It’s fair to say that DC Comics and Warner Bros. have had their struggles as they’ve launched the DC Cinematic Universe. Their first few movies in the DCCU have received decidedly mixed reactions from fans and critics, and they’ve struggled to escape from the shadow cast by Christopher Nolan’s Batman masterpiece, the Dark Knight trilogy, and from Marvel’s own cinematic universe. However, a certain superhero has come to the rescue, and her name is Wonder Woman.
First appearing in comics 75 years ago, Wonder Woman is long overdue for a solo film. However, the wait was absolutely worth it. With glowing reviews from critics and fans, the film is a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the DCCU. Freed from some of the issues that have plagued the other recent DC movies, “Wonder Woman” is an action-packed, heartfelt, and ultimately inspiring superhero film.
Future Wonder Woman and Amazon princess Diana (Gal Gadot) grows up on the island paradise of Themyscira as part of an ancient race of warrior women protected from the outside world. That protective barrier is breached by a plane carrying a World War I spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), his arrival inadvertently triggering an attack by German soldiers. Although Diana’s mother wants nothing to do with Steve or the worldwide conflict he is a part of, Diana feels compassion for him and the outside world oppressed by war (she’s convinced the Greek god Ares is responsible for this conflict). She follows Steve back to the frontlines of WWI and becomes part of a mission to stop Ares and end the work of General Erich Ludendorff and “Doctor Poison,” who are developing a deadly form of weaponized gas. Diana’s strength, skills, and beliefs will all be tested as she learns some of the dark truths about humanity, but she also decides the future of humankind is still worth fighting for.
After seeing some of the previous DCCU films, I was a little worried about Wonder Woman’s solo outing. My opinion of “Suicide Squad” keeps dropping as more time passes, and while I enjoyed “Batman v. Superman” more than many seemed to, it had several major issues. The previous DCCU films have felt choppily edited with plots that are a little half-baked; they have great ingredients, but the final product never quite comes together as well as it could. However, “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins breaks that trend. “Wonder Woman” has a focused narrative without confusing sideplots. The film isn’t rushed or forced and is willing to dedicate time to character development. I genuinely cared about the characters in this film, and it’s the DCCU film I’ve felt the most emotionally invested in while watching.
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the highlight of “Batman v. Superman” for me, and I loved seeing her in her own film. I loved how she was a strong, badass warrior but was also an intelligent, kind, and compassionate person with a heart for helping people. My favorite scene in the movie is the moment where Diana defies the odds and climbs up out of the trench into No Man’s Land, breaking a stalemate so she can save innocent civilians (it’s now one of my all-time favorite scenes in a superhero movie, period). She is unafraid to take risks in order to fight for what she believes in, and it was so cool to see how her presence inspired the other soldiers to follow her up out of the trench.
I also really liked Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. I’ve been a fan of Pine’s since the first Star Trek reboot film, and I think sometimes he’s underappreciated as an actor. I appreciated how he let Gadot’s Wonder Woman have the spotlight in this movie but perfectly complemented her character. Sometimes romantic subplots can feel forced or unnecessary in action films, but I thought their relationship was lovely and understated.
While there’s a lot to love about this film, I think what moved it from “good” to “great” for me was the collection of smaller moments sprinkled throughout the movie that made it more than just a CGI-filled special effects bonanza, such as Diana and Steve dancing in the snow, or Diana’s curiosity about the outside world (I loved watching her try ice cream for the first time). There’s also a moment that Steve shares with Doctor Poison that shifts her from being a one-dimensional villain to letting us catch just a glimpse of her humanity.
Although I think the main reason the film makers shifted the movie’s action from World War II to World War I was to avoid copying “Captain America: The First Avenger,” it’s a change that ultimately works in the film’s favor. WWI was the first global war of the modern era; countries introduced new, terrifying weapons and the issues continued to fester for decades, eventually leading to WWII. It was a bleak, uncertain time, and it’s far from the idealized conflict that Diana grew up learning about through her mother’s legends.
If there’s one thing I might have tweaked about the movies, it’s the ending. ***Warning: Spoilers ahead!*** I didn’t mind the final “boss battle,” where Diana learns that Ares has been masquerading as a British politician (she believed Ares was pretending to be General Ludendorff). It’s cool to see Diana fully use her powers for the first time, and I felt the film “earned” its final fight more than some of the showdowns in the other DCCU films (I’m looking at you, “Suicide Squad”). But I might have actually preferred an ending where Wonder Woman kills General Ludendorff, only to find he isn’t Ares and the war doesn’t stop. The real “bad guy” is actually just the dark side of humanity. Then Steve’s sacrifice convinces her that humanity is still worth saving, and she helps bring an end to the war. Then maybe, at the very end of the film, we get a reveal that Ares is still in hiding as a British politician, only he’s playing the long game because he knows the conflict won’t just stop with WWI, and WWII will happen years later. Part of me also wishes Diana could have found a way to rescue Steve because I’d really like to see Pine in more DC films, but I don’t think the ending would have had the same impact without his sacrifice. ***End spoilers.***
I still have my concerns about the upcoming Justice League movie, and it may be too late for them to course correct based on the flaws of “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” But you can bet I’ll still be there on opening weekend, and I’ll be there because of Wonder Woman. Hopefully that film will leave me as pumped and inspired as I felt walking out of the theater after “Wonder Woman”; so far it’s my favorite movie of the year.