Upon the first sun-soaked glimpses of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (breathtaking Themyscira), Diana Prince’s standalone adventure warms with poise and confidence. Jenkins’ intent is always to nurture, humanize and assert DC’s gender-smashing heroine with crown-worthy detail. Her leadership is a howling battle cry in so many senses. As an origin story that reveals the Wonder Woman we deserve. As social commentary that kicks down the boy’s club door. But most importantly – for the DC Extended Universe – it’s a sign of things to come. Goosebumps, excitement and hoots of pleasure can all be expected from a point of view that comic book movies have been lacking across the board. Give Diana’s coming-of-heroism moment a Beyonce background track and I might have fainted – hail hail, my new queen.
Gal Gadot stars as Princess Diana of Themyscira, AKA Diana Prince, AAKA Wonder Woman. When we meet her, she’s but a child who mimics her tribe’s battle training. As Diana grows, General Antiope (Robin Wright) secretly trains her niece in combat. The young princess becomes more powerful than Themyscira’s best fighters, surpassing even Antiope – but Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) is hiding something from her daughter.
What, you ask? Diana has no time to find out. Before long, she’s rescuing Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) from his wrecked aircraft, fighting German soldiers on Themyscira sand and joining Steve to locate Ares (yes, the God of War). Long story short, Diana believes Ares is the cause of WWI and defeating him will save humanity from destruction. As such, she embarks on a journey that will change her life forever, with a return to Themyscira in doubtful question. But does man even deserve their new savior?
Wonder Woman plays in the same sandbox as Captain America: The First Avenger but with steadier execution. That’s not to slight female-forward thinking, mind you. Jenkins balances ball-busting action with Diana’s development of character. Where Cap’s origin was more about government propaganda and montages that fast-forwarded through attacks, Wonder Woman digests the folly of man while fighting her way through German gunfire and toxic poisons. Not only do we experience Diana’s transformation from other-worldly visitor to an emotion-fuelled guardian, but Jenkins tells a front-to-back story with exciting completion. Wonder Woman is a true standalone device, much like how Logan impresses without caring about X-Men franchising. Unbound by the shackles of cameos or connectivity – such freeing ideals.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice may have stolen the thunder of Diana’s first appearance, but Jenkins anoints Gadot the true entrance she deserves. Themyscira’s utopia aside, once Gadot throws off the robe covering her signature red, blue and gold tactical gear (costume), it’s a heart-stopping “HEAR ME ROAR!” mic-drop. She charges from a murky allied trench into “No Man’s Land,” with a wailing guitar riff proclaiming her arrival. Diana punches through dull greys of smoke and dreariness with her beaming aura, every color and detail accentuated. German machine guns direct a barrage of bullets her way, only to have Diana continue forward with her shield pressed, never losing ground. The music. The cinematography. Gadot’s Amazonian perseverance. Jenkins cuts through recent DC moods with headline-making appeal, and ensures Wonder Woman commits to title with 100% investment.
Gadot’s performance takes to Diana’s transformation with pitch-perfect curiosity. It’s not just the bullet-deflecting shootouts or Wonder Woman’s swift combat choreography. When Diana first encounters man – Steve Trevor, specifically – there’s a lightness to her inquisition. Take a girl made from clay, hide her with a community of females then introduce her into WWI-torn London – questions are sure to arise.
Gadot gets distracted by babies, strange fashion stylings that are questionable in combat (who can fight in a wired dress?) and Trevor’s…um…watch (he’s naked at the time, and she could be looking at something else). Allan Heinberg’s screenplay makes sure to play around with fish-out-of-water dynamics – from comedic relief (Lucy Davis/Ewen Bremner/Saïd Taghmaoui/Pine) to first-time encounters – and embraces the brightness in Jenkins’ vision. As Diana’s personality develops, her own deciphering leads to bigger questions about man’s inability to save themselves – but that doesn’t mean she can’t have some fun along the way.
While superhero movies are already bursting with Chris’ (Hemsworth, Evans, Pratt), Pine’s American spy smolders charismatic charms that play into Gadot’s blunt persona. Pine’s biggest worries are acclimating an Amazonian daughter to Earthy sophistication, as Gadot responds with innocent humor to each situation. Be it Diana traipsing around England with a “God Killer” sword or their starlit discussion about man’s unnecessary role in female pleasure, Pine and Gadot are illuminated by the fireworks of their chemistry. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen act as a shield to Gadot’s true purpose (stern protectors), while the likes of Bremner and Taghmaoui tease with human pleasures like song or alcohol (jesters of sort). Pine’s support is Gadot’s only constant, and he makes the most of an ill-fated crash in Themyscira waters.
That brings us to the villains of Wonder Woman, a General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya). One is a chemist who concocts both deadly and magical gas combinations (guess which one), the other is German renegade who never wants the war to end. Diana goes on and on about Ares, who corrupts man from atop Mt. Olympus – but true evil is right in front of her. This represents an ongoing thematic conflict – one that even Diana’s lasso of truth can’t expose – in that myth and reality must be treated as one. Ares couldn’t truly be behind such acts, yes? In the interest of remaining spoiler free, let me just confirm that Jenkins cracks the superhero villain code with more quickness than Marvel. Nothing more to be said, all the possible God-on-Goddess brawling to imagine.
Cinematographer Matthew Jensen establishes a physical look for Wonder Woman that Jenkins wields with tribal enthusiasm. Shots range from magnificent to flowing, as the grandeur of war explodes with historic elevation. Themyscira itself is a paradise lost of green fields and glistening Roman beauty, and even London’s sullen streets find character amidst foggy tones. Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams utilizes Hans Zimmer’s rockin’ theme as a dynamite tonal crescendo, while Jenkins blazes a path for her mighty princess from the heavens. This may sound like a given, but most of all, Wonder Woman benefits from a fulfilling density of cinema that wraps a complete package. A simple wish that many comic book movies fail to grant.
Wonder Woman has long been a character for little girls to idolize, but Patty Jenkins’ smashing success grants a forceful push towards gender equilibrium in the superhero movie world. Gone are the fears that audiences will balk at a female-led fantasy. When Halloween comes around and a flood of mini-Wonders are collecting door-to-door treats, it’ll be because Gal Gadot empowered a new generation of warrioresses to find strength and fortitude deep within their special chromosome set. Comparisons to previous DC entries aside, Wonder Woman is a gorgeous, powerful display of epic storytelling that makes me wish this was Gadot’s first chance to play Diana Prince. It’s the roaring introduction she deserves, and a hopeful shift in DC culture that hints at what’s about to come.
Wonder Woman offers a full cinematic experience from beginning-to-end, which helps it stand out from other films of its kind that worry more about what's to come than the story at hand.