Wonder Woman is the archetype superheroine. Created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter, she has become an inspiration to readers of all types for more than 75 years through her display of strength, compassion, and intuitive intellect. A cultural icon for generations, her legacy includes a successful 1970s live-action television series starring Lynda Carter and more recently in memorable animated ventures including the Justice League series and her own direct-to-video feature. Since 1996, Warner Bros. and DC have actively tried to develop a live-action film for the character that would live up to expectations while also doing justice to her stature as a renowned and beloved figure. After so many hopeful starts and disheartening stops, they finally managed to make the movie happen.
The film retells her origin story, finding her as Princess Diana of Themyscira. Dreamy eyed about the purpose of the Amazons as the defenders of peace, she witnesses army pilot Steve Trevor crash land near her home, marking him as the first man to appear on the island paradise that has for centuries been inhabited solely by women.
Trevor brings with him news of the outside world being engaged in what has been described as the War to End All Wars. Appalled by her mother Queen Hippolyta’s disregard of defending peace for continued safety in isolation, Diana ventures on with Trevor to bring justice to the world of man. Unaware of her true potential and destiny that Hippolyta has kept secret to protect her daughter.
Wonder Woman enters as the fourth title in the DC Extended Universe of films. Warner Bros. and DC’s attempt to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has not gotten off smoothly. Man of Steel was merely a good movie, nothing spectacular. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was a disappointment and could not overcome the weight of the hype, ambitions, and expectations placed upon it. And Suicide Squad was just a chaotic mess. With the last two films in particular receiving critical thrashings and seemingly dividing fans, Warner Bros. and DC find themselves being pressured even more to ensure Wonder Woman is a success. At the very least, it needs to be good. Fortunately, director Patty Jenkins has delivered such a film and perhaps a little more.
The storytelling is nicely done. It does enough to weave together Diana’s story from her childhood and early training in Themyscira to her introduction to the outside world in a clear, linear manner that makes the whole film understandable and rather relatable. I would imagine that executive producers Geoff Johns and Jon Berg, who now head the newly established DC Films division and oversee the creative direction as a result of the criticism Batman V Superman received, worked with Jekins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg to really fine-tune the story Zack Snyder initially conceived with Heinberg and Jason Fuchs. I say this because, while there are traces of what I’m sure are elements from Snyder’s story in Batman V Superman present, Wonder Woman stands apart to a degree that it’s as though they are restarting the shared universe continuity without actually doing so. I wouldn’t blame anyone coming out of the theater wishing this was the actually first entry in the DCEU and not the fourth.
Two of my biggest problems with the DCEU films, and ones that I think have been quite debilitating, are editing and pacing. The last two films in particular were cut in ways that hampered the narrative either by making them feel like the story was dragging on and on, as in Batman V Superman, or had no sense of cohesion, as in Suicide Squad. More troubling is that they had extended editions that didn’t necessarily improve the films.
Clearly Jenkins and her editor Martin Walsh understood these needed to be addressed for Wonder Woman as their film plays much better. The two-and-a-half hour runtime doesn’t feel too long and the narrative flows in a cohesive manner. Jenkins and Walsh have cut together a nice mix of action, humor, and drama that work together as opposed to one overbearing the other, resulting in a film that’s enjoyable and fascinating, and hopefully one that doesn’t require an extended edition because I think the film is absolutely fine as is.
Enhancing the storytelling is the way Wonder Woman is shot. Jenkins and cinematographer Matthew Jensen do a delightful job in visualizing Diana’s journey with how each scene is photographed. Themyscira is colorful and vibrant, the definition of paradise becoming a reality and using wide shots to really take in the beauty and scenery. The outside world is muted and saturated, as if it is losing its life over time with shots that feel confined and cramped. Adding to all of this is an interesting method of having the differing color and visual schemes fight over photographing Diana as the story progresses, shaping her character throughout and accentuating how she feels in the situation she’s in.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Her brief, if admittedly tacked-on, performance in Batman V Superman was a bit of a show-stealer, so it wasn’t a question of whether or not she could handle playing the character through a stand-alone feature film. What makes her fantastic in her first solo outing is the manner in which she performs the character. There is great sense of truth that’s noble and charismatic as opposed to being hammy. The believability is unwavering and she shines brightly from start to finish. It’s almost organic how she is able to engage in fisticuffs with absolute strength and determination one moment while the next being adorable in trying to understand the clothing women are supposed to wear upon arriving in London. Gadot is spot on that its hard to even consider anyone else playing the role.
Among the supporting cast, Chris Pine stands out quite nicely as Steve Trevor. Managing his own mix of wanting to be a dashing hero with the occasional goofiness in being around a woman who is stunning in every conceivable way, he makes a great compliment to Gadot’s Diana.
The other key players, in particular Robin Wright as Diana’s aunt General Antiope, Danny Huston as a fictionalized version of General Ludendorff, Lucy Davis as Trevor’s bubbly secretary Etta Candy, and David Thewlis as the gentlemanly Sir Patrick Morgan, have moments of their own. I kind of wish there was more for Connie Nielson as Queen Hippolyta and Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison to really play with their characters because it seemed like they were holding back from doing something memorable like the others did. But again, I don’t think it’s necessary for there to be an extended edition just to compensate this minor quibble.
One thing I would also like to point out is the music. While I am a big Hans Zimmer fan, I have difficulty deciding whether or not I like the theme he came up with for Wonder Woman in Batman V Superman, itself admittedly one of the rare times I felt his score came off as pedestrian and didn’t shine. Which makes me surprised that I find Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score for the Wonder Woman film to be really good in comparison! He’s crafted some really great melodies that enhance the storytelling and are in line with the epic feel of the film. In fact, I actually cringe slightly whenever a callback to Zimmer’s theme is played because it sounds out of place with the rest of the score.
And this being a superhero film, there is some animation used in the action sequences. It’s pretty clear when they’re used, such as a sequence when Diana is engaging the Germans on the Front, moving at super human speed as she whips out the Lasso of Truth to take out legions of soldiers. There’s a fine moment in that sequence where she’s going all over the place while Trevor is moving at normal speed firing off his rifle. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the animation is bad, rather it looks impressive, but it adds to this feeling about the movie overall that it’s fine, really good even, even if it doesn’t quite achieve total greatness.
Wonder Woman is easily the best DCEU film to date. Patty Jenkins’ storytelling is good, the editing and pacing make everything flow cohesively, the cinematography is beautiful, Gal Gadot performs wonderfully (pun somewhat intended), and Rupert Gregson-Williams has composed a nice musical score.
There are some minor quibbles I have like the supporting cast outside of Chris Pine not getting enough opportunities to shine, callbacks to Batman V Superman that feel out of place, and this sense that the film is missing something that’s needed to make it outstanding. Nevertheless, it accomplishes the primary goals of being a really good movie that Warner Bros. and DC can be proud of and is sure to be enjoyed by fans who look up to the character. In fact, I have no problem ranking Wonder Woman favorably against some of the lower tier Marvel films. Let’s hope this is the foundation for Warner Bros. and DC getting their films on the right track because if they can be this good then they’ll really be able to compete with Marvel.
Warner Bros. Pictures
June 2, 2017
Directed by Patty Jenkins