Everyone take a deep breath, and let it out. I’m here to tell you that Wonder Woman is a really good movie.
It seems ridiculous that this movie had so much riding on it: lady superhero movies have had a terrible track record, and that’s obviously because lady superheroes are lame and terrible, right? Not because of bad scripts, rushed production, or terrible direction. And since Wonder Woman’s scenes were the strongest parts of Batman vs Superman (or the only good scenes if you are me), DC fans are desperate to see their beloved characters treated well. Top it off with 2017 as the 75th anniversary of William Moulton Marston putting his kinks in comic form and creating a feminist icon, and expectations are sky high.
Enter Gal Gadot, who dons the bracelets, tiara, and a beautiful and brutal ability to kick major butt. Not only does she carry the film physically, but she handles the transition of an innocent young woman who eagerly chases the high ideals of a mission from the gods to the reality of the most horrific war in modern history. Gadot has solid comic timing, especially her facial reactions, and she gets to play both the straight man and comedienne throughout the film.
The rest of the cast is equally excellent. Chris Pine is exactly what you’d hope for in a romantic interest: hunky, good sense of humor, and slightly damaged. Director Patty Jenkins treats the viewers to a healthy dose of the female gaze, the best of which is a hilarious bathtub scene that’s a perfect gender flip from a good romantic comedy. Luckily, Gadot and Pine have excellent chemistry, selling the instant connection between the two and heightening the comedic moments and romantic tension.
The supporting cast runs deep with talent, the standouts being Robin Wright as General Antiope, Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, and Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer. Robin Wright looks insane for her age, not only her gorgeous face but her strength and agility as she owns her fight scenes. Lucy Davis is the perfect comic relief, and Saïd Taghmaoui mixes humor and depth to the crew of slightly tarnished ruffians Diana teams up with.
One of the ways this film was a step forward for recent DC films was the greater diversity in the cast, mostly avoiding token diverse characters. The Themyscira scenes were the strongest, but Steve’s motley band was also great, particularly Eugene Brave Rock. His frankness to Diana about the fate of Native Americans in the US gave depth to her disillusionment with the state of the wider world. But most importantly, for a film about the first woman superhero, women get a much larger chunk of roles. That said, I would have liked to see Etta Candy get to do more to balance out Steve’s all guy gang. Having a woman as a villain is great, but did we really need the General above her? Surely it wouldn’t have been such a stretch to have a lead scientist be a voice of authority, even as a woman in this time period.
The production design was outstanding, particularly in the trenches and battle sequences of WWI. Jenkins and team did an excellent job showing what a huge leap forward in violence and destruction this war was, without massive amounts of gore. Using color tones was particularly effective, with Themyscira as a literal blue-skied teal-sea paradise against the gray and brown muddy horror of the fronts.
This isn’t a perfect film, however. The pacing overall was excellent but like most DC movies, it was at least 15 minutes too long. Part of that could have been made up by cutting out half of the slow motion mid-air spins that littered the fight scenes. The first couple were cool, but I started to wonder if I watching 300 after we hit number six. Doctor Poison had the potential to be a fascinating and terrifying villain, but she felt underdeveloped. Cuting General Ludendorff would have helped let her shine. And like almost every superhero movie in recent memory, the boss battle has so much CGI and smashing of nearby boulders and heavy vehicles, it lost the personal connection the rest of the film had.
The strangest thing about the film, specifically the second half, is how similar the story is to Captain America: The First Avenger. I thought that moving the setting to WWI was supposed to help fight the comparisons, but there are so many identical story beats that I wonder why they even bothered. Now don’t get me wrong, since First Avenger is my favorite Marvel film, I’m not going to complain about having a gender-flipped version, but it seemed too obvious for the writing team not to have noticed.
This year is the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman’s creation by William Moulton Marston, and Diana of the Amazons has had many many incarnations over that time. It was exciting to see specific nods to Marston’s version, as controversial as those may be. Bondage was a huge part of her original stories, and the importance of love to her powers. After such a strong introduction, I predict Diana is going to be the best part of the Justice League films going forward.
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