It took the better part of a century, but Wonder Woman finally got to the big screen in a solo movie. Considering her first appearance was in Batsoup, we may not want to hold that against her. However, actress Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was one of the brighter spots in a dismal movie, right alongside Ben Affleck’s Batman. Affleck was hamstrung by a “script” in the loosest sense of the word, but Gadot’s entrance to the final battle showed something the movie had been largely missing: someone who might actually be enjoying herself. The smirk, the confident leap, the battlecry, it was the sort of thing the entire movie had been missing.
So, how did Gadot do on her own with director Patty Jenkins? The actress hadn’t really gotten a starring role of her own to see if she could carry a movie, and Jenkins had never done a big budget blockbuster before. Was the movie any good?
Actually, yeah, it was. If it weren’t for Logan earlier this year, I’d be tempted to say this is the best superhero movie of the year, and the only other real competition may be Thor: Ragnarok. The MCU is a fun place for me to visit, but the movies all have a distinct housestyle. Supposedly, the DCEU is looking to allow each individual director put his or her own distinct stamp and style on their films. That’s actually why I have hope for, of all properties, Aquaman. True, we haven’t seen much of that because to-date the only DCEU movies have either been directed by Zach Snyder or been obviously rushed with a strong sense of heavy studio interference that made it look like a Zach Snyder film. But Jenkins had already quit a superhero movie once before due to studio interference, as she was originally slated at director of Thor: The Dark World. If she did it once, she would surely do it again, so what we have here is probably very close to Jenkins’ personal vision.
And it shows a bit. Yes, there are some slow-motion moments in the various fight scenes, mostly to show off the balletic movements of either Wonder Woman or the other Amazons. But there’s also a distinctly clear grace to those moments. The fight scenes work, aside from maybe the big, expected CGI slugfest at the end between Diana and the mystery villain (not knowing much about the movie’s bad guys will be very helpful for the audience). Wonder Woman exudes power as she sweeps through hapless German soldiers in this World War I setting, making most of it look easy. The World War I setting works very well as it turns out. World War II would have turned the Germans into Nazis. Here, we can have moments, particularly at the end of the movie, where placing the audience in a context where we don’t automatically views the German rank-and-file as evil is helpful. That there are still things like women not being able to vote and a clear lack of even a Rosie-the-Riveter type of figure means Wonder Woman is on the cusp of greater change for the world than she would have seen in the 40s.
It probably also helps the script was written by Allan Heinberg. Heinberg actually wrote Wonder Woman’s comic series for a period, so he’s no stranger to the Amazing Amazon. Yes, there are some on-the-nose observations about things like a “No Man’s Land,” but Diana has a unique voice here. Heck, so does Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, and the crew he assembles to go on their mission. Quite frankly, I think we got more out of the members of Trevor’s crew in terms of personality than we did out of Lois Lane over two Snyder movies. Gadot brings the required tenderness and strength the script requires, someone whose first inclination is to always help everyone and needs to be constantly steered by the more worldly Trevor to stay focused. This is an incredibly idealistic Wonder Woman, and it works to the movie’s strengths. It stands in stark contrast to Christopher Reeve’s Superman. The 1978 Superman depicts an idealistic hero whose ideals are ultimately proven unshakable as he does the right thing. Wonder Woman features an idealistic hero whose ideals are badly shaken by events in the movie, and though they are ultimately upheld, we see this leading to her having a more nuanced understanding of her world. Both those interpretations work for their individual characters. Superman is who we aspire to be more like. Wonder Woman is the warrior for peace that has to make the harder choices we sometimes have to make in an unidealistic world, the sisterly figure who’s always there for us. Regardless, both are guardians of ordinary people.
Heck, the use of color here works. Themyscira is a bright, colorful place compared to the outside world. When do the bright colors come back after Diana and Steve leave the place sometimes called Paradise Island? When Diana’s full costume is first revealed onscreen.
And on another casting note, Chris Pine managed just fine as problematic love interest Steve Trevor. He wasn’t a damsel in distress, but he made for a charming companion and love interest. Competent enough to do his job well, but not above accepting help from a superstrong warrior woman, Pine does well in the role.
Which actually brings me to a final note on the movie’s feminism. I’ve heard it said that what makes this movie feminist isn’t some sort of bash-you-over-the-head thing about female superiority. Instead, it just shows a woman (indeed, a whole island of women) doing the sorts of things we’ve seen male protagonists do many times over without additional and that’s all the movie chooses to do on such things. Plus, the closest moment the movie offers to eye candy comes from Pine instead of any of the women on display.
The DCEU finally got a movie unequivocally right. Go see it if you haven’t already. Nine out of ten Etta Candy shopping trips. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a pretty darn good one.