When I read the news a few years back that a bit player in the Fast and Furious franchise had been announced to play Wonder Woman in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel, I was surprised. If you recall, the reviews for and reaction to the Zack Synder directed Henry Cavil lead reboot were middling at best, and the idea of creating a successful expanded cinematic universe for DC, one that could rival Marvel’s, seemed like a task that might simply be out of their reach. My expectations, along with a lot of other people’s I’m sure, was that whoever was going to play the Amazon Princess for DC would have to be a big name. A BIG name. A name that everyone knew and liked and had demonstrated their movie allegiance to with their wallets, pocketbooks, and purses (especially their purses) in the past. But we didn’t get that. Instead, we got Gal Gadot, a little known Israeli-born actress, martial artist, and former beauty queen – not a big name at all. And then the internet did what the internet does. As the release of Batman Vs Superman drew closer, the trolls came out in mass – some to criticize Gal for her for her lack of acting experience, others to question whether or not her character should even be in the movie with the thought being that even having just a small introductory role in it was a distraction. Most of them, sadly, criticized her for her physique and appearance. Great job, Internet. Thankfully, when BvS did opened, Gadot not only proved herself capable and worthy of the role, she was (in my opinion anyway) the only real bright spot in that entire fiasco. Then the Wonder Woman stand-alone movie was announced for 2017 and, a year later Suicide Squad shits the bed making DC 0 for 3 on the cinematic universe front. And here we are. Holding our collective breaths that DC would get this one right.
The film introduces us to the Princess of the Amazons as a little girl on the magically hidden island paradise of Themyscira, full of spirit and eager to take her place alongside her fellow sisters in arms as an Amazon warrior. Despite her mother, Queen Hippolyta’s objections, young Diana takes to the training quickly and by the time she comes of age, is one of, if not the most powerful fighter on the Island. Why do they need to train and fight? Queen Hippolyta explains that the Amazon people were the last creation of Zeus, the king of the gods, after his son Aries betrayed him out of jealousy and turned evil the hearts and minds of mankind, earning him the title of The God of War. Angered by his son’s betrayal Zeus and Aries fought for godly supremacy with Zeus being victorious only by the slimmest of margins and apparently ceased to exist shortly afterward, but not before he created the Godkiller to defend the world against Aries, should he ever return to the realms of men. Shortly after Diana completes her training by beating the Amazon general, Antiope, in single combat, an airplane crashes just yards from Themysciras, piloted by a man by the name of Steve Trevor. Under interrogation, Trevor reveals to the Amazons that the world around them is engulfed in “The War to End all Wars” and if it’s not stopped soon, no one will survive. Queen Hippolyta sees no need for the Amazons to intervene in the affairs of mankind but, after speaking with Trevor directly about it, Diana decides to take him back to this Great War, thinking that this could only be the doing of Aries.
Gal Gadot has a strong presence and owns the screen in every scene. Her ability to appear vulnerable even in times of strength gives this movie heart, a BIG heart – something that none of the other non-Christopher Nolan led DC films has. I loved seeing Robin Wright here as Antiope as well. In the first 20 minutes or so, director Patty Jenkins quickly and adeptly creates an Amazon world that you want to know more about and you don’t want to leave. Honestly, I would have been happy with the movie staying on the mystical Island and giving us a swords and sandals style Greek epic myself but that’s not what everybody was in the theater for so the only bits of Themyscira you get is in the very beginning. Chris Pine as Steve Trevor works very well and some praise should go to the script for not treating him like Benjamin Bratt’s character was treated in Catwoman – giving him nothing to do and having him be purposefully cuckolded by Hallie Berry at every turn. He essentially plays the role of a guide for Diana whose naïve and overly simplistic view of the world and the people in it are challenged from almost the second she sets foot in London. I was expecting more action than I got with Wonder Woman; in fact, most of what you see in the trailers is what you get in the movie, except for the finale. However, the emotional story that the movie invests in makes the action you do get more intense and visceral. No spoilers but if I had to choose, I’d say the action centerpiece of the movie happens about halfway in and, even then, it comes with an emotional price tag.
As much as I enjoyed this film, it still very much reeked of Zack Synder and I wish it hadn’t. After you leave Themyscira, the color palette becomes bleak, dark, and drab like Man of Steel and BvS (although I’ll hold out an olive branch and say that in doing so, it made The Lasso of Truth during combat look like the most bad ass thing I’ve ever seen). It’s also a bit bloated with a two hour and twenty minute run time, something the other three DC films before it was stricken with. The action scenes are chalked full of unnecessary slo-mo/speed up CG sequences. My understanding is that Gal trained heavily for the role and did many of her own stunts in the movie so maybe her face could have been shown more during the action? And most importantly (and most Zack Snyder-ly), just like Man of Steel and BvS, we get a very cold and impersonal, cliché burdened, large scale CG heavy final battle. For as much heart and emotion is in this film, I feel like something on a smaller scale, something a tad, nay, a skosh more intimate would have been the right way to go here. But that’s not what we get. In the end, it doesn’t kill my love for this movie but it makes me wonder how much better it could have been if Zack Synder’s influence was not there.
I’ve been looking forward to this stand alone film for almost two years. I watched reruns of the Linda Carter lead TV show on ABC when I was a little kid and, unlike the Adam West’s Batman, Wonder Woman, while still campy and one dimensional, was a superhero I could relate to – a Superhero that not only caught bad guys but also rode a skateboard while doing it. I mean cmon! Bill Bixby’s The Incredible Hulk TV show was not acceptable viewing in my strictly religious household for being too violent. The VCR didn’t make it’s way into my home until the mid 80’s when it was more commonplace and affordable. Christopher Reeve’s Superman wouldn’t become a part of my live action superhero world until close to a decade after it was released, leaving Wonder Woman to be the sole avatar for my live action comic book geekdom for many years. It would have hurt my heart to trash this film if it was bad (not to mention maybe having to endure the anti feminist backlash) but thankfully it isn’t. Thankfully it’s very, very good.
Yes, you can exhale, it’s a strong movie that manages to shine bright despite its handful of flaws and will have you leaving the theater feeling good. The young woman I brought with me to the film said that she’ll be seeing it again with her daughter and that she would definitely describe the movie as a story of female empowerment. Comic book movies need more stories like this – hell the world needs more stories like this. Go to a theater and see it!
RATING: 3.5 STARS (Out of 5)
WHAT YOU CAN WATCH ALONG WITH THIS:
While DC’s recent live action catalog is less than desirable, they’ve consistently nailed down good storytelling on their animated front. The 2009 direct to video animated Wonder Woman movie is definitely worth your time, although Kerri Russell’s voice acting is lackluster at best.