Aquaman, Ares, Batman, Batman v Superman, Captain America, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Cybord, DC, DCEU, Diana Prince, Film, Film Review, Gal Gadot, Man Of Steel, Marvel, Movie, Movie Review, Patty Jenkins, Steve Trevor, Superhero, Superhero Movie, Superheroes, Superman, The Dark Knight, The First Avenger, The Flash, The Justice League, Wonder Woman, Zack Snyder
“Wonder Woman” is the best DCEU movie so far and in my view one of the best superhero movies since “The Dark Knight”. It’s a joyful, funny, and intelligent film about the fact that humanity is worth fighting for despite its flaws.
“Wonder Woman” tells an origin story about its titular character, giving us a glimpse of her childhood and explaining how she became the hero that we saw in “Batman v Superman”. It’s a story which opens with Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) growing up on the island of Themyscira, which is home to the Amazons. The Amazons are a race of women created by Zeus to protect humanity against Ares (the god of war), and it’s clear from the moment that this backstory is revealed that Ares is going to be the film’s main villain.
From here the film shows Diana’s grown both physically and emotionally over time, initially on the island as she learns how to use her strength to become a powerful warrior and then in our world during World War One. Having this movie set during that time period is very beneficial to the character of Wonder Woman, as it allows Patty Jenkins to concentrate on developing the character’s personality rather than wasting time with nods to other DCEU franchises.
As a character Diana is extremely well-developed by the end of this movie; we understand her background, her personality, and most importantly her motivations. She’s a character who at her very core wants to fight for justice and she believes that people are inherently good despite the fact that they do bad things. Her faith is tested throughout the movie, (particularly in the final act), and by the time the credits roll she has a much more realistic opinion of humanity, but the relationships that she builds prior to the movie’s close are strong enough to make her believe that despite people’s flaws they are worth saving.
In a worse film the character that I’ve just described would come across as condescending or too good to be true, (this is the way that I feel about Captain America as depicted by Marvel ever since “The First Avenger”), but Patty Jenkins does a great job of making Diana Prince relatable in spite of her perfection, thus making Wonder Woman feel like a superhero rather than a Mary Sue. By taking the character out of her comfort zone and throwing her into an alien environment Jenkins is able to portray flaws in Diana’s character which come across as sweet and well-intentioned, bringing a naivety to her which is completely understandable and also humanising.
“Wonder Woman” isn’t a film which thinks that its audience is going to buy into the main character in virtue of the fact that she can do amazing things in a fight, instead it takes its time to make the character likeable prior to throwing her into the action, something which movies like “Man of Steel” simply didn’t do.
Towards the start of the film Wonder Woman sees a plane crash into the water surrounding Themyscira and without a second thought she dives in to save the pilot. This pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), just so happens to be the first man that Wonder Woman has ever seen and she immediately appears to have a fondness for him. From that point onwards Diana and Steve build a relationship with one another, trading jokes and generally being affectionate in small but noticeable ways. When the pair set sail for London at the end of the first act they don’t squabble or act suspicious of one another, they co-exist, have banter, and Diana even goes so far as to insist that Steve sleep next to her despite the fact that she’s only just met him.
There’s an innocence to her character, an earnest lack of cynicism, and it meshes seamlessly with Steve’s idealistic but grounded perspective on the fractured world that’s waiting for them back home. Chris Pine’s performance makes it clear that Steve is tired of fighting and is hurt by the state of the world that he lives in, so there’s something incredibly heart-warming about seeing him build a relationship with someone who in virtue of her existence makes the world seem like a better place. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are exceptional in this movie, not just because they have great comedic timing or because they have a presence on screen, but because they have strong chemistry and together they are immensely likeable. They make you smile every time that they smile, and as an audience member you can genuinely route for them from start to finish which is so incredibly refreshing in a cinematic universe filled with brooding, jaded characters.
From a technical standpoint this film is also very striking, with solid CGI and a more varied colour palette than we’re used to seeing in DCEU movies. That’s not to say that it’s always a colourful film, after all much of it takes place in scenery which has been ravaged by war, but it doesn’t feel as bereft of vibrancy as “Batman v Superman” did.
The visual style that Zack Snyder developed in films like “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman” carries over into this film, making action sequences feel as though they were ripped straight out of a comic book or possibly even out of a video game. This larger-than-life approach to fight scenes is something which I have previously criticised – and I stand by those criticisms – but here Patty Jenkins makes it work because she takes the time to makes us care about the characters, so that by the time the fight scenes become the focus of the film we already believe that Wonder Woman is a badass. She isn’t a man in a suit like Batman, doing things that look so far removed from human possibility that they take you right out of the experience of watching the film; she’s a warrior who was created by Zeus himself with the hope that she could keep people safe. As such, it makes sense that she can do things that normal people can’t do – that she can run faster, jump higher, punch harder, etc. – and the fact that we like her so much makes a huge difference because we want to see her win. When somebody tries to hurt her we’re invested in seeing her prevail, so when she flies through the air to stop a sniper from killing innocent people we don’t scoff at the lack of realism, we cheer because our hero has come out on top!
Of course, there are criticisms which can be levelled at this film. In my view these issues are minimal, but they are noticeable enough to mention and I did find myself considering them whilst I was watching the movie. The first issue I had with this film was that the beginning was too slow, and although it wasn’t bad per se it didn’t give me a concrete indication that this was going to be a good movie.
The start of the film was designed simply to introduce the character of Diana and foreshadow what was going to happen later, which is okay, but for me it was a little uninspired. As mentioned earlier in this review it was clear that Ares was going to be this film’s main villain when he was mentioned in one of its first scenes, and although this is understandable because it’s useful to introduce characters early in a narrative to make them feel important, the way that it was done felt lazy to me.
The first time that we hear Ares’ name in this film is in an expository scene between Diana and her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), in which the latter tells the story of how the Amazons came to be, what their purpose is, and how they (or rather Zeus) defeated the infamous villain. This scene is fine – it’s the type of scene you see a lot in movies when they don’t know how to get information across to the audience because they can’t show a time-consuming background story – but it isn’t great. It’s the least compelling scene in the whole movie because information is regurgitated to the audience simply so that the rest of the movie can exist. It’s a necessary scene, but it should’ve been executed in a more creative way and it doesn’t feel as though it belongs in a movie which for the most part is fantastic.
The other issue I have with this film is with its villain, the aforementioned Ares, who remains absent for the majority of the movie. The fact that he doesn’t appear until the end of the movie isn’t a criticism at all, it’s just a normal trope of storytelling where there’s a final act twist or a big reveal; the real problem is that he isn’t very interesting. He basically hates humanity because he sees that people do bad things, and because of this he wants to destroy the world – this, for me, is a very lacklustre motivation.
It’s perhaps unfair to criticise Ares too excessively because he’s the first villain that this iteration of Wonder Woman has faced on screen in her own movie, so the writers can’t really allow him to overshadow the hero, but Ares is just so plain. If he hates humanity so much why doesn’t he just go somewhere where there aren’t any people? There’s an island full of women who are separated from the rest of humanity in the middle of the ocean so we know that that’s a possibility, so why is exterminating humanity so important to him? I know these might seem like throwaway comments designed to denigrate a character that I didn’t like – which they are – but personally I don’t get on with villains who seem like their only reason for existing in a film’s universe is to directly oppose the worldview of the protagonist. He serves a purpose because he establishes a facet of Wonder Woman’s character, which is that she sees the flaws in humanity and yet still chooses to believe that people are worth fighting for, but other than that he has no place in the movie which is why he doesn’t appear until the final battle.
Nonetheless, these criticisms are small when compared to the triumph of “Wonder Woman” as a whole. This is a movie in which almost everything works; the costume design is awesome, the acting is brilliant, the story is effective, and the whole thing is incredibly entertaining from start to finish. Wonder Woman is the perfect character to breathe life into the DCEU and it’s great to see a film in which a female superhero is portrayed as a powerful and sympathetic character rather than as a side-kick, so I would recommend that everyone see this movie as soon as possible.