I don’t know what’s going on with DC and Warner Brothers, but they haven’t gotten much right in regards to their DCEU. They’ve released three films so far – Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, and all of them (despite making tons of money) have been derided by critics and fans. Thus their fourth effort, Wonder Woman, faces a lot of pressure to deliver on both fronts. With its release finally upon us, does the latest superhero film, written by Allan Heinberg and directed by Patty Jenkins, have what it takes? I believe it does as it’s easily the best DCEU feature and it’s the best DC film since 2008’s The Dark Knight.
Wonder Woman is a combination of tropes and themes – it is part origin story; part coming of age story; part fish out of water story; and part love story all set within a war film. It is inspirational and poignant, and somehow all of it works considering there’s much to juggle and balance. It doesn’t have end-to-end action, but the action it does have is necessary and not difficult to follow. I don’t know if “taking risks” is the correct term for what Jenkins has accomplished but it’s safe to say that in a world overflowing with male-directed, male-starring superhero films she brings a woman’s touch to a genre that sorely needs it (whether we realized it or not). Jenkins was hired to direct Thor: The Dark World but that didn’t pan out. In many ways, the fact it didn’t happen for her seemingly worked out for everyone, because a Marvel film director likely wouldn’t have been able to direct a DC feature (unless you're Joss Whedon).
Wonder Woman has a decent cast – Gal Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman; Chris Pine is Steve Trevor, an American spy and Diana’s love interest; Robin Wright is General Antiope, leader of the Amazonian army and Diana’s aunt; Connie Nielsen is Queen Hippolyta, leader of Themyscira and Diana's mother. In supporting roles are David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner and Eugene Brave Rock.
It’s clear from its opening scene that Diana is the focus, as it should be since that character represents plenty of things to plenty of people (early on Hippolyta can be heard telling Diana she is someone whom man(kind) doesn’t deserve – a statement which is both empowering and foreboding).
Most of the film is set during World War I which, because of its trying and painful times, allows Wonder Woman’s best traits to come forth. Diana, feeling a sense of duty, travels with Steve outside the only world she’s known (Themyscira) in order to save those in need and to defeat the villain whom she believes is behind the “great war” – Ares. Diana, during her travels to early 20th century Earth, learns of the nature of man, and for her it contrasts greatly from what she knows and believes. It’s this aspect which is at the film’s emotional core.
But from a moviegoing perspective Diana Prince is exactly what we deserve. Behind strong writing, confident directing and impressive acting, Wonder Woman separates itself from other superhero films. It’s basically a standalone film, meaning Jenkins can tell Diana’s story without having to setup other superheroes and their films. It’s inspirational for everyone, not just women. Finally, it’s full of heart and emotion, tapping into feelings that other superhero films don’t find necessary. I feel that its only flaw is its running time (141-minutes). More specifically, it drags at times, especially early on. But it's understandable because Jenkins uses the first act to do something which filmmakers have gone away from – she establishes characters and their back stories, and lays down the themes which will allow the story to evolve organically.
For years Hollywood has feared making a female superhero film, citing the failures of Catwoman and Elektra. The problem with those (and with almost all tentpoles) is that the studios meddled too much in the creative process instead of allowing the filmmakers to do their job. It seems that Warners allowed Jenkins full creative control (although it’s rumored she had to fight to keep the one scene I believe will go down as the very definition of Wonder Woman). Thus, Wonder Woman looks like a dream project and (considering our current social climate) a topical epic for Jenkins. This feature will likely be a benchmark event because its success could give Hollywood the confidence to greenlight more female-centric superhero films and hire more female directors.
If you don’t want to worry any of that, just consider the idea that Wonder Woman is one of the better superhero films, period. It reigns as the best DCEU story and it bests many of Marvel’s offerings. So just as Batman and Superman made way for the Amazonian princess in Dawn of Justice, the Avengers (and the rest of the MCU) will need to make way, too. Wonder Woman is here, world. Hear her roar.
4.5 stars out of 5