After Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the DC universe desperately needed a movie that wasn’t awful. Giving Gal Gadot, a relatively unknown quantity, the lead in Wonder Woman was something of a gamble. Could she carry a movie? That was the question asked by many, including myself. Well, the answer turned out to be “yes,” and the gamble seems to have paid off.
Wonder Woman starts out briefly in the present. Diana Prince (Gadot), working in the Louvre, receives an old photograph of herself from Bruce Wayne. As she looks at the photo, her mind wanders back to the past, where most of the movie takes place.
Diana was raised on the hidden island of Themyscira, home to the Amazons. According to Amazonian mythology, Zeus created men and everything was fabulous until Ares, the god of war, decided to corrupt them and make them fight. This led to a humungous war where all the gods were killed and Ares was driven off. With his dying effort, Zeus created a home for the Amazons to live and train for the next several thousand years in preparation for dealing with Ares if he ever came back.
Living on an isolated island, having no contact with the outside world, and with no one to tell her different, Diana buys into this completely. Despite the objections of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), she convinces her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), the greatest of the Amazon warriors, to train her, eventually becoming the mightiest Amazon herself.
All is well until Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his airplane just offshore. Diana saves him, but the Germans are in hot pursuit, and they follow him to the island. After a brief battle where a bunch of random German soldiers do surprisingly well against immortals who have been training constantly for millennia, Steve is interrogated and Diana learns about the horrors of World War 1.
Convinced that destruction and death on such a horrendous scale could only be the work of Ares, Diana resolves to leave the island, find him, kill him, and make the world a wonderful happy place once again.
Important as Diana’s backstory is, this part of the movie goes on a bit too long, is a bit too heavy with exposition, and starts to drag. Fortunately, things pick up when Diana and Steve leave the island and set sail for England.
When Diana first arrives in London, Gadot and director Patty Jenkins pull off the “fish out of water” moment beautifully. Gadot hits just the right combination of wonder, confusion, and understated comic relief in a sequence that could easily have gone too far and gotten silly.
Then it’s off to the front and the hunt for Ares is on!
What sets this movie apart from a lot of super hero/comic book movies is that Diana’s human, non-superpowered companions are not relegated to supporting roles back at home base. Steve and a motley assortment of oddball commandos are integral members of the team and fight right alongside her. She does most of the fighting and heavy lifting, of course, but the “normals” are right there with her and make important and ongoing contributions to the effort.
The fight sequences were well choreographed overall. I could have done with a few less slow-motion bullets hitting various parts of Diana’s armor, but, for the most part, slow motion was used effectively. The fight moves were fairly plausible for a superhero movie. It was definitely several cuts above the usual silliness you see in an action movie. The German soldiers were much more of a credible threat against a superpowered being than you might expect.
One quibble is that Diana must have been an extraordinarily quick study at pulling punches. She was capable of shattering stone walls and caving in the side of a tank, but she was also able to punch a German in the face without his head exploding into a fine red mist.
The climactic final battle suffers the usual problem of super hero movie fights. Diana and Ares dish out and absorb insane amounts of damage with no visible effect on either of them until the script says it’s time for the fight to be over. Sure, they toss each other all over the place, and everything around them gets destroyed in spectacular fashion, but neither of them has so much as a hair out of place until the fight abruptly ends.
It’s forgivable in Wonder Woman, though, because the climactic battle isn’t really with Ares. The major battle take place within Diana herself. Over the course of the film, she is forced to face the realization that the world isn’t what her sheltered upbringing led her to believe, that the people she trusted the most were not entirely honest with her, and that Ares is not single-handedly responsible for all the evil in the world. The revelation that sometimes people just suck is devastating. How she deals with this is more interesting, and, ultimately, a lot more important than how she deals with Ares.
In the end, this was a pretty good film. The acting was generally good, and Gal Gadot turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. There was a *gasp* STORY that was well told. And it was visually appealing. The CGI was a bit much in a few places, but that’s a minor gripe.
Overall rating: 8.5/10