I don’t know about you, but I have been anxiously awaiting a “Wonder Woman” feature film since rumors circulated in the late ’90s of one starring Sandra Bullock. For me, the films near twenty-years in pre-production hell was well worth the wait.
For starters, “Wonder Woman” is the film that we needed to finally prove the Exec’s wrong. The belief that female superhero films cannot be successful is farce! You may remember leaked emails from 2015 revealing their suspicions that female characters were not a draw in the box-office. The failure of female comic book movies – or any comic book movies for that matter – has nothing to do with the sex, gender, or ability of the character. No instead, as fans have always maintained, the failure of comic book films is the result of shoddy film making at the hands of filmmakers who do not understand the properties they are working with. “Wonder Woman” is a film seeming created by those who seem to understand, and love, the character. And what a difference it makes.
To begin, Gal Gadot is a killer “Wonder Woman.” We knew she would be, based upon her all too brief appearance in “Batman v. Superman” (2016). But after watching the film, it is quite clear that no casting director in Hollywood could have found a better actress to embody the Princess of Themyscira. She captures the essence of Diana – her strength, her fearlessness, her moral fortitude, and her compassion.
The film changes the character’s origin, just a bit, but not in a bad way. Originally, Wonder Woman left Themyscira to help the world of man defeat the Nazi threat. Instead, Diana leaves during the First World War. The film successfully combines both of Diana’s origin stories, balancing tales of her being fathered by Zeus and sculpted from clay.
The first half of the film is phenomenal, as we watch Diana become an Amazon warrior. When Steve Trevor crashes on the Island, the ensuing battle between the German’s and the Amazon’s is exhilarating. The story kicks off when Diana defies her mother, and leave with Trevor and save mankind from the influence of Ares, the Amazon’s sworn enemy.
We learn that the German’s are working with longtime comic book villain – Doctor Poison – to create even more atrocious types of Chemical Weapons than were already being used on the battle field. This is a nice nod to the source material, and a great way of squeezing in one of Wonder Woman’s early villains.
The film becomes fun and lighthearted, as we witness Diana’s trouble adjusting to a “modern world” away from her Island. Diana, out of place and disappointed in humanities cowardice and lack of honor, becomes easily frustrated with Trevor’s reluctance to take her to the front lines to end the War.
Upon finally reaching the front, Wonder Woman crosses the no man’s land, and proceeds to virtually win WW1. The action sequences are great and we get what we want to see – our super heroine kicking ass. After virtually winning the War, the film begins to wane, as more than enough time is dedicated to romance and Diana’s observations of humanity – in what should have been categorized as “Director’s Cut Only” footage. Diana embarks on her mission to kill Ares – err, who she thinks is Ares – evil German General Ludendorff. Only to find in a plot twist we saw coming a day in advance, that Ares was not Ares. After Ludendorff is killed, the real Ares arrives. Like the snake that he often is in the comic’s, he has been masquerading as one of Trevor’s superiors, manipulating not just the war, but Diana as well.
The final show down, though a little heavy on the CGI, works. While I cannot help but feel that the character of Ares is slightly wasted in the film (given the characters potential, and his prominence in Wonder Woman story lines); the final battle is successful. Ares tries demonstrating to Wonder Woman the darkest side of human nature, hoping to lure her to his side and enslave mankind. Instead she chooses to put her faith in humanity; a belief reinforced by Steve Trevor’s decision to sacrifice himself, destroy chemical weapons, and save the lives of thousands. In the end, Wonder Woman rejects violence and chooses love, the secret to defeating the Greek god war.
The film succeeds where many of the recent DC films have failed. Instead of flashy visuals (which there are plenty in this film) which have become the focus of the Snyder helmed DC projects, the film is rooted in story and characterization.
The strength of the film is the character of Wonder Woman. She is a character of conviction. In a refreshing break from seemingly every (recent) superhero film, Diana does not experience a moral crisis of character where she questions her morality, her mission in life, or her greater world view. She remains true to the character who we have always, and will always, love. While the characters around her challenge her, she does not abandon her beliefs. Even in the final showdown with Ares, while she changes her mind on how best to achieve her objectives, she remains committed to her principles.
Being the DC-Super-fan that I am, I know that I am hyper-critical of all DC superhero films. I don’t want to oversell this film, by claiming that “Wonder Woman” is the film to save DC – but it is. Let’s face it, the last really great DC film was “The Dark Knight” (2008). Everything since then, has been lackluster at best. While the folks working in animation and in print continue to exceed our expectations, the feature film division of DC has the ability to perpetually disappoint us fans. But Wonder Woman breaks the mold. It delivers that type of film that we always wanted to see. I would even go as far as to say that it joins Nolan’s “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008), and “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” as one of DC’s greatest superhero films.
If you haven’t seen “Wonder Woman,” go see it. If you have, then go see it for a third or fourth time.