To paraphrase the last truly great movie to feature a DC superhero; Wonder Woman is the hero we don’t deserve, but she’s the one we need right now.
That’s true of Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince both within the fiction of the movie, and on a meta-textual level. Of course it’s about damn time that during this boom period of superhero cinema we’re finally seeing a female hero leading her own movie. But it wasn’t ever going to be good enough for a Wonder Woman film to merely exist. For the impact to be felt and a legacy put in place, the film needed to connect with audiences and reach a level of quality thus far unseen in the DCEU. Well take a bow Patty Jenkins and co., because Wonder Woman isn’t just good, it’s up there with the very best the genre has ever had to offer.
Brought up and trained on a literal Paradise Island of Amazonian warriors (of whom Robin Wright’s Antiope is a badass standout), Diana’s world is punctured by the arrival of Chris Pine’s World War I spy, Steve Trevor. Realising the outside world is in turmoil and innocent lives are at stake, she concludes the God of War, Ares, must be behind such horror, and views it as her sworn duty to journey back with Trevor to the world of men and end the suffering. Gadot, delivering a true movie star performance, strikes up an immediate and easy chemistry with Pine, who himself is as good as he’s been since his first outing as Captain Kirk. Their relationship forms the emotional backbone of the piece, and is a reliable source of an unforced humour and pathos throughout.
Jenkins rarely makes it more than a few minutes without a shot that fetishises the ‘Wonder’ of our hero, rather than the ‘Woman’. Be it on the idyllic island of Themyscira, the grimy side streets of 1918 London, or an embattled French village on the Western Front (all gorgeously realised by production designer Aline Bonetto), we’re routinely asked to simply sit back and admire Wonder Woman in action. Jenkins wants us to see her as more than a hero. She’s a literal God with links to the Greek pantheon, and the movie turns her into an idol to be revered. Not since Christopher Reeve’s Superman has a screen hero felt this iconic.
And that’s exactly what DC should be aiming to add to the current continuum of big screen superheroics. On the page, their characters have always hewn a lot closer to the epic and mythic than their Marvel counterparts, broadly speaking. From The Avengers and Spider-Man to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s heroes tend towards the more human and relatable side of things. Even the best (and occasional God) amongst them comes with flaws to overcome, and a journey of self-improvement to take on the road to becoming a better hero. That isn’t Diana Prince. She’s born a hero. Her outlook is pure. Her intentions are noble. Yes, she has a journey to embark upon, but it’s one of external discovery and shifting perspective instead.
In a lesser film that could make for a slightly boring character, but Gadot’s performance ensures she’s anything but, and there’s a beautiful sincerity to be found in a hero motivated purely by love. If there are quibbles to be had, however, they’re likely to be found in the villain department. Try as it might, the film can’t quite rustle up an adversary worthy of Diana, and in the final act it’s the real world stakes that resonate more than the superhero battle. In fact, the rare missteps are mostly to be found within the final action sequence, which isn’t quite as thrilling as the earlier set pieces, and has just a few beats that feel slightly out of sync.
But even those are easy to forgive when the biggest and most important moments of the climax are still executed to perfection. Patty Jenkins has crafted a film that’s firing on all cylinders, where everything from the script to the score to the photography to the performances feel perfectly attuned to one another. In Wonder Woman we’ve been given a hero whose ability to inspire and empower is unparalleled, and now it’s our responsibility not to take her for granted.