Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you.
It isn’t just that this movie has a female protagonist who is constantly rescuing others instead of being rescued. That certainly helps make the movie better, but it’s everything from the writing to the directing to the acting that elevate this film miles above its DCU brethren. But I don’t want to spend a lot of time comparing and contrasting this movie with the others in this universe; this movie deserves to be talked about on its own merits.
The cast is quite wonderful. Gadot delivers on the promise we all saw in her brief appearance as Wonder Woman in BvS and the script here gives her a much more layered and complex character to play here. She has to create a character who is in some ways naïve & innocent and in other ways sharp & self-assured. She has to be comedic and serious. The script expects her to journey from her initial state into a state of despair and disillusionment and then to find a way to hope again and become the hero we know she has to be. All the while, of course, she has to convincingly kick serious ass and be breathtakingly gorgeous. Gadot kills every second of this movie, not a moment landing false. I like the way that the movie acknowledges, with pride even, her intense physical beauty, but doesn’t cross the line into sexualizing her in an exploitative way. Chris Pine is good in his role as well. Trevor is just as important as Diana herself in the emotional arc of this movie, in the way it approaches the character of Diana and, good as Gadot is, a bad Trevor would have sunk the movie; Pine is close to his best work here. The rest of the cast is brilliant. Special note needs to be given to Elena Anaya who makes Doctor Poison, who gets relatively small screen time, feel absolutely real and absolutely chilling; a late scene between Anaya and Pine is quite brilliant. And it’s great to see Ewen Bremner giving a really good performance as a comrade of Trevor’s; I’ve been a fan of his gonzo acting style ever since he showed up in Mike Leigh’s Naked for about five minutes and practically stole the movie as a twitchy, tic-ridden, profane, constantly enraged drug addict. He has more range here and he’s good. Danny Huston & David Thewlis are both quite good, though Thewlis gets rather betrayed by the script in the end, if you know what I’m talking about. Lucy Davis is also really good in a small comedic role.
The script deserves a lot of praise in my opinion. It’s really smart in the way it structures itself around Diana’s journey to being Wonder Woman; it is, I think, as good at charting the journey to heroism as any comic book origin movie. It wraps it, not necessarily around Diana discovering her powers or how to use them, but around Diana’s understanding of humanity and her role in relation to it. It’s really compelling to see her emotional and philosophical journey of understanding of what humanity is; innocents that need protection, fools that are easily manipulated, devils that carry evil within themselves, heroes that seek sacrifice and goodness. The film’s ultimate conclusion, something approximating that it doesn’t really matter what humanity is or what it deserves, is a bold and surprising one; what matters, ultimately, is what she is herself and if that’s a feminist message (it is), it’s also just a powerfully individualistic and humanist one. The movie earns a judgment of grace to humanity only when it lets go of judgment altogether and that’s surprisingly layered. The script mirrors this journey in her relationship to Steve Trevor and I think it is important to have a romantic element to their relationship. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize this element of the film, but I think it needs to be her. Regardless, we’ve definitely moved significantly into such relationships not being de rigueur in these kind of blockbusters that I think we can stop being insulted when they do show up. But I think it does serve a solid purpose in the story and its well-handled, sensitive and not over the top with a couple of great scenes, like a quiet, very still scene of Trevor & Diana dancing outside a tavern. And the film isn’t afraid to function as a war movie in terms of being rather grim and dark at times. I felt in a lot of moments that this movie was succeeding where the first Captain America film failed, to really capture a sense of time, place and atmosphere. The war in The First Avenger never felt real or serious, which is fine in a manner of speaking, but the war here feels serious and the movie puts you right on the ground level with it. The action scenes are typically really great as well. An early battle on Diana’s home island is super-cool and a lot of fun. The battle in the small European town is intense and awesome and the button on the scene in which Diana deals with a sniper in a high bell tower is practically orgasmic. The moment when Diana coolly strolls across No-Man’s Land is also a real highlight; her backhanding the mortar shell away is a pure bad-ass moment.
Anyway, I should wrap this up. The movie has a couple of flaws. The climax has come it for a lot of flak, but it’s fine for a while. It’s enjoyable to watch Wonder Woman flinging energy bolts back and forth with an enemy that is essentially a middle-aged bureaucrat in a fetching trench-coat, but once the movie breaks out Ares’ special armor, it gets more chaotic than is enjoyable, but the film is still absolutely masterful. It’s wonderfully directed, cleverly and sensitively written, perfectly performed. It’s right up there with the very best of the Marvel films, in my opinion, and it’s offering a much needed new template for the DC universe. Still hard to get excited for Justice League, but I’m more interested in it now than I was after BvS, not that this is saying a whole lot. Much like the titular heroine of her movie, Patty Jenkins has entered the world of DC movies and brought a beautiful and powerful kind of salvation. Now, like in the movie, humanity has to choose for itself. We’ve seen that the DCU is capable of both good & bad; like humanity, it carries both within itself. Which DCU do we deserve? Well, it’s more about what you believe than what you deserve, right? I believe in the wonder. 4 stars.
tl;dr – brilliantly written, directed & performed, Wonder Woman lives up to its name with one of the best comic-book origin films ever; here’s hoping the rest of the DCU learns something. 4 stars.