Arguably, the DC Extended Universe needed a hit. Depending on who you ask, the new cinematic universe has been a flop. I will contend that 2013’s Man of Steel is a truly terrific film. Last years Batman v. Superman was even enjoyable although admittedly lacking in several areas. Then Suicide Squad hit and it was an extremely disappointing entry. Comic book fans everywhere have been asking themselves; is DC rushing to catch up to the Marvel train? While no one in top brass at Warner Bros. or DC Films for that matter will say they are, they truly are. Wonder Woman acts as a solo film the budding cinematic universe needed. The film takes its time, invests you in its characters and ultimately gives necessary background into a character that was shoehorned into Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman film. Nevertheless, director Patty Jenkins has delivered a much needed hit into a film franchise that desperately needed one.
Gal Gadot returns to play Diana, princess of Themyscira aka Wonder Woman. Diana’s mother (played by Connie Nielsen) tells her of her creation and trains in secret with her aunt (Robin Wright). When a pilot crash lands on the all female Island, Diana learns from the pilot, American spy and frequent Wonder Woman love interest Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), that war is waging. Thus, Diana is thrust into World War I and believes the greek god of war Ares may be behind it.
Wonder Woman is a winning combination of thrilling action and character development. While Man of Steel does an excellent job of building the character of Clark Kent, Jenkins takes the same approach of shaping Diana and why she fights. The Amazons, as her people are called, are sworn to protect the world from god of war Ares. One of the stand outs is in fact the performance of Gal Gadot. The Israeli model and actress had limited roles on screen before being cast as Wonder Woman. Many questioned her acting ability. Her small role in Batman v. Superman didn’t really give us a good look at her talent as an actress. But Jenkins, who directed Charlize Theron to her Best Actress crown at the Oscars in 2003 for her chilling performance in Monster, pulls a stellar performance out of Gadot in this film.
Gadot’s first time leading a film is the first superhero tentpole film to be led by a female as well as a female director. Diana, in a similar way that Steve Rodgers’ Captain America is a man out of time, is a fish out of water for most of this film. Growing up on a Island inhabited by only women and sheltered from the outside world, as Zeus intended, Diana is unaware of the chaos that looms outside Themyscira. Diana’s charming innocence builds her character as we come to truly care about the folks inhabiting this world. Even though she is always the smartest person in the group, she still is befuddled by this new world she is discovering. Jenkin’s ability to portray the sensitive, innocent side of Diana while unleashing the power and strength she possesses make for a full bodied character.
In fact, Jenkins has a lot to do with the success of this film. An assured hand behind the scenes guided Wonder Woman to being a successful first entry in the world of female led superhero films. Prior to this, Jenkins had directed only the aforementioned Monster. Her other directing credits are mostly television show episodes. Yet, Jenkins expertly tackles action in this film and makes it wholly engrossing and a flat out blast to watch.
Despite excellent character development and the risk of choosing to explore character over conflict, Jenkins’s film isn’t by any means perfect. Its final act is nothing you haven’t seen before with the hero and big baddie going toe to toe and crushing buildings in a CGI spectacle. In that sense, this is a pretty generic origin story. But I love origin stories, and the mere way Patty Jenkins chooses that character over conflict idea keeps this origin story fresh. The film ultimately does feel a bit too long at two hours and 20 minutes. I have to admit it took me a while to truly get engaged in the film as well. Wonder Woman definitely also has that feel that Captain America: The First Avenger had. In many ways it a similar story. But Jenkins finds a way to keep her version from feeling too derivative.
Wonder Woman hopefully has changed the game for DC and WB. A film franchise that was in need of an adrenaline shot got one in this excellent addition to the DCEU. Gal Gadot comes away for me as the most impressive thing about this movie. An engaging performance that shows Gadot’s range. Not only as a bad ass warrior, but someone with real human emotions. Wonder Woman is the rarely thoughtful, nuanced superhero film that still carries enough to keep action fans entertained and those like me who value a story a little more than action. Patty Jenkins has achieved that balance. Now, we hold out hope the rest of the DC universe will follow suit.