No small feat. It felt like a mantra running through my head as I watched Wonder Woman. Almost every single component of the film breathed to life with seemingly significant consideration and effort, ending with impossible efficacy. This, without a doubt, is the Wonder Woman we’ve been waiting to see for years.
We’ve already been treated to the DCEU introduction to Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a debut that outshined the rest of its sluggish two and a half hour vehicle. This film picks up right at the end of that movie, but rather than continue along that trajectory to the inevitable start of Justice League later this year, we instead shoot 100 years back into the past to learn about the Goddess of Truth.
This, as it turned out, was a brilliant move, despite years and years of well earned origin story derision via dozen of dead Waynes in alleyways and DC Entertainment Chief Diane Nelson’s description of Diana’s in particular as “tricky.” By showing her beginnings as a wide-eyed, war-hungry child on Themyscira, we get to see her ideals and pure philosophies develop, including those we see in BvS. Born and bred by an island full of Amazonians, a race of women created by Zeus to protect the world of men from the siren call of Ares’ lust for war, her naivety is not only understandable but relatable.
But when their perfect and hidden world of unbeatable warriors (including a tremendous Robin Wright as Antiope) is intruded upon by Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Diana is given reason and purpose to leave this paradise. Injecting an unwavering and undiluted defender of morality into the modern and grotesque era of World War I lets her trademark righteousness and simple determination avoid becoming saccharine. It plays right into the hands of director Patty Jenkins’ express desire to be that.
It recalls Captain America: The First Avenger, in fact, and not because of their shared period war aesthetics. They both manage to make integrity and virtue look cool and enviable. And it makes any acceptance or rejection of those attributes inherently emotional because it assaults these characters on a level more impactful than physical.
This nearly implausible and overwhelmingly attractive quality is largely thanks to Gadot. It allows her to play Diana as she has always been intended: undefeated—unwavering. If it wasn’t for presenting this Amazonian as a fish out of water via Pine’s Steve and his guidance to the modern world, her innocence would otherwise be sickly.
Gadot, thanks to her time in the Israeli army and, undoubtedly, her natural prowess, fills Wonder Woman’s bracers ridiculously well. She has strength and grace in equal measure and stupendous quantities. Her grace, though, isn’t fragile or slender the way many would suppose. She’s more akin to a willow, fighting and flowing in a storming gale, never breaking but always elegant. And Jenkins knows precisely how to highlight that in her many dazzling action sequences.
Her emotional performance shines as bright as her physical one. Putting Gadot in this narrative and in this role crafts a delicate balance, making Diana and the movie move as one. They’re sincere without being cheesy, naive without being vulnerable, powerful without being abrasive.
It all comes to a stunning, gorgeous scene, one that has been oft highlighted in the various (and under-promoted) trailers dumped onto the Internet prior to release. It is the perfect encapsulation of what has made Wonder Woman a permanent and iconic fixture of the comic landscape, and one that represents so much of her symbolism in feminism and equality and justice. Her battles are untainted by outside influence or dirtied by the wants of others. Even thinking now about her stand—endless and selfless—in that field makes me tear up all over again.
It’s crucial to discuss how the movie develops into this peak. Sure, the writing is exceptional (the phrase “when time was new” continues to be spine-tingling), but the structure and innate understanding of what this story demands is prodigious. From Steve’s introduction—not emasculating but certainly equalizing and subversive—to the aural growth into the full and haunting and charging Wonder Woman theme, Jenkins delivers a film that feels like it came out fully formed and deliberate, knowing exactly what it wanted to and should be before it was even made.
The best example is how the story builds so wonderfully and naturally to its immense climax. Granted, it may be a bit busy with all the wayward threads, but it succeeds where so many other superhero films fail. Its ultimate villain isn’t a deluge of nameless foes like with The Avengers‘ Chitauri or an inexplicable or half-assed ramp-up of antagonistic and protagonistic forces matching up à la Suicide Squad. It instead makes it an emotional bid that simultaneously amplifies the stakes and resolves several subplots.
It helps that Pine’s portrayal as Steve Trevor is inimitable charming. He manages to be subservient to the story without being milquetoast. He has his own motivations and desires that fall well within the needs of the narrative but are wholly natural to his character. And certainly his chemistry with Gadot is damn fine. Exchanges that could easily fall into James Bond territory instead feels sharp and endearing rather than sloppily slimy.
Not everyone makes it out unscathed, however. The supporting cast is emblematic of this. Diana and Steve’s small but elite(?) troop has clear definitions and ambitions, but none of them are developed in a satisfying way. Their turn by the end is predictable while being confusing, which is a huge shame because they are some fun characters and present a great tableau of diversity (including and especially mentioning Eugene Brave Rock and his character Chief’s backstory) with meaningful and politically charged construction. And not having more of Lucy Davis as Etta Candy is an immense tragedy.
Thankfully, even the smallest success of this movie overshadows these quibbles. Even the numerous and goofy grin-inducing Easter Eggs (involving ice cream and Superman homages) more than make up for them. 22 years ago, a Wonder Woman card came tumbling out of my very first DC collectibles pack. Only 22 years later am I realizing that I’ve been waiting all that time for this movie—this Wonder Woman.
Final Score: 9 out of 10