Wonder Woman, 2017.
Directed by Patty Jenkins.
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Ewan Bremner, Lucy Davis, Eugene Brave Rock, Emily Carey, Lilly Aspell, and Saïd Taghmaoui.
Before she was Wonder Woman she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.
Surprise, Wonder Woman (the best part of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is the best film so far in the DC Extended Universe. That’s not much of an accomplishment (granted, I will defend Suicide Squad slightly more than most and still dig Man of Steel), but Wonder Woman also manages to be a slice of entertainment far more significant than generic and hyperbolic “one of the best comic book films of all time” statements. It is definitely one of the best, but there is an exploration of morality that speaks volumes to modern society. Generally, it’s a recurring theme in all DC blockbusters, but nailed here thanks to pitch-perfect direction from Patty Jenkins (director of the Oscar-winning Monster) and Gal Gadot infusing the Amazon Princess with the perfect combination of peppy optimism, defiance, courageous strength, and humor (yes, for once a DC movie isn’t 150 minutes of grimdark drama, although Wonder Woman does have so, so many perfectly executed moments of serious emotion). Hell, I felt empowered and I’m not wonderful or a woman!
Before even getting into the meat of the plot, the simple concept of framing the entire origin story around present-day Diana Prince looking at the previously seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice photograph (which honors her contributions to World War I that are unknown to the public) and fondly remembering a game-changing moment of her life is a beautifully flowing stroke of brilliance to help further establish the identity of the superheroine. By the end of the movie, the relevance of the picture is earned.
There is also the wise decision of beginning Wonder Woman depicting the goddess as a child, a genius creative idea because of how encouraging and inspiring the section (and subsequently the whole movie) will impact young girls. Gal Gadot rocks this role just as much as the badass theme rocks my world (as I pleasurably revel in her flipping over German tanks and kicking all sorts of ass with her sword, shield, and lasso), but young Wonder Woman watching her fellow Amazonians train on the sheltered and isolated, exclusively tough women inhabited, Greek mythology grounded island of Themyscira, and pantomiming all manners of punches and kicks with big-eyed, wondrous excitement is enchanting. From the second we see her ditching school to watch these muscular yet acrobatic warriors practice their battle techniques, we WANT and can’t wait to see her unlock her full potential to unleash the wrath of a woman scorned multiplied by ten. Also, the message it sends to girls around the world is one so emphatic and empowering to not only the current generation of children but both past and future generations, that it propels this superhero movie beyond fluff popcorn entertainment. Little girls will watch Wonder Woman and be inspired to achieve whatever they desire and to become something more. With that said, imagine how inspiring Wonder Woman is when she’s in combat and saving the world.
It’s not only about female empowerment, though. There is a scene during the first act where Diana is pleaded with not to leave the peace and safety of Themyscira for mortals, to which she replies “Who will I be if I stay?” (referring to assisting American spy Steve Trevor played by Chris Pine in defeating the Germans and ending the war). Prior to this moment, Steve delivers a somewhat vague line mentioning he has tried doing nothing before in the war and that it didn’t work out. The point is, (and this is a lesson all of us should learn), is that we have to stay engaged and active, refusing to sit by idly when terrible people do evil things. For clarification, I don’t necessarily mean specifically matters related to war, but even less heavy gestures like stopping a bully or helping a homeless veteran… anything that can possibly be done to correct an injustice.
Wonder Woman embodies an unwavering positive attitude that is essentially gone from our own world, the mainstream entertainment we consume (the popular works nowadays are typically overflowing with cynicism and unapologetically cruel behavior), and the people we interact with in our day-to-day lives. It’s genuinely refreshing to see a character empathize with the fact that darkness does exist somewhere within all humans, but chooses to put her faith in them hopefully siding with the light side, viewing them as always worth protecting regardless of flaws.
The essence of this again comes down to the Oscar-worthy performance of Gal Gadot. Both Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor get numerous lightheartedly humorous moments derived from their lack of knowledge regarding where they are (Wonder Woman away from her home island and Steve finding himself stranded on said island full of magic), but it’s how Gadot reacts to everything that makes her so enchanting. As the pair of heroes sail to London, there’s a scene where Steve Trevor makes his bedding area across on the other side of the boat, to which Diana is confused and actually encourages him to just sleep next to her. Naturally, the whole scenario paves the way for some cleverly written funny dialogue (the actors have amazing chemistry together bringing Allan Heinberg’s script to life), especially showcasing believability and genuineness to the brewing romance), but Gal Gadot successfully uses the comedy to further develop the creed of Wonder Woman.
It’s not just about silliness either, as there is a brief moment right behind enemy lines where there are civilians that desperately need help, to which Wonder Woman is insisted by Steve that it’s a lost cause and to do nothing. When she disobeys, the audience cheers (not an exaggeration, the entire theater started clapping) witnessing her spring into action, and it’s earned. Wonder Woman is not just a feminist icon, she’s an empowering symbol of kindness and good, thankfully without a goody-two-shoes approach. She is a fiery take no prisoners bad ass whenever a situation calls for her to harden up. It’s a complex performance that demands Gal Gadot to display a lot of range and different emotions, sometimes multiple emotions at once.
Visually, Wonder Woman is a gorgeous looking film with Themyscira being the obvious highlight, with its luscious green Amazon jungles and surrounding ocean. The colors are bright and vivid, representing a land of peace compared to the black and gray color palette looming over World War I battlefields. The contrast is immediately noticeable (Diana even declares London ugly), but thanks to bright, glowing orange weapons like Wonder Woman’s trademark Lasso of Truth, it’s ensured that the aesthetics never get too dull. It’s also worth noting that even when the action becomes very CGI heavy (especially during the last act, although it’s not a gripe at all), the movie looks awesome and benefits from strong cinematography. Admittedly, there are some instances where slow-motion seems to be a bit overused or unnecessary, but this is easily forgettable considering how each shot efficiently captures crowd-pleasing action moments while simultaneously managing to sweep over background chaos without ever feeling too busy. Also, the entire sequence where Diana first drops the disguise and fiercely power walks through the battlefield to prove her underestimated capabilities in combat is spectacular; it’s pure defiance to a woman’s “role” during the time period.
The one minor flaw with Wonder Woman is a lack of character development within the villains, but the filmmakers do try to make up for this by either allowing the actor (I’m not going to go through each and every villain so as not to spoil anything) to deliver a scenery chewing over-the-top performance, or in one case, really give them a ghastly physical appearance that is sure to not be forgotten. At the end of the day, the baddies aren’t very memorable motive-wise, but they don’t necessarily have to be considering that the heart of the narrative is between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor as they come to understand one another and learn about life, war, and morality. They also round-up a group of battle mates, and although they aren’t important in the grand scheme of things, they are allowed to have some emotional moments that further teach Diana about the world. Specifically, a conversation about war and who took land from who complicates the good guys and bad guys of the world. Also (and this is how you know when you’re reaching for complaints), the first act on Themyscira does feel slightly too short. There are also one or two lines of dialogue that feel a bit too cheesy and saccharine.
Outside of that, Wonder Woman is a tightrope balancing act of appropriate fish out of water humor and thought-provoking emotional substance, anchored by outstanding performances from Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. The major action set-pieces are extremely satisfying, and the movie is never once boring, even at the lengthy running time of 141 minutes. You can view Wonder Woman and her first solo entry movie as a feminist icon, but honestly, it’s so much more than that. She inspires us all to be more caring and better to one another.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★