Spoilers for Wonder Woman below! Go see the movie first then come back!
Gal Gadot is wondrous. The talented actress is the heart, soul, and grit at the core of the new Wonder Woman. In an otherwise conventional origin story, Gadot leads the way with a performance that’s both bright-eyed and subtle, funny and tragic. She anchors the film and makes it more than the sum of its parts. And that’s a good thing, because there couldn’t be a Wonder Woman film without pitch-perfect casting in the eponymous role. It’s not the best comic book movie ever, but it’s certainly the best in the beleaguered DCEU and a much-needed check in the win column (critically AND commercially). See, Brett Ratner? Rotten Tomatoes isn’t ruining the movie industry. Awful movies like Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice are.
I love a good fish out of water story. It was my favorite part of the MCU’s first Thor. The script takes advantage of every opportunity to produce tension and humor when Diana trades her idyllic island home of Themyscira for the muddy streets of London. There’s an actually funny clothes shopping montage and one especially hilarious physical gag involving a sword, shield, and revolving door. Most tellingly, Diana demands Chris Pine’s roguish Steve Trevor to take her to “the war” with fierce determination. A beat later, she’s cooing over a baby. Gadot makes this look easy—Diana’s oscillation between tenacity and excitement.
Thankfully, the film never gets close to the dreaded born sexy yesterday trope. Perhaps Wonder Woman’s greatest triumph is how deftly Gadot’s performance and Patty Jenkins’ direction walks the line between Diana the ingénue and Diana the literal Godkiller with a burning thirst for justice. The audience also isn’t subjected to much, if any, Michael Bay-esque ogling of Gadot’s appropriately athletic frame. Indeed, none of the Amazon women in the first act are sexualized. I knew I was watching something special when I realized the opening sequences had no men—only badass warrior women in relatively believable armor. This is what modern cinema needs. Give us less Transformers and more Robin Wright fighting German soldiers on a beach while riding a horse. That’d be great, thanks.
Another pleasant surprise in Wonder Woman is the World War One setting. While the Great War’s sequel is over saturated with media coverage, the original is still fertile ground. I still don’t get it. How can one of the most hellish and complex periods in human history be so underrepresented in modern cinema? Wonder Woman answers this question by plopping a superhero movie in the trenches and never looking back. World War One was the war to end all wars. That’s Diana Prince-level idealism, isn’t it? Thematically, humanity’s disappointment over the misnomer mirrors Diana’s own arc to vanquish Ares. This is a superhero story where the main character learns evil is never simple, and there is no such thing as a war that can end all future conflicts.
The overlong film only lost me during the final act. A flagrantly miscast David Thewlis reveals himself as the true Ares. Then, he and Diana exchange the obvious Third Act Twist before engaging in muddled CG combat. It plays the same as any other recent comic book movie Final Fight Showdown (with the exception of maybe Doctor Strange). Thewlis, mustache and all, covers himself in a set of generic CG armor while spouting typical comic book villain dialogue. The whole sequence is so out of place, especially considering how refreshing the rest of the film is.
I’m sure there’s a draft of the screenplay out in the world where the movie ends much sooner after Diana kills Danny Huston’s baddie, Ludendorff. A more contemplative ending where Diana learns what she needs to learn and realizes her responsibility as a superhero is more expansive than she ever could’ve imagined. Instead, we got close-ups of Thewlis wearing a helmet with a mustache. There’s something so silly about wearing a metal helm while sporting a British mustache. I can’t get the image out of my head. It’s completely hilarious.
There must be some contractual obligation to shoehorn these eyesores into our comic book movies. At least, Diana doesn’t fight a giant beam in the sky. It’s a step forward. Baby steps. And Wonder Woman does so many things right that I’m inclined to forgive. It’s a small price to pay to have Diana Prince, the best character in the DCEU so far, established and out in the wild. I was originally only going to see Justice League for Batfleck. Now, I’ll see it for him and Diana.
In the end, Wonder Woman is a win for everyone: little girls who need strong heroes, and adults who are tired of looking at vanilla white dudes all the damn time.
Oh yeah, did anybody remember The Mummy is out this weekend?