Congratulations are due to Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, and everyone else involved in the making of Wonder Woman. Pulling in $103 million in its opening weekend, Wonder Woman now holds the record for highest opening for a movie directed by a woman and it is the highest opening for a female-fronted superhero movie. There’s unfortunately not a lot of competition on either front right now, but that’s hopefully going to change thanks to the success Wonder Woman has already achieved.
Now, let’s get to the review.
Wonder Woman tells the origin story of the third member of DC’s trifecta. Superman and Batman have both had their time in the spotlight, but Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) has finally joined them on the big screen. The film is bookended by a couple moments in the present, but the majority of Wonder Woman focuses on Diana’s rise to superhero status during World War 1. After a childhood of training to become a warrior on the island of Themyscira with her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright) despite the wishes of her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana’s world is turned upside down with the arrival British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the German soldiers pursuing him.
Diana and Steve eventually leave Themyscira to head first to England and later to the Belgian front; Steve hopes to prevent mass destruction at the hands of General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya) and bring an end to World War 1, Diana to defeat Ares, who is surely responsible for this, and end all war. They enlist plenty of help along the way, from the likes of Steve’s secretary Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), to allies Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock).
Diana leaves Themyscira with Steve as an idealistic young woman. Things are clear and simple: Ares is behind the war, and she is going to stop Ares. She doesn’t yet know about the place the world has decided she should occupy and she has no idea what people are like. In these early moments, Gal Gadot imbues Diana with charm and wide-eyed innocence that’s at once entertaining and enthralling, endearing and heartbreaking.
Upon arriving in the world as we know it, Diana’s met with skepticism and uncertainty from those around her, including Steve Trevor. But she doesn’t give a damn about it. She’s a strong, independent woman and she’s going to do anything and everything necessary to complete her mission—even if that means single-handedly leading the charge across No Man’s Land to break through German lines in what is quite possibly the grandest, most important scene in the movie. This is the point at which Diana stops being Diana, stops being the princess of Themyscira, and becomes Wonder Woman.
She leaps into battle in her superhero attire with a pure heart and a clear goal: help the people who are trapped on the other side. Diana’s actions at this moment don’t directly affect her overarching goal of finding and defeating Ares, instead focusing on who she is at her core. She’s a good person who’s going to do what’s right regardless of the odds against her or the challenge she’ll face. It’s a character-defining moment for Diana, and Gadot plays it to perfection as Diana’s youthful innocence meshes with her superheroic strength and ability.
Things start to veer off the rails as Wonder Woman barrels into its CGI-heavy third act, but the film never loses sight of what matters most in these climactic moments: the characters. It’s always about Diana and Steve, as they grow closer to one another and eventually separate to fulfill the roles they have to in order to achieve their goals and bring an end to the war. There’s emotional weight to spare, with every action and reaction building to a crescendo that sees Diana take herself to another level entirely as she dives into her abilities and embraces that which she has already become: Wonder Woman.
There are a lot of pieces at play in a movie this big, and they all simply work in Wonder Woman. That’s not to say there’s an easy way out or a shortcut taken, just that the filmmakers made the creation of a high quality, emotionally intelligent, socially and politically relevant blockbuster seem like a simple task. Allan Heinberg’s script, based on a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs, sends Diana through a trying journey while never questioning or doubting her moral standing or her confidence. Diana knows who she is and what needs to be done from the moment her story with Steve begins, and she doesn’t let up on that front even as reversals and reveals prove that her understanding of the world wasn’t completely accurate.
Gal Gadot captures Diana’s innocence and spectacle delightfully, playing her with an earnestness and strength that’s hard to look away from. Chris Pine brings a similar self-assuredness to Steve Trevor, though his worldview is much more cynical than Diana’s wide-eyed, honestly naive way of seeing things. Both performances would have been good on their own, but the chemistry between the two elevates it to something more than that. Gadot and Pine play off each other incredibly well in the film’s big, action-packed moments and in its slow, character-driven moments. They’re not just believable as individuals, but believable as two people who can and should be connected to one another.
Patty Jenkins’ direction should be celebrated, not because of the barriers it shattered or the records it broke, but because it’s good. Very good. Jenkins knows when to focus on Diana (most of the time), and when to focus on those around her. More importantly, she gives Diana several memorable moments, including the aforementioned race across No Man’s Land. Diana’s strength is front and center even when she’s discovering it, and Jenkins makes excellent use of slow motion in the film’s biggest moments to ensure that Diana’s impressive nature isn’t lost among chaos.
That’s not to mention the beauty of this film, both in the scenery it captures and the manner in which it is portrayed. Wonder Woman is a film that’s great to watch but also great to look at. Themyscira is breathtaking. London is realistic. The war is harrowing. The costumes, particularly Diana’s Wonder Woman costume, are thoughtful and cinematic. All of these pieces coming together to make a cohesive whole would be one thing, but they do more than that. The individual pieces, all great on their own, come together to form something even better.
Wonder Woman is an important movie, plain and simple. It shouldn’t need to be said that women can and should be equally prominent in front of and behind the camera as men, but there have been decades of proof that it needs to be said. With Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins proves that women can make movies just as well as men (seriously, how is this even something people question?), and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman proves that they can kick just as much ass as their male counterparts on screen. And let’s be clear about something here: Patty Jenkins and company didn’t make a good movie directed by a woman and about a woman. They made a good movie.
I watched Wonder Woman two seats down from a girl who couldn’t have been more than eight years old. She was wearing a Wonder Woman t-shirt and she was ecstatic to be seeing the movie with her mother. Children like her need more movies like this, and here’s to hoping the success of Wonder Woman can continue to give that little girl role models to look up to—both on camera and behind the scenes. And we all need movies like this—thoughtful, character-focused portrayals of larger than life characters that are as enjoyable as they are captivating.
Wonder Woman doesn’t do everything right, but it hits far more marks than it misses. Chances seem slim that the DC Extended Universe as a whole will follow in the footsteps of Wonder Woman, at least in the short term, but it’s safe to say, if nothing else, that we have what should be a wonderful sequel to look forward to.