It seems like incredibly faint praise but I should get it out at the beginning: Wonder Woman is the best film of the DC Extended Universe era. That only means that it’s a coherent film with proper pacing and character work that doesn’t feel completely at odds with 80 years of published material. It’s honestly hard to believe that the same studio was working on this gem at the same time they were shoveling Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman out the door. Wonder Woman is a triumph for DC and the kind of shining beacon for the future that I’m sure they will ignore for a grey and smokey Justice League later in the year.
The action beats in Wonder Woman are stellar. The sequence where she ditches her outerwear and uses her sword and shield to come over the top of a bunker and traverse the no man’s land is maybe the best action beat I’ve seen all year. I’ll even give them bonus points for not underlining the potential word play. The training montages on Themyscira are crowded without being cluttered. They gesture to a frenetic martial lifestyle that I would love to see more of in a sequel. The mass action sequences are done so well that it’s a little disappointing to have the final battle be a kind of inscrutable one-on-one fight but that’s how these movies end. I would be in to the superhero movie where things are solved in an institutional manner or with one hero fighting an entire army, but it’s seemingly never been done and this was probably not the time to start.
Gal Gadot is perfect in the role of Diana Prince. She’s so good that it’s easy to forget all the times another actress seemed perfect for the part and DC squandered the opportunity by not making a movie out of this property in the last 25 years. Her facial expressions are on point and she deftly handles the switch from a steely warriors gaze to befuddlement at the world outside her island. I think “oh, I don’t understand this modern thing” might be a little overused here but it’s one of their only avenues for comedy and you wouldn’t want it to be just a movie about how terrible World War One is, we’ve had those movies and I personally don’t find them very interesting. The rest of the cast is fine, I suppose. Chris Pine is punching a little above his weight here, or he’s criminally underused in the Star Trek movies. Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen are great as Antiope and Hippolyta respectively, but with such vanishingly small amounts of screen time.
I struggled a bit with World War I as a setting. In the comics Wonder Woman has all the Hitler-punching bonafides as Captain America does, and moving to a war with a less certain, less reviled, adversary takes some of that oomph out of things. It’s easy for Diana to hate Nazis and slightly harder for her to hate too many convoluted political alliances. It serves the story (the suspicion of Ares’ involvement might seem too overt in WWII) but I spent a lot of time wondering when things might get turned up a little. I’m here to see Diana smash tanks and fight against unstoppable odds (present in this film for sure) and less here for her infiltrating a ball or shopping in a very standard version of London (also unfortunately present).
I enjoyed Wonder Woman a great deal, but that’s not really what’s most important here. I have watched my Facebook feed fill up all weekend with raves from women I know thrilled to see a superhero movie that speaks to them. I have to believe them that this movie is something special above and beyond my appreciation of it on a surface level. That people feel heard and represented by a movie is more important than any quibbles I might have over the depth of the supporting cast or how uninteresting I find World War I as a setting. I thought Wonder Woman was good, all these people thought it was real, and given the circumstances I’m going to go with them on this one.