(2017—Director: Patty Jenkins)
★★★ 1/2 (out of 5 stars)
In 2016, Warner Bros. released Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (BVS) and Suicide Squad to get the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) underway. An intense storm of division between audiences and critics followed both films. Great pressure began to precede the next DCEU installment—the solo debut of Wonder Woman on the silver screen. Hiring director Patty Jenkins only added to the pressure given her 14-year absence from cinema, plus the fact that a woman had never before directed a blockbuster superhero film. Much to the relief of Hollywood and the comic book fandom, Jenkins pulled it off. Wonder Woman not only restores the DCEU from an early coma, but stands alone in its own right as a glorious superhero experience.
To protect mankind from Ares the nefarious god of war, the gods of Mount Olympus created the Amazon race of immortal warrior women and placed them on the secluded island paradise of Themyscira. There, the Amazons train for the day when Ares will return. This includes Diana, the Amazon princess, who grows into a beautiful young woman (Gal Gadot, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice). Out of nowhere, a pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, Star Trek) crashes on their shores. Diana rescues him and takes him to her people. Steve tells the Amazons that he is a spy for the Allied forces in World War I, “the war to end all wars”. Believing that Ares created the conflict, Diana volunteers to take Steve to back to Europe so that she can kill the god of war and restore world peace. Along the way, Diana’s long-held beliefs about mankind’s corrupt nature will clash with her growing realization of humanity’s potential goodness.
Director Patty Jenkins delivers a strong, exciting, and well-paced period superhero spectacle—exactly what the DC Extended Universe needed after its twin catastrophes from 2016. Much like 2011’s X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger, Wonder Woman makes full use of its setting to enhance its comic book tale. The bleakness of Europe in 1918 provides for a stark contrast with the colorful majesty of Themyscira, while the trenches of the Western Front remain a spectacular set piece in any war film. At the film’s center is the romantic relationship between Diana and Steve, which stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine bring about with sensuous chemistry. Diana’s battle-ready attitude and naïveté about the human world (not to mention the conflict she is entering) create an effective and even adorable dynamic with Steve’s worldly charm. Her curiosity about mankind encourages audiences to root for her growth while also marveling at her seasoned combat skills.
In fact, Wonder Woman devotes so much time and care to Gadot and Pine’s characters that the supporting roles behind them and the villains opposing them fail to capture the same level of interest. The trio of mercenaries who join Diana and Steve (Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock) could have used more side banter to give them more flavor. Instead they end up as afterthoughts by the film’s end. (I will admit that a wide smile appeared on my face when Ewen Bremner showed up. Bremner is best known for playing Daniel “Spud” Murphy in the classic 1996 film Trainspotting and its stellar sequel from earlier this year.) Both the cursory handling of Wonder Woman’s antagonist element throughout and a somewhat wasted gala sequence that precedes a confusing climactic battle at a German airbase come quite close to sabotaging the film’s quality toward the end. Luckily, the star couple manages to re-focus the final battle in time.
Much was riding on the success of Wonder Woman—the future of the DCEU, female-led comic book films, and films with female directors. The resulting film may have imperfect elements, but none of them overcome the sturdy direction by Patty Jenkins and the genuine chemistry of leading stars Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. Unlike BVS and Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman keeps audiences invested in its central relationship and entertained by its action sequences. If Warner Bros. and DC Comics wish to catch up to Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, they must not let this extra life granted to them by this esteemed Amazonian warrior go to waste.
(Parents’ Note: Wonder Woman features bloodless violence, with battles involving everything from swords and bows and arrows to WWI-era weaponry to old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat. One such wartime weapon is the infamous “mustard gas”, which ravages an entire village at one point. Diana and Steve’s romance culminates with them kissing in a bedroom, but the film cuts to the morning after, at which one can presume that they’ve “spent the night”. A large airplane explodes in mid-air. Although Diana and her fellow Amazons would not regard their armored attire as immodest, those in the human world do take notice that their combat-ready outfits show a fair amount of skin. As such, Diana takes care to cover herself outside of battle, in consideration of her comrades.)