Wonder Woman Ends DC Cinematic Crisis (Movie Review)

It would appear that Wonder Woman is the result of studio heads and producers thinking things through a bit more and allowing for more creative freedom. Thanks to some talented filmmakers and actors, this is the film the DCEU needed to get themselves out of the hole that began with an underwhelming Man of Steel and reached the furthest possible low with Suicide Squad. And since Disney is no longer paying us reviewers to speak ill of non-Marvel Studios superhero movies (kidding), I’m happy to talk about just how entertaining Wonder Woman is. It may still have some of the standard problems found in superhero origin films and DC’s cinematic branding as of late, but it also plays to a sense of optimism, earnestness and well…wonder.

Despite some unneeded bookends to remind audiences that this film is part of a cinematic universe, the story begins with young Diana on the secret island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons, a diverse group of warrior women. Years of training with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright), and storytelling from her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), has prepared Dina for the adventure that will take her away from her home. Growing into an adult (Gal Gadot), Diana still may not quite understand the power she truly wields but is introduced to the real world and the possibility that Ares, God of War, is corrupting the rest of the world.

There are some changes here and there, as the film mixes the familiar comic origins with the more recent New 52 concepts and cinematic license, but it turns out as an easy to grasp origin story. Now set in the World War I era, the story really kicks off when US Army Air Service pilot, Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands on Themyscira. A group of German soldiers tracks him down, leading to the first major action sequence that easily establishes how well these Amazons can fight. Following the results of this battle, there is some debating with how the Amazons should handle Steve, which only results in Diana and Steve heading off to Europe to deal with the war and possibly stopping Ares once and for all.

The plot should sound familiar enough, as it has a lot of what went into Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, right down to some particular action set piece ideas. Not to say that it’s directly copying these films, but as an origin story, it is familiar ground after all. What allows the film stand out is the obvious point of having a woman lead one of these big-budget superhero movies for the first time in over a decade. Even better is how the film, at least at surface level, does not go out of its way to take strides in emphasizing the gender disparity. That aspect is relegated primarily to fish-out-of-water humor and has little different from Thor being banished to New Mexico back in 2011.

Now understandably the presence of Wonder Woman in her first major theatrical movie will mean a lot to many women in a way I don’t need to explain. This movie does not undercut that aspect, but what’s even better is how it doesn’t condescend to the audience, which is, of course, made up of anyone, because the film is for everyone. The largest threat presented comes down to choices made that lead to lost lives. It’s part of why the WWI setting is ideal, as there is enough muddiness in the politics of that brutal and ugly war to provide a challenge to Diana.

That kind of problem fits for a few reasons. A major one is finding a way to stop Diana from being a lackluster hero, given how she is nearly invulnerable. The other is letting this film work just as much as a character study/period drama as an action movie. There are some side effects to being both of these things that I will get to, but much like a lot of what works well in Batman v Superman, having good actors talk, joke and argue with one another makes for interesting scenes. This speaks to one thing all of these DC (and Marvel) films do have in common, regardless of quality, their strong pedigree of actors.

The cast is very effective here, even in the more exposition-driven or hammiest of moments, with Gadot doing a great job leading a major film for the first time. The character focus allows Gadot to get across the same level of heroic earnestness like Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. Diana is not perfect due to being unfamiliar with the regular world but provides what the film needs to create a proper Wonder Woman character in and out of battle.

In addition to Wright and Nielsen, there are plenty of other character actors providing what they need for the film, including Danny Huston (who gets one of the best laugh moments of the year), David Thewlis, Ewen Bremner, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui and Elena Anaya. The other one to really spotlight, though, is Pine. This may be the best work Pine has done in a major blockbuster role, as his Steve Trevor is heroic, good comedic relief and solid support for Diana all in one. His role as one determined to end the war, but understanding in how the world works, also places him well as a foil to Diana, who must wrap her mind around how the world functions. It may also feature a relatively unobtrusive romance angle, but Steve’s character serves the film for the better.

There are some issues, and it comes from areas you’d expect. At 141 minutes, with credits (and no post-credit scene), the film is far too long. There are ways to tighten this movie up, especially since Wonder Woman has some pacing issues throughout and peaks in the middle. That leads to the other point, which is a somewhat underwhelming finale. It plays great to the emotions of the characters, but still becomes another muddled battle between super powered heroes. This is opposed to the terrific action sequence at the midway point of the film, which places Diana and the other men on the battlefield and in a town, squaring off against armed foes. Given how there isn’t too much innovation in the story, it’s a bit of a shame the need to extend the runtime knocks down what was working as one of the great superhero movies for half its runtime.

Flaws aside, if this is the start of a new direction for the DCEU, a ton of credit goes to director Patty Jenkins for bringing together an entirely worthwhile Wonder Woman. The film accomplishes what it needs to in fully establishing another positive hero and letting the audience have fun. The darker tone (and utter incompetence) seen in the previous films has been replaced by a lively and colorful film (at least for WWI) that should be considered as inspiring to many. It’s a solid entry in this ever-expanding genre and one to be championed for many reasons.

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