Directed by Patty Jenkins
Written by Alan Heinberg from a story by Zach Snyder & Alan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, and Elena Anaya
Runtime: 141 minutes
It took the DCEU four tries to come up with a film worthy of its characters. This seems absurd, given the great depth of the DC characters, notably Superman, Batman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. The fact that this is the best of the DCEU so far pales in to the astonishing fact that this is the first time Wonder Woman has ever been given a theatrical feature of her own (and only the second time, after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, to even be in a theatrical film at all) after having been created by William Moulton Marston in 1941. It’s worth mentioning, as a side note, that Marston also invented the polygraph device used to decipher if people are lying, so it’s no great mystery why his other creation is the Goddess of Truth who wields a lasso that compels people to tell the unabashed truth.
The story, told in flashback, is set in late 1918, the waning days of World War I. We see Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot), the mythical island of Amazons, years before, growing up from a child to a young woman and eventually trained in the Amazonian Warrior ways. Then, an airplane breaks through their protective shield, bringing with it Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), the first man Diana has ever seen. He’s an American disguised as a German who helps the Amazons fight off the actual Germans that follow him into the protective field. After the battle, he pleads for them to intervene in the war, swaying only Diana. She is convinced that Ares is behind the war and by destroying him, she can end this war and all subsequent ones. Steve is glad for the help (sort of) and with Diana, they make it back to London to deliver the notebook of Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), a German scientist responsible for the creation of terrible gasses that are used against the Allies under the direction of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston, son of legendary writer/director/actor John Huston and brother to legendary actress Angelica Huston). Diana and Steve go to the front with a group of less-than-reputable men in an effort to stop the production of the gas (which can destroy gas masks) and Diana to try and kill Ares.
Alan Heinberg’s screenplay is one of immense wit and joy. He captures the mood of Europe during WWI, the terror and fading hope as well as working in some great fish-out-of-water gags for both Diana and Steve (like Diana pointing to a naked Steve saying “What is that for?” and his stunned look until he realizes she’s asking about his watch). He also gets Diana’s determination and attitude just right, making her the hero she is right away instead of making her doubt herself and grow into her heroism. His use of Steve Trevor is also atypical and refreshing, having him pursue his own goal and not making a big deal out of his attraction to Diana (he tries to protect her once, but when she ends up protecting him instead, he never entertains that notion again).
Director Patty Jenkins, who hasn’t made a feature since Monster in 2003, is in amazing form here, using some visual tricks of Zach Snyder’s to keep in some context with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, like slow motion and camera pans during action scenes, but she makes them her own (and somehow much less irritating than when Snyder himself does them). She also has given the film excellent period flavor and worked in some visual gags as well as some hair-raising action sequences. She kept the tone of the film light, despite the dire stakes, much in contrast to most of the rest of the DCEU. Jenkins draws some really wonderful performances from Godot, Pine, and Huston as well as the supporting cast (including the always great David Thewlis). She keeps her pacing tight, never flagging despite the 140-minute length. Her action sequences are things of beauty, especially Diana’s push through No Man’s Land (while carefully avoiding the Lord of the Rings moment when Steve says “No man can cross it” and she thankfully does not reply with “I’m not a man”).
DC fans such as myself have been waiting a long time for this movie (there’s a Vladimir and Estragon joke in there, but I’ll refrain from making it). Much like we’d waited a long time for Batman and Superman to appear together and have Wonder Woman there too, but Wonder Woman doesn’t take the kitchen sink approach and just throw everything into the movie in an effort to make people want to see it. Instead, it focuses on character and earns every action sequence. Those action sequences are exciting, well-paced and fit into the emotional tapestry of the picture instead of being tossed in when the writer got tired of writing dialogue. Every emotional beat and revelation is earned by the characters, not shoehorned in because they move the story along.
Wonder Woman is the crown jewel of the DCEU thus far (with Justice League coming in November 2017 and that looking like it could be just as good…but probably not better). It doesn’t treat its subject too seriously, yet it doesn’t treat it lightly either. There are high stakes, but also lessons to be learned about the world of men and what seems like a simple answer (Ares being the cause of all war) isn’t necessarily the case. There are nuances and facets that Diana doesn’t understand because she’s a stranger to these times and this culture. Learning of these makes her withdraw from heroism for nearly 100 years.
Wonder Woman stands as an excellent example of what a superhero movie can be and should prove that woman can be the lead in a superhero movie and people will still go to see it (in droves, as evidenced by the box office receipts). Though I’m sure studios will look on this as an exception and not a new rule, the hope is they will begin to see what is possible (though they’ll probably make some lame excuse like “Let’s see if the sequel does the same numbers, then we’ll think about more like it.”). Whatever the outcome, Wonder Woman has finally made it to the big screen and it is glorious.