It be a bit of an understatement to say a lot rides on the success of Wonder Woman. Can the most recognizable female superhero in all of comics receive an adaptation that does her justice? Can the lackluster response to the other DC films be reversed and make fans excited to see Justice League? But, honestly, this movie shouldn’t have to be bridled with all those expectations, and should only be tasked with answering one question: Is this a good movie? Well, that question can be answered using only two words: Hell. Yes.
Wonder Woman serves as an origin story for Diana of Themyscira, leaving her sister Amazonians to fight in World War I and to hopefully destroy the God of War, Ares, who has been manipulating mankind into endless combat. She is taken to the front by American spy Steve Trevor, who introduces her to the world of man, and the horrors they can sadly inflict on each other. While we know at the end of the day WWI will end and Diana will stick around in man’s world until she meets up with Batman to form the Justice League, the path she takes to get there is thrilling, touching, and tragic.
Gal Gadot does a fantastic job as Wonder Woman, approaching The War to End all Wars at first rather naively (Kill Ares, mankind will be good again), but remains committed to her convictions as it dawns on her that there’s no on/off switch for cruelty and suffering. She is a warrior with no parallel during the fight scenes, and a kind person in the streets of London, taking in the simple joy of ice cream in one quick reference to a moment from her ‘Justice League’ introduction in the New 52. Her other fish-out-of-water moments are never distracting, and she carries a grace that will no doubt become iconic as the years go by. Gadot seems to effortlessly build of her terrific performance from Batman V. Superman, never sacrificing her strength while emoting about the losses she faces.
The rest of the cast play their parts well, especially Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. Trevor and Diana share a chemistry that always feels earned and never cheesy, and the script gives Pine all the screen time he needs to charm you without distracting you from Gadot herself. Trevor’s eclectic group of soldiers that accompanies them into No Man’s Land are fun enough to provide some good banter, and Dr. Poison does a lot in her little time on camera to make her an interesting side villain before all the Ares stuff starts coming to the forefront. The Amazons don’t get nearly enough to do, sadly, but a sequel that sends Diana back home to fight some other players in the Greek Pantheon (like Circe) is likely in the cards so they’ll probably be back.
Patty Jenkins’s choreography during the action scenes is inventive, embracing the Amazonian tech in unique ways, especially Wonder Woman’s lasso, which, thanks to its brilliant yellow tone, is easy to follow and understand in the hail of gunfire. And while most of these moments can be observed if one stitches all the trailers together, it’s still a damn powerful moment seeing Diana step out of the trenches, fully suited up, and just running headfirst to save a defenseless town from occupation.
While I did mention early that not a lot of the cast seems to have more than basic roles (support, teacher, villain), it’s because the setting itself provides the nuance. World War One isn’t really a war that had a “good team” or a “bad team”, unlike the sequel, so it’s not easy to sugarcoat the more unpleasant things that both sides did, or even gloss over the fact that the war happened, in real life, because every country just kinda agreed that they had to fight one. Diana’s realization that maybe Ares isn’t the root of this evil is a really good beat for her character arc, especially since she exiled herself because of that unquestioning ideal that she was fighting to correct an easily identifiable wrong.
That’s not to say the movie is perfect. While the concept of ‘war’ itself is a great villain for a hero so connected to compassion and love, the decision to have the godly-powers Ares, Dr Poison, and evil German general #236271 be the “main” antagonist for different portions of the film doesn’t help the audience care when they are taken down. When Ares does go all god-mode, it’s a rather tame and boring fight, especially for me, a guy who’s played all of the God of War games and seen the crazy stuff you could do with an all-powerful god pulling out demons or whatnot to fight with. Overall, the third act’s pacing is very spotty, even if the most important stuff is granted enough time to sink in.
None of those points, however, should convey to you that this movie isn’t worth seeing. Wonder Woman is a genuinely great movie, and I don’t need any asterisk by that statement. I don’t need to say that this film will alleviate concerns about the DCEU films going forward. I don’t need to say that it would be a great introduction for a lot of little girls, and boys, to superhero movies. I don’t need to say that this will likely be only the first of many other female-led superhero films in the future, from Captain Marvel to Batgirl to the Wasp. I don’t need to say any of that, but boy is it great to know that I can.