I am going to waste no time and just come right out say that Wonder Woman is a fantastic movie. Patty Jenkins, the director, has done a phenomenal job. If you have not seen it, then you should quit reading this review, and go see it right now. I appreciate the view, but get lost. Anyways, since this is a review, I might as well continue. Of course there are people that probably did not listen to me. Since seeing this movie, I have been thinking about what exactly made it so good. Why has it gotten the critical praise that none of the other recent DC movies have received?
The best I can come up with is that this movie has heart. It is sincere and earnest. And I know those are pretty vague terms, so I will try to explain better. In Wonder Woman, we watch Diana grow into the role of being a hero. And yes, that is the basic premise of an origin movie, but this one differs in that there is no burden pushing her in that direction. She did not watch her parents die. She did not suffer some personal tragedy and have to become a hero to escape it. She did not do this because it would make her a better person. She started her hero’s journey because it was the right thing to do. This is where I think the favorable comparisons to Captain America: The First Avenger are. Not that they are both war movies, but that they are heroes that chose to be heroes, and were not pushed into it. The difference is that Captain America takes World War 2 fairly lightly. Wonder Woman does not do the same with The Great War. Spoilers below.
First off, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine have great on screen chemistry. Which is great, because they are on screen together a lot. Gadot is given the opportunity to an aspect of Wonder Woman we have not seen yet. I do not want to say naive, so I will use sheltered instead. After leaving the island, everything is new to her. She has never seen an industrial city. She has never seen snow, or tasted ice cream. And it would have been easy to portray Diana as a child seeing this, but I feel like they were able to stay away from that. While watching, I never thought that Diana’s reactions were too childish, but rather something a reaction I could believe myself having if I were to experience something mundane to others for the first time.
But going back to the first meeting between Steve Trevor and Diana sets the tone for the movie, and who is the focus. And you may say, well, of course Wonder Woman is the focus. Her name is the title of the movie. I would like to kindly direct or attention to the Transformers movies to say that is not always the case. But anyways, it would have been very easy to open the movie showing Steve Trevor stealing the secrets from Dr. Poison, flying off, crashing into Themyscira, and then meeting Diana and the Amazons. And that would have been the wrong way to do it. But you can totally see that movie being made. I have read serious pitches from people thinking that the movie should begin in that fashion.
Thankfully, they did not go in that direction. We start with a very young Diana, who is the only child on the island. We watch her as she grows up, wanting to be a warrior like so many around her, and her mom holding her back. This showing her as a child is an easy way to develop an affinity in the audience with Diana. Little toddler Diana trying to mimic the warriors as they are training is adorable. It was smart to show it right away, and not go with the flashbacks. After her training is complete, then we meet Steve Trevor, and the war comes to the island.
From there, we get Diana’s introduction to the outside world. And these are the light-hearted, earnest moments that really help the movie shine. But these moments are great because they are played straight. No one is trying drop a one-liner or make a joke. The humor comes naturally from differences in the backgrounds of Diana and Steve. Diana experiences ice cream for the first time, and tells the vendor that he should be proud of his accomplishment. Or there is a moment as they just leave the island where Diana does not understand why Steve does not want to sleep next to her in the boat. There is no intimacy to it, just sleep.
The villains in this movie are a mixed bag. Diana thinks that Ares is behind The Great War, so that is why she leaves the island. The other villains we meet are Luddendorf, a German general, and Dr. Maru, also known as Dr. Poison who is a chemist. And they are okay. They are nothing you are going to remember when you think about classic superhero villains. But, you could make the argument that the War itself is the villain. By way of Diana’s search for Ares, she is fighting against war itself. And that works. The War is what transforms her from being a princess of the Amazons to being Wonder Woman. So, in that way, the War is a good villain, since the villain’s job is to make the hero seem heroic.
If I had a small nitpick about this movie, it would be moments when they are talking to German soldiers in English. Granted, I understand not wanting to have people read subtitles, but once I thought about it, I could not get it out of my head. If you are annoyed by the Zach Snyder slow motion scenes, then there are some fight scenes that may bother you. I do not have a problem with it, so I enjoyed it.
In closing, this was the movie the DCEU needed. They needed a critical and commercial success. My hope is that they can see what worked in this movie, and carry it forward in their other movies. It is possible to have the ambiance and tone that you are trying to establish, while also letting the characters reflect the versions that people have grown to love. Go see this movie.