from an entire clan of like-women, Wonder Woman is an outlier in the film and possesses an unattainability which becomes an unfortunate quality for the first major female superhero role in recent years. Aside from a few exceptions, she is often the only woman on-screen within a sea of men (which makes logical sense for a film about war, but is nevertheless disappointing). Having a woman as the main villain and the initial representation of “man’s” evil is a clever tactic by writer Allen Heinberg; however, in a perfect world the film would have brought the rest of the Amazonian women past just the film’s first 30 minutes, and made Diana less of a Mary Sue and female savior to end all female saviors.
That said, Wonder Woman is undoubtedly a hero to rally behind. A little bit of Thor, a little bit of Captain America, and a lot of something audiences have yet to see, her pedestal pushing characteristics may not be all bad, as she stands as a figure prominent enough to inspire ranks of more female heroines — perfect, flawed, good, bad, and everything in between. Gadot’s performance is endlessly layered, bringing a softness and calm to Wonder Woman’s godly power. She is natural in every way and pulls off the action sequences like a visual and elegant dance with the help of Jenkins.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Greek mythology, women kicking ass, and historic action — what isn’t there to like? Jenkins pulls audiences into the heart of Wonder Woman (a.k.a. Diana Prince, a.k.a. Princess Diana of Themyscira), and accomplishes precisely what an origin story should. The narrative is focused, the themes are clean and clear, and the hero’s journey of identity and purpose takes center stage in the midst of flashy mythical action, romance, and war politics. Although lacking an abundance of relatable female representation, Gadot manages to somewhat soothe Wonder Woman’s impenetrable exterior and bring D.C. back on the superhero map.