Let’s start right out with the good news, film fans and comic book geeks: Wonder Woman is good. Really good. Possibly one of the best and most exciting films of the summer. As already shown in the otherwise dull and tedious Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot brings a great energy and strength to an iconic character and she’s terrific in this new movie.
Yes, this also means that DC has finally figured out how to really translate one of their great heroes onto the big screen, just when we were all resigned to thinking that without director Chris Nolan that they were all doomed. Instead, ably directed by relative neophyte Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman has enough back story to fulfill the nerdy desires of purists – including a really cool animated sequence during which Zeus and Ares engage in an epic battle – along with a fun sequence where young Diana (Emily Carey) is trained as a warrior better than any ever seen on Thermyscira.
She has powers beyond mere Amazon women, but is never quite told what they are, and when she rages and sends out a pressure wave that knocks her fellow Amazonian warriors on their butts, she mopes off to gaze out at the sea from a towering cliff. Just to see a WWI German Fokker crash into the water. She dives 100ft and smoothly makes her way to the drowning pilot. It’s Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and he’s the first man to ever end up on Thermyscira. Boatloads of German soldiers follow him into the bubble and the Amazonians must battle them, arrows and swords versus rifles and bullets!
You’d think every woman on the island would want to check out this handsome guy, but surprisingly, it’s only Diana who shows any interest at all. The sparks are there, but when Steve reveals that there’s a battle raging in the world, a War to End All Wars, Diana has her interest piqued. If she can just find and kill Ares, the God of War, she can stop all wars between men. Her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) would prefer no Amazons leave the island and get involved in the affairs of man, but Diana’s insistent and soon she and Steve are heading to London by boat.
This is really where the period reproduction team has done a fantastic job: 1910’s London is spot-on with costumes, signage, vehicles, and general chaos. Everyone walks briskly past even a woman carrying a sword and shield on the city street. It’s London, the greatest city in the world, and it’s wartime. Best not to ask questions. As a bit of comic relief, Steve reconnects with his secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and she helps outfit Diana in appropriate attire prior to them heading to The War Office to meet with Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) about the German’s evil plans to hasten the end of the war.
In a clear parallel to Diana being told not to leave the island, Steve is told not to leave England to pursue the German poison gas researcher Maru (Elena Anaya) or her superior General Ludendorff (Danny Huston). They ignore the command and head to Belgium and thence to the front, meeting up with Charlie (Ewen Bremner), Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) and Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) to infiltrate enemy lines. For her part, Diana has her own mission: find and kill Ares.
Trevor’s team is composed of a Native American called “Chief” who has one throwaway line about how white men took everything from the Indian mixed into his minimal dialog, the amusing, tightly wound Middle Eastern Sameer, and the less than sharpshooting Scottish sharpshooter Charlie. They work well together, though some exposition about how they knew each other would have helped things make a bit more sense.
Good guys, bad guys, some great fight scenes, and good guy Americans versus the evil Germans, you can pretty much figure out how things play out. But it’s really good fun and there are lots of scenes where the special effects are really excellent. Gadot is really quite good as Wonder Woman, believable in the journey of her character from a naive island girl to a powerful goddess and warrior.
Except it is also worth noting that there’s a sappy element to the film that surprised me a bit. I won’t spoil it for you, but for a film that is focused on showing how a woman can be strong, tough and loving, Diana’s Achille’s Heel ends up a bit old-school. And a bit surprising.
A few of the visual effects were oddly cartoony too, particularly those involving the lasso of truth. Obviously it’s hard to have a real rope that glows from within, but I felt the effect lacked punch and made the rope appear silly and unthreatening. The pacing wasn’t consistently great either, and there were a few times when it felt like a few choice edits could have helped the film move forward. In particular, I felt that the opening scene with young Diana was too long and that young Emily Carey gave a particularly flat performance (though fellow viewers vehemently disagreed).
Even with those concerns, however, I have to admit that I really enjoyed Wonder Woman. It’s a good story, set in a really interesting historical period, the cast and sets are consistently splendid, and Gadot delivers a really solid performance as the title Princess and heroine of us humans. I’ll go see it again while it’s in the theater and recommend you check it out too!