Gal Gadot breathes a certain kind of boundless warmth into Diana in an electrifying way that lights up the movie.
Also, it succeeds against a backdrop of filmmaking issues.
There is a reason, no matter how ill-thought, why there’s a shortage of female-led superhero movies in Hollywood; it’s a risky venture financially, and they are more likely to be poorly-received, by critics and audiences.
The recent examples of Catwoman and Elektra, both cinematic disasters, lend substance to the apprehension of Hollywood executives throwing their weight behind female-led superhero movies.
This is why despite years of hanging out with the guys on the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio keeps fighting the demands to make a standalone Black Widow movie.
The discussion on why there has to be more female-led superhero projects definitely played a pivotal role in the development of Wonder Woman as a standalone movie especially after her electrifying appearance in the agonising Batman vs Superman.
Since a Wonder Woman movie was announced, it carried not just the weight of the entire DCEU to finally have a movie a little less lousy since Man of Steel kickstarted the universe, but also to serve as a litmus test for the future of female-led superhero movies across the board; a gamechanger.
While many have tried to downplay the burden of this expectation, Wonder Woman rises to the occasion as a statement of intent that you can make a female-led superhero movie that simply does not suck if you know what you are doing.
The movie’s best moments are fueled by director Paula Jenkins' genuine belief in the Amazonian Princess Diana of Themyscira.
The movie starts off on the island of Themyscira, a hidden society of all-female Amazon warriors, where we see a curious strong-willed child grow into a brave young woman who is finding her place in her secluded world, unaware of the immensity of her own powers or purpose.
Wonder Woman is an origin story of how Diana became the ambassador of peace that we know she becomes in the future.
Jenkins' decision to take the audience back to the beginning of her story and allow the audience to watch her grow into that capacity is ultimately a wise choice.
Sculpted from clay and brought to life by Zeus' breath, Diana’s story ties into the origin of life on earth.
In the beginning, Zeus creates mankind, before his son Ares, the god of war, does his best to corrupt them, which leads to Zeus' creation of the Amazon warriors who, with Ares' influence, the humans soon enslave. As a last resort to give mankind a chance, Zeus wounds Ares in a major battle, shields the Amazons from the rest of the world, births Diana as a savior and equips them with weapon to defeat Ares when he comes back with vengeance.
It’s a story that’s shares a striking resemblance with that of the biblical Jesus Christ.
While Diana is still battling with fully realizing herself as an Amazonian, the serene life on the island is interrupted by Allied spy, Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who crashes into the sea in his plane.
Diana dives headfirst into the ocean to save the first man she’d ever be in contact with, and this decision catapults the rest of the movie into the chaotic world of World War I it is set in.
Steve brings with him a company of hostile soldiers hot on his tails and their clash with the Amazonian warriors is an impressive display of plenty of good tidings that's littered all over the movie.
The director works with a visual style that’s stunning and leaves you with a remarkable sense of awe.
The fight coordination and the execution of sequences, each unique from character to character, is a benchmark that the movie builds on for the rest of its run time. It’s exciting!
The clash claims its first real character of note, and it is a pivotal point to one of Diana’s building blocks to becoming Wonder Woman.
This is one of the most admirable things about the movie; the fight sequences aren’t just used as a sideshow to the real story, but a major catalyst that pushes the narrative.
After Steve reveals that an ongoing war that has already claimed 25 million lives is in danger of escalating even more, Diana strongly feels Ares is back to continue his reign of destruction, and against the wishes of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), she travels with Steve to 1918-era London to put an end to the war with a single stab.
This is the period where the movie comes fully into life to show its impressive range of refreshing ideas as Steve and Diana get an intelligence report to the Imperial War Cabinet about a rogue German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) who are trying to make a dangerous chemical weapon that’ll put ongoing peace talks at risk.
When their concerns are dismissed, they put together a team of mercenaries to go to the warfront and foil the general’s evil plans. The team is secretly-backed by Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), a member of the cabinet, who believes their threat is credible and hopes they put a stop to it.
Believing General Ludendorff to be actually Ares who’s corrupting the minds of everyone else to wage war, Diana marches the team into the belly of a dying war that’s still claiming victims.
Gal Gadot breathes a certain kind of boundless warmth into Diana in an electrifying way that lights up the movie and makes its humbling tone even more effective.
The love between Diana and Steve is largely due to Gadot and Pine’s intense chemistry; and Jenkins' patient buildup makes their eventual connection feel genuine and earned, and not just a cheap necessity arising out of the close proximity of two attractive characters.
Pine is not just a pretty face though. He fearlessly marches into battle with Diana and is a well-defined character that is important to the affairs of the story. He serves as a great sounding board for Diana as she learns about the world with the innocence and naivette of a child.
The movie grounds itself in the sort of light-heartedness that has characterized Marvel’s more critically-acclaimed movie universe, and Gadot is at the center of everything.
Diana grows as a naïve island girl, with charming innocence, into a more disgusted character the more she learns about the ways of the world after she arrives in London.
Jenkins punctuates Diana’s emotional turmoil about the way of the world and man’s inhumanity to man with some well-executed humour that jabs its way through the stench of death during World War I.
As Diana plods through the wasteland of the Western Front in Belgium, Wonder Woman diligently explores DCEU’s recurring theme of identity where the protagonist deals with a crisis of a philosophical nature; but rather than punch through the problem like you’re likely to see in a Batman or Superman movie, Wonder Woman treats the subject with a more nuanced human approach that’s less frustrating than its peers have managed.
Despite the movie’s deliberate light-heartedness, Wonder Woman, quite fittingly, does not shy away from political topics ranging from sexism to racism of the period that’s still very much around in this present time.
Diana dons the movie's feminist agenda like a garb that’s not as subtle as the director might have intended but it is effective in a way that it doesn’t emerge as the character’s primary drive. Jenkins portrays this with humour delightful enough to not make it too obvious, but just enough to stress its importance.
Diana does not allow herself to be motivated by what the doubtful, sexist male-oriented time period demands of a woman, and her character, unlike in many other superhero movies, is more in control of her fate with the actions she decides to take.
Wonder Woman’s dramatization of war is one of its highlights. Unlike what you’re very likely to witness in a superhero movie where the action moves too quickly to truly show its effect on the average person, Wonder Woman slows down to reflect on the devastation of war and reflect on war-time horrors and what it means for the world going forward.
The movie evokes a sense of simple thrill by grounding itself in the reality of the ugliness of war that ultimately plays a role in Diana’s disenchantment with humanity when the events of Batman vs Superman occur.
This is not to say that Wonder Woman is not without its own shortcomings; it’s still a superhero movie after all.
General Ludendorff and Doctor Poison are villains that are painted in such broad strokes that rob their characters of any significant impact, which is a shame because you get the sense that there is so much more Jenkins could have done with the Doctor Poison character who comes off as extremely sympathetic, and the exploration of her character could have served the movie better than the eventual appearance of Diana’s adversary, Ares.
Despite his presence being sprinkled throughout the course of the movie, Ares is an underdeveloped character that seems forced into action when he shows up in the end. Although his appearance does throw up some interesting, well-executed reveals, he fails to serve as a meaningful foil to Diana’s complete transformation and the movie could have benefited from his physical omission.
The movie squanders some of the goodwill it had built during the course of its run as the final act devolves into a schizophrenic mess in the obligatory climactic battle, relying too heavily on special effects and failing spectacularly because it feels disconnected from what had been happening.
The decision to revert to the unoriginal excessive CGI-infested final battle is disappointing for a movie that had excelled so much on being its own movie before it started ticking off boxes in a catalogue of action movie clichés.
The climax runs for far too long, and even though it still pulls a few heart strings in the middle of all the destruction, Jenkins tried to run too many plot threads in the end that loses momentum and produces underwhelming results.
This does not mean some of the action sequences are not impressively epic and enjoyable. Diana uses her strength to great effect, wielding her lasso and sword with her bracelets and shield with poise and elegant self-assuredness.
At its heart, Wonder Woman is a story of love and hope, and more importantly, the strength to actively effect the change you want to see in the world.
The clumsiness at the end does not do significant damage to the general tone of the movie and on the evidence of this, filmmakers might be more open to making more female-led superhero movies now.
Wonder Woman is one small step for the DCEU, one giant leap for superheroine movies.