‘Wonder Woman’ Stands Beside ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘Superman’
Since 2013’s Man of Steel, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has struggled to resonate with both critics and audiences alike. Neither Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (before the vastly superior Ultimate Edition) nor Suicide Squad offered any hope for a more striking and sincerely uplifting installment to join a somber infused DCEU? The pressure’s now on Wonder Woman in her first live-action feature film. And it’s only been a “mere” 75 years for this iconic symbol’s debut.
Picking up after her climactic battle in Batman v Superman, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) returns to her day job in Paris. She receives a long-lost photograph from Bruce Wayne, triggering a recollection of her past. Wonder Woman turns the clock back to her childhood. A young Diana is raised on the secluded paradise of Themyscira. While her people, the Amazons are all fierce female warriors, her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) elects a more sheltered upbringing for Diana. That doesn’t keep Diana’s warrior spirit down who dreams of glory rather than confined complacency.
Though the God of War was defeated years ago by Hippolyta and her Amazons, war arrives on their doorstep during World War I. American pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is pursued by Germans on the beaches of Themyscira. Following a brutal battle, an now-adult Diana realizes that God of War is ever present in the world and sets out with Steve to London in hopes of stopping the war. The question is whether or not it’s as cut-and-dry as a very naive Diana would believe.
DC has done Superman and Batman to death over the past four decades. Anyone who’s followed the lore is well-aware of Clark Kent raised on a farm in Smallville and becoming Superman. Or perhaps Bruce Wayne’s damaged past after the death of his parents and assuming the vigilante persona of Batman. Besides the Lynda Carter television show or a 2009 animated film, DC has shied away from the origin story of Wonder Woman on the big screen. It’s a shame that it’s taken this long for such a compelling character to be introduced.
In many ways, Wonder Woman plays very much along the same vein as a modern-day Superman: The Movie. Director Patty Jenkins (Monster) pays plenty of homage to the 1978 Richard Donner production with a much-needed female touch. After a lengthy introduction at home, Diana is transplanted to the heart of the action. Instead of Metropolis, Diana becomes accustomed to a dank and dismal 1918 London. As Pine’s charming delivery suggests, “It’s not for everyone.” Gadot shines as a fish-out-of-water, trying to comprehend why women aren’t donning battle armor over a frilly getup that chokes the neck. Topping that comedic playfulness, there’s even a scene a few minutes later that duplicates Superman’s heroism in an alleyway.
SEE ALSO: Wonder Woman Review: One of the Best Superhero Films…Period
Much of Wonder Woman hinges on Diana’s evolution as a character. Despite being around 5,000 years, Allan Heinberg’s screenplay introduces Diana as a naive young woman who is ignorant of contemporary society. She has virtues and ideals and has a difficult time initially grasping that not everything in the world is black and white. Pine’s a charming, yet cynical gateway into the world of men. Unlike Diana, he has seen the realism and knows when to pick his battles. The two have quite the pitch-perfect chemistry that holds much of Wonder Woman’s heart. Thankfully the exposition is never as blatantly painful as Suicide Squad and we never get lines like “This is Diana. She has Steve Trevor’s back.” Granted, some of the exposition here still isn’t as seamless as one could hope for.
Wonder Woman sways between action and some occasional down time, which slows down the pacing a tad. But when the battle comes full force, it’s nothing short of breathtaking. The skirmish on the beaches of Themyscira is a wonderful tease of Amazonian badassery. The standout moment of this origin story is Diana’s daring one-woman assault in No Man’s Land. That alone is a sheer sign not to mess with Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Inspirational and poignant, that 15-minute sequence is well worth the price of admission.
The DCEU’s latest installment does suffer from that nagging third act CGI-fest. While an improvement over Batman v Superman’s Doomsday (aka psuedo-Lord of the Rings cave troll) or Suicide Squad’s sky beam finale, it’s aesthetically jarring in comparison to the rest of the film. Zack Snyder still has some lasting impression on the DCEU. On that note, the villains don’t hold up either. After X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Danny Huston once again finds himself miscast as the cartoony German general Ludendorff. Though, Elena Anaya’s Phantom of the Opera-eque Doctor Poison fits the bill of a pulpy mad scientist.
With Batman v Superman last year, DC simply teased audiences of what Gal Gadot could bring to the table as a triumphant role model. Wonder Woman went there and beyond, broke glass ceilings and delivered one energetic origin story.