It took 76 years, but Wonder Woman, arguably the most famous female comic book character of all time, has finally been given her own major motion picture. Invented back in 1941 by William Moulton Marston, and after decades of start and stop productions with such names as Ivan Reitman and Joss Whedon working behind the scenes, the Amazing Amazon has been brought to the Big Screen by Patty Jenkins. Many other reviewers have tried to do revisionist history and claimed this as the first ever movie with a comic book heroine as the lead role, but we all know that isn’t true. We’ve had Supergirl back in the 1980s, Tank Girl in the 1990s, and Elektra and Catwoman in the early 2000s. And if you want to include manga, we had a Ghost in the Shell movie just a few months ago. But I don’t blame other reviewers for erasing those movies from memory, because frankly, they all sucked! So needless to say, it was important for this movie to do justice to the First Lady of DC, and in my humble opinion, it did.
Granted, the movie is far from perfect. For what it is, an origin story, I would compare it to other first movies of legendary comic book characters like Richard Donner’s Superman, Tim Burton’s Batman, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. However, Wonder Woman falls just a little short from being among the greatest comic book movies of all time, such as Marvel’s Avengers, Spider-Man 2, Logan, or The Dark Knight. But what aspects of the movie work, and which ones don’t? Let’s find out. Oh, and I’m warning you now, this is a spoiler-ish review, but I’m not really telling you anything not already revealed by the movie’s many trailers, since that’s just how trailers work these days.
The movie is pretty much one big flashback, much like with Captain America: The First Avenger. Except we’re dealing with World War One and the creation of mustard gas, rather than World War Two, and the Nazis’ fascination with the occult as a means of victory. After a few minutes in modern day Paris, we transition into the world of Themyscira, the hidden island home of the mighty Amazons, led by Queen Hippolyta (played by Connie Nielsen) and General Antilope (played by Robin Wright). I found this part of the movie the most interesting, as we are told about the history of the Amazons through beautiful, moving artwork. I thought the story should have stayed on Themyscira for a bit longer, but Wonder Woman is a tale of a warrior going into a strange world, so I understand why they kept this portion of the movie a tad short. We don’t really learn much else about the Amazons’ daily lives, besides the fact that they train for war all the time, many while in bare bellied attire, although not nearly as many as I would have liked to have seen, which would have been all of them.
After spending a brief time with young Diana as a child, we flash forward to her as an adult (I’m not sure if she’s supposed to be in her 20s, it’s never explained how Amazons age), and being played by Gal Gadot (for better or for worst). Soon after establishing that Diana is able to single handedly kick the collective butts of every other Amazon on the island, Steve Trevor (played to perfection by Chris Pine) crash lands nearby. German soldiers aren’t far behind, and the movie’s best action sequence happens, with the Amazons fighting back with bows and arrows against the soldiers’ rifles. After the battle is won by the Amazons (but not without a fair amount of casualties), Trevor is forced to confess his backstory via the Golden Lasso of Truth. Upon hearing about the horrors of The Great War, Diana is convinced that the Greek God of War, Ares, is manipulating the World of Man, and volunteers to join Trevor in venturing back to his military base in England, so that she can kill Ares once and for all. By the way, the Themyscira portion of the movie, is also the most brightly colored portion of the movie. Yes, bright colors in a DC Expanded Universe movie, who would have thought?
From there, the movie is more or less a fish out of water tale, as Diana tries to fit in with wartime England, often with hilarious results, such as picking out a dress to wear in public. After Diana’s adjusting to society is over and done with, we get into the fighting sequences, which are quite fun to watch. And lastly, we get the big boss fight at the end with Ares. Unfortunately, it’s a CGI bloat fest, which the DCEU has become infamously known for in their third acts.
On the bright side, Wonder Woman is everything it needs to be. It tells you her backstory, all the major plot points that she’s known for, displays her numerous superpowers in exciting fashion, and makes you look forward to any future installments of the franchise. Although, I still prefer the animated Wonder Woman movie from 2009, mostly for its creative choices. Choices such as being more loyal to Diana’s origin story and how she became Wonder Woman, the story including Ares’ point of view, the events happening in a modern day setting, and the boss fight at the end being more imaginative.
Going back to the live action movie, a much welcomed aspect is how it’s mostly separate to the rest of the DCEU, except for cursory mentions of Bruce Wayne. And I hope whatever Wonder Woman sequels are made also stay far away from the rest of DCEU, because that was a great help to this movie as a whole. And yes, this is easily the best movie under the DCEU banner, but then again, that’s not a high measure of quality to judge by, when the other movies are Man of Sh*t, Yawn of Justice, and Suicide Squat.
What I personally enjoyed the most about the movie, was how it was a throwback to the Golden Age of comic books. Diana is what the superheroes of old were all about. She wants there to be equality of life in the world, and for evil to be punished. It’s what DC used to be all about, until Zack Snyder decided the DCEU movies should only appeal to angry teenage boys. It’s very telling that Patty Jenkins understands why Donner’s Superman worked so well and is highly regarded four decades later, while Snyder doesn’t. In fact, Jenkins sneaked in little homages to Donner’s Superman that eagle eyed fans will notice. Diana’s belief in humanity and commitment to honor is a much needed breath of fresh air, compared to Snyder’s love of superheroes spending all their screen time brooding or killing everyone who gets within arm’s reach of them. Don’t get me wrong, Diana does kill in this movie, but that’s because she was trained to be a warrior, and because she’s being attacked first. It’s not like she’s all “Oh look, a low level guard! I’ll snap his neck because he’s annoying me!”
Other highlights of the movie are the small, quiet moments, such as Diana and Trevor chit-chatting while they travel from Themyscira to England. It’s genuinely laugh out loud funny at times, and makes you care about these characters. Overall, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is easily his best performance, ever. He was okay as Captain Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek movies, but he really comes into his own with Trevor, giving us a courageous and humorous sidekick hero to root for. Yes, humor in a DCEU movie. That happened!
But the movie isn’t without its shortcomings, and in my humble opinion, the biggest is that of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Sorry, but she’s just not that great of an actress. She’s passable at best. Yes, she’s gorgeous and all, but I can’t help but notice that her dialogue seemed overly simple, to mask her subpar acting abilities and line delivery. In fact, Pine’s lines were much more complex by comparison, and he gave a more emotional range in his performance. And on top of Gadot’s lackluster acting ability, I’m even more sorry, but she doesn’t look the part, outside of being tall. I was rooting for Morena Baccarin to get the role, but we had to settle for her being in the Deadpool movie instead. And in my opinion, Wonder Woman’s body should be like that of a female crossfit athlete, or a female MMA fight during her weigh-in before a fight night. Diana should have a defined back and shoulders, toned arms and legs, and shredded abs. Gadot simply doesn’t have any of that. Ideally, she should have gotten as chiseled as stuntwoman Jessie Graff, best known for her runs on American Ninja Warrior. So yeah, my ideal Wonder Woman would be the head and acting ability of Morena Baccarin, attached to the body of Jessie Graff. How’s that for a visual?
Outside of Gadot being a minor disappoint here and there, the movie suffers from having generic villains in the form of Doctor Poison (played by Elena Anaya), and General Ludendorff (played by Danny Huston, in his third comic book villain for hire role). Granted, Poison and Ludendorff have a scene or two where they get to be deliciously evil, but they could have used a few more scenes like those. Poison also happens to have a great look. And, as I mentioned, the final boss fight with Ares at the end is the typical DCEU third act, in other words, a giant CGI spectacle that looks like you’re watching a screensaver that was spliced into the film. And, going back to Gadot’s acting once again, she really can’t pull off being enraged. Her facial expressions while being angry look awkward, and that kills some of the tension during the grand finale. Other than that, the movie is perfectly serviceable.
In conclusion, even though Diana is ironically never referred to as Wonder Woman, the Wonder Woman movie itself is quite enjoyable! It reminds us of what superheroes are supposed to be about, fighting on behalf the innocent, and opposing those who oppress the innocent, because it’s the right thing to do. I imagine this movie will be held in high regards for several years to come, mainly as the inspiration go-to movie to watch for many young girls, much like the Hunger Games films currently are. I certainly wouldn’t mind Wonder Woman becoming the face of the DCEU, and being given many more solo movies, while Superman and Batman retire for a while, as they are currently the two most overrated and overexposed comic book characters in the media right now! Maybe a decade from now, a better actress will take up the mantle as Gadot’s replacement and give a far superior performance, but until that day, this will be looked upon as the best female led comic book movie … mostly because all the others were so damn bad!
I give the Wonder Woman movie a solid 4 out of 5 stars. By all means, see it in theaters, but it’s best to see it at matinee prices. If you need a more professional opinion, the movie is currently at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the first Certified Fresh DC movie since The Dark Knight Rises, from five year ago (and in my opinion, that movie was only good for its first hour, and then it quickly fell apart)! Watch, now that DC has a hit on their hands, they’ll probably drop the ball later this year with Justice League. Yes, I had to end on a salty note!