A superhero film as emotionally engaging as it is explosively entertaining!
NOTE: This review contains minor spoilers for the Wonder Woman film.
There’s no denying that while the DC cinematic universe has been successful at the box office, it’s also had some struggles in the storytelling department as of late. In what has always felt like an attempt to catch up to Marvel, DC decided to jump right into the deep end after Man of Steel, introducing Batman, Wonder Woman, and to a degree, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg all within the confines of Batman Vs. Superman. In doing so, the overall film felt convoluted at times, hindering the pacing and story for the sake of cramming in as many hero introductions as possible.
However, there is a golden lasso lining to the dark cloud that’s been attached to the reputation of the DC cinematic universe lately, as Wonder Woman is an absolutely phenomenal cinematic experience, delivering everything audiences should expect from a superhero film, and more.
Wonder Woman has a runtime of 141 minutes, which is just 10 minutes shorter than Batman Vs. Superman, only here, the sole focus of the film is Diana, Princess of the Amazons, aka: Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot.) This allows for the type of character development that has made Marvel films so successful, as audiences get to go back to Diana’s origins, watch her grow up, see why she believes in what she believes in, and why she fights for those beliefs with her whole self.
While Batman Vs. Superman wasn’t as well received as DC would have liked, they also aren’t going to pretend it doesn’t exist, which is a good move by them. Scriptwriter Allan Heinberg incorporates a few nods to Diana’s appearance in BvS, and begins the film with her receiving a package from Bruce Wayne, which contains the original photo of her alongside Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), his fellow soldiers Sameer (Said Taghmaoui) and Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) back in World War I. Yes, the same photo that Lex Luthor had a digital copy of proving she was a metahuman.
This gift from Bruce allows the film to make a seamless transition from present day to Diana’s origin story, beginning when she was just a child with a yearning to be a powerful Amazonian warrior like her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright.) Even though Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) forbids it, Diana is persistent in desire to train, and Antiope trains her in secret for years, knowing it’s best that Diana learn to defend herself.
Meanwhile, her mother tries to explain to Diana why it’s best not to crave battle, telling her the story of how Ares, the god of war, corrupted mankind and killed all his fellow gods to spite Zeus. In the end, Zeus delivered a powerful blow, vanquishing Ares, and leaving him to die. And it was with his last ounce of strength that Zeus created the god killer, a weapon powerful enough to destroy Ares should he ever return, and left it with the Amazonians on the mystical island of Themyscira.
Years pass, and as Diana now grows more powerful as a warrior, something happens that will change the course of her life forever: a plane breaks through a magical barrier that hides Themyscira from the outside world and crashes into the ocean. Diana leaps into action, rescuing the pilot, Steve Trevor, and brings him to safety. It’s from him that the Amazonians learn that the war to end all wars is taking place outside of their paradise, with millions dead already, and millions more to come if he isn’t able to return to London with vital information about a new chemical weapon the Nazis are building.
Fearing that Ares is behind this war, Diana agrees to accompany Steve to the front lines, where she will use the god killer weapon to strike Ares down and break his control over these soldiers and end the war. Steve, knowing that war is much more complicated than one man, is unsure of her plan, but agrees, knowing he needs to get back to London and warn them about this new bio-weapon.
Now as weird as it may sound, with the seemingly never-ending waves of comic book films being released, Wonder Woman is the first solo outing for a female superhero since 2005’s Elektra, which is best left forgotten. I’ve always been a fan of strong female characters, so it’s truly great to see a character as deserving as Wonder Woman get a film that can take its rightful place alongside the best that her superhero brethren have offered us to date.
Director Patty Jenkins work here doesn’t look like she only has one feature film on her resume. Wonder Woman is a breathtakingly gorgeous film to behold, and pulls no punches on the summer blockbuster spectrum. Jenkins was originally tapped to direct Thor 2 years ago, but left due to creative differences. This time, however, her vision was allowed to come to fruition, and we’re all the luckier for it, as this movie is filled with as much heart as it is action, and to have a superhero film be as emotionally engaging as it is explosively entertaining is a winning combo in my books.
Let’s focus on the action sequences for a moment, as they are magnificently shot and coordinated, and just loads of fun to watch. You also have to wait for them, as much like Christian Bale’s Batman didn’t make an appearance until a hefty way into Batman Begins, Wonder Woman doesn’t break out onto the front lines in her iconic red and blue armor until an hour or so into the film either.
Now that’s not to say that there isn’t action sprinkled throughout the first hour or so of the movie, but the total ass-kicking Amazonian Princess doesn’t get fully unleashed until the time is right. And when she does, there’s no holding her back, as the mix of choreographed fights and CGI extensions of those fights flow beautifully together to create some truly memorable blockbuster moments for Diana on her first solo outing.
Wonder Woman has a lot of fish out of water elements to it as well, as Diana has never met a man before, never seen a baby before, and while she’s incredibly intelligent, she also isn’t exactly well-versed on how the world functions outside the confines of her island home. This adds quite a bit of fun to her journey, especially when Steve and his secretary, Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), try to find her a more casual outfit to wear, as opposed to her not-so-subtle Amazonian battle gear.
One of my complaints for Captain America: The First Avenger was the villain, as The Red Skull just seemed so generic and non-threatening in a movie that also took place during the second war to end all wars, World War II, with Cap fighting the Nazis. Here, I don’t have as much of a problem with the villains, General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Isabel Maru, aka: Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), being somewhat generic in their plotting, as it’s the bigger picture at play that makes it all the more understandable – something The First Avenger didn’t have.
Finally, I must talk about Gal Gadot, who many wrote off as a joke when she was first cast in the role of Wonder Woman. Much like when Ben Affleck was cast as Batman, I loved the idea of Gadot as Diana, and thought she’d be perfect for the role. Many dismissed her as too thin, lacking muscle and size, and just being a model type cast to sell tickets. Not surprisingly, those people were proven wrong in the supporting role she had during Batman Vs. Superman, but any doubters that remained will have no choice but to admit they were wrong, as Gadot simply crushes it here.
For as strong as Gadot makes Diana look during her training scenes on the island, she also brings a much needed innocence to the part when Diana arrives in London and tries to understand the reasoning behind the actions of man, and the suffering many of their actions bring. And when the action kicks into high gear, the emotional edge that Gadot brings to Diana helps define her as the altruistic superhero that mankind doesn’t deserve.
Wonder Woman is exactly the type of film the DC cinematic universe can now build off of. It’s fleshed out and engrossing origins like this one that help make the eventual team-up films that much stronger, and while Justice League is up next for DC, here’s hoping The Flash and Aquaman solo films that follow can reach the bar that Wonder Woman has now set so high that even Superman may need to leap twice in order to reach it.
Director: Patty Jenkins. Writers: Allan Heinberg. Notable Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Tewlis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis.
Brendan Campbell was here when Inside Pulse Movies began, and he’ll be here when it finishes - in 2012, when a cataclysmic event wipes out the servers, as well as everyone else on the planet other than John Cusack and those close to him. Brendan’s the #1 supporter of Keanu Reeves, a huge fan of popcorn flicks and a firm believer that sheer entertainment can take a film a long way. He currently resides in Canada, where, for reasons stated above, he’s attempting to get closer to John Cusack.