All the world's been waiting for Wonder Woman. Yes, I know me and every other writer on the internet will be making that joke, but considering Wondy has starred in a 59 episode tv series, three animated series, an animated direct to DVD movie, and development on a theatrical film from Warner Brothers started in 1996... we've passed the realm of obvious joke into just plain obvious.
It's kind of hard in this day and age to watch a superhero movie with a critical eye and not compare it to other superhero tentpoles... and that's exactly what I'm going to do here. When compared to the other fair in the DC Extended Universe, it's not even a contest. Wonder Woman stands heads and shoulders above the other films of WB's noble, if a bit misguided, attempts to bring the DC comics characters to the silver screen in a shared universe. And the reason that Wonder Woman suceeds where those other attempts failed? Wonder Woman knows what story to tell.
Zach Snyder's "Man of Steel" wanted to have Superman come to the realization of what he should do with his godlike powers - in effect, the ultimate immigrant story, home versus heritage. But then it got lost in overdrawn psychobabble of "what it means" to do the right thing and the central conflict gets drowned out in wanton destruction.
This is compounded in Snyder's own follow-up, "Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" - jeez, over a year has passed and that is STILL the most generic title - where the central conflict we've come to see - y'know, Batman and Superman having a scuffle - is poorly presented to the audience leaving little sense of conviction in either of our two protagonists, constricted by the necessity to introduce a bunch of world-building and character introductions to set up future films (al la "Amazing Spider-Man 2"), and saddle us with an antagonist who's about as threatening as that hipster you see at Starbucks who claims his blog/Twitter account will help end the world geopolitical crisis. (Full disclosure, I am that guy.)
And then David Ayer's "Suicide Squad" attempted to... umm... wait, what was "Suicide Squad" trying to do again?
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is the reason those films divided critics and viewers is that they didn't seem to know what kind of story they wanted to tell the audience.
Wonder Woman does. It's a story about finding "Truth."
Diana, princess of the Amazons, has lived her entire life in isolation from Patriarch's world on Themyscira. From a young age, she has trained to be the greatest warrior of her people - despite misgivings from her mother queen Hippolyta - but it is only when she witnesses her first battle on the shores of her home that she comes to realize how horrifying war truly is. After saving American spy Steve Trevor from harm, she learns of the attrocities being commited in the "War to End All Wars" and believes the source is the Amazons' greatest enemy, Ares the God of War. Sharing in Steve's desire to end the suffering, she leaves Themyscira, taking with her the greatest weapons of her people, and sails for a world she has never known but must save.
What helps this plot is the sense that we are experiencing the beauty and ugliness of humanity alongside Diana. The choice to set the film in World War I when the character was created in the Second World War, gives writer Alan Heinberg and director Patty Jenkins a true global conflict that introduced so many terrible weapons into the world. Machine guns, mustard gas, mortar shells, tanks, the Great War begat so many ways for humans to horibbly slaughter one another. And Diana sees them all up close.
I actually admire Diana's idealism. Her naivete and "fish out of water" status might annoy or frustrate other viewers, but as the story progresses, she embraces the truth of what she sees in humanity and that ties directly into her unlocking more of her powers. Heinberg's solid plot puts her throught the wringer and while there were a couple of times I could hear the gears turning - especially in the third act, WE'LL GET TO THAT - it didn't disuade my viewing experience.
None of this would work if they had the wrong actress playing Diana and Gal Gadot's turn as the princess of the amazons is the highlight of the film. Gadot is able to display both the confident warrioress and compassionant woman Diana is while mixing in her innocense to "Man's World" and stalward faith in her mission through her expressions and presence on screen. Whether she's kicking ass on the battlefield or wandering the streets of Europe, you feel connected to this young woman as she witnesses the Seminal Catastrophe of the 20th Century.
The rest of the cast... kinda falls flat. The companions Diana and Steve pick up along the way don't really factor into the main plot, meaning they're not given enough time to connect with the audience. The primary villains (and they are full blown villains) of Doctor Poison and General Ludendorff are one note at best. "Kill lots of people." Done.
And the final big bad reveal and climactic battle at the end... doesn't feel earned. Perhaps it's because we've all known for months who a certain actor was REALLY playing in the movie - seriously Warner Bros, stopping purposfully leaking crap onto the internet - but in the context of the story it still doesn't resonate. While the interactions with Wonder Woman does raise some interesting ponderings and the fight scenes are pretty good, it kinda boils down to speechifying about how "Man is Inherintly Evil" and "They Don't Deserve You" and - dear god Hollywood, stop throwing your Psych 101 papers at me!
However, the disappointing antagonists are made up for with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, who has great ackward chemistry with Gal Gadot. I know that seems like an oxymoron, but the nature of the two characters - one is a spy, the other a princess of a race of immortal warriors - means they're not perfectly synced and I find that much more relatable. They both don't know how to approach their burgeoning companionship so they have to make it up as they go - the very definition of most complex relationships.
The technical side of things compliments the story well. Director of Photography Matthew Jensen composes some gorgeous canvases with Jenkins and at no point does Martin Walsh's editing confuse or detract from the action - though the hyperstylized slo-motion does get overused a lot in this movie, which considering Walsh also edited "V for Vendetta" shouldn't come as a suprise.
Wonder Woman was everything I hoped it would be. Granted, I hoped it would be better than the other DC movies... and that was about it. But what I got was also a solid character piece that made me fall in love with Diana all over again. I don't know if the film will strike the same chord with others, but go see if for yourself. And, like our beloved princess, find your own Truth.