Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Written by: Allan Heinberg
Wonder Woman poses the question: “Is humanity worth saving?”
That is the question Diana (Gal Gadot) struggles with throughout the film. As we see her grow up, we observe her very black/white concept of justice. Young Diana wants to fight and defend the weak. She wants war; she wants to flex her skills and lead an army to victory. She wants these things without consider the people she would be saving in these hypothetical battles.
Her upbringing is something out of a Disney film: She wants to fight but her mother (Connie Nielson) doesn’t want her to. So she sneaks away with a relative (in this case her aunt Antiope, played by Robin Wright) and trains behind her mother’s back. When her mother sees that Diana is determined to fight she finally allows her daughter to train. Diana gradually becomes the most powerful Amazon on Themyscira.
Patty Jenkins creates a fully-realized world for Themyscira. It’s a feminist paradise—full of strong women living in peace with no men and no danger. But in true hero fashion, Diana is restless. She rejects the easy life of being a princess. Much like Ariel (from The Little Mermaid) Diana wants to be “where the people are”.
She gets her wish when soldier and spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) nearly drowns in the ocean in front of Themyscira. After she saves him, Diana has her chance to meet the humans she’s never known but has already sworn to protect. World War 1 is happening, and Steve thinks he has a way to end it. Diana decides to go with him, but she has her own ideas on how to end the war. She believes that she is the only one who can end it and that her impact will mean more than anything that Steve is planning.
Upon leaving the security of her island and meeting humans, Diana’s biggest nemesis is her doubt. She is shocked by the lack of honor in which many humans conduct their lives. Throughout the film she serves as the ultimate Big Good. She calls out the immoral behavior of not just the clear enemies of the film (the Germans) but of everyone who acts in a way that doesn’t coincide with her rigid values. The most fascinating battle in Wonder Woman is Diana’s internal struggle. She is constantly trying to prove to herself that humanity cannot be at fault for the terrible atrocities they’ve committed against their fellow man.
Diana’s kindness and naiveté is refreshing to see in a time when superhero films are at their most misanthropic. Diana is the opposite of an anti-hero. She genuinely loves humanity; she gets excited when she sees a baby! she marvels at the taste of ice cream! This goofiness and sincerity compliments her character—giving her texture and personality.
These light, comedic moments make her fight scenes all the more badass when they occur because she’s not walking around scowling, trying to prove how much a brooding hero she is. Diana does brood—but it rarely gets in the way of doing the right thing. Wonder Woman is a hero that makes friends, loves with her entire heart and provides encouragement and guidance to others when fighting alongside them.
It was a joy to watch Wonder Woman. Gadot’s fight scenes are mesmerizing. Finally seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen kicking butt is cathartic to watch on its own, but Gadot’s combat skill is unmistakable. She’s a fierce warrior; quick, tactical and fearless. When she ran into No Man’s Land I was on the edge of my seat. It was thrilling to watch her.
Gadot and Pine are strong leads, and their chemistry is undeniable. The most striking thing about the pairing of Diana and Steve Trevor, is that they act throughout the film as partners. Steve is resistant of Diana and first and doubts her strength, but he soon realizes that he needs her. One great thing about the film is that it highlights the way sexism leads men to underestimate Diana and pokes fun at the silliness of sexist notions. Diana doesn’t have to tell Steve or their gang (Ewen Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock) women are strong, they see it with their own eyes and are forced to deal with it.
The weakest part of the film are the villains (Danny Huston, Elena Anaya). Diana’s internal struggle is much more interesting than she and Steve’s efforts to thwart General Generic and Two-Dimensional Mad Scientist. Scenes with those characters are where the film lags. Both Huston and Anaya give performances that lack texture—mainly because they’re characters are not given any personal motives for why they want to continue the war so badly. Huston’s General Erich Ludendorff seems to be looking for a vague sense of glory. Anaya’s Dr. Isabel Maru has motives that are even more undefined. I had the sneaking suspicion of her harboring romantic feelings for Ludendorff, but there just isn’t enough there to be sure.
My one other problem with the film is the underuse of Etta Candy, played by the talented Lucy Davis. Davis is a comedy veteran (she was on the The Office UK), and she really could have done more with her role if she was given more screen time. Due to her mortality, there isn’t much of a chance for her to return in later films and her getting the Agent Carter treatment is also unlikely. Wonder Woman really does miss opportunities for female bonding by sidelining Etta.
Much has been said about Wonder Woman’s third act and final showdown. I’d rather not spoil it in this review because there’s an important involved, but I do have a few thoughts on its execution. Despite the clunky nature of its execution, I see bravery in the film’s final battle. It essentially serves as a physical manifestation of the internal struggle Diana has been having throughout the film. All of her conflicting thoughts come to a head and she is forced to make a choice about the fate of humanity.
Wonder Woman is the first film from the DC Extended Universe with the confidence to answer the philosophical questions it raises. This is definitely not a normal characteristic of the DCEU; affectively a reimagining of DC Comics’ greatest heroes as brooders, in constant conflict with their own minds. That is not to say that the comics and previous films didn’t do this, but in the case of the current DCEU, brooding seems to be the only thing the films are interested in. Character development and a sense of humor have all but disappeared in the current incarnations of Batman and Superman. Suicide Squad has many failings, but it did manage to have a sense of fun and energy that was missing in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. As a collective effort, the DCEU, while interesting, has often failed to entertain.
Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman is an entertaining, exciting film. I was surprised by how refreshed I was that Wonder Woman was a “good” person. I think goodness has become an underrated trait in superhero films because it’s been characterized as bland and saccharine. However, I think there is a lot of room for complexity in “goodness” that still leaves room for character growth. Goodness is never an end within itself. Just like Steve Rogers (Captain America), Diana’s journey is about confronting the darkness of humanity and deciding how to respond to it, while keeping her values intact. What makes Wonder Woman most heroic is her pursuit of understanding and unwavering empathy. That’s the kind of hero the world needs. Especially now.