Wonder Woman (2017)

Directed by Patty Jenkins
Written by Allan Heinberg

Superhero movies are the biggest and best summer blockbusters these days, though you didn’t need me to tell you that much. Marvel has been leading the pack with DC Comics trailing well behind. DC has given creative control to Zack Snyder to get their “Extended Universe” franchise up to speed with Kevin Feige and Marvel. Wonder Woman will mark the fourth installment in the DC universe, and marks the first time it has produced content good enough to rival that of Marvel. The studios probably wouldn’t admit it, but there is an arms race in comic book movies right now, with Marvel out to the huge, pioneering lead. DC struggles behind, but with a quality film like Wonder Woman, perhaps DC has found the direction they’ve been struggling to find over their first few films.

We first met Diana, or Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), when she appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That small tidbit ties into the bookends for this film, which show us Diana in present day France receiving a gift, the original negative of a picture of her from World War I, from Bruce Wayne. We then begin to learn her story. Raised by Amazons on a hidden island, Diana was the daughter of the queen (Connie Nielsen) and niece of its greatest warrior (Robin Wright). But when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American soldier, mysterious appears on the island, Diana learns of the Great War happening in the rest of the world and is moved to help Steve with the task of taking down the evil Germans, whom she believes are being led by the evil god Ares, God of War.

The bar has not been set very high in comparing DC Extended Universe films. I have not liked Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and while I never saw Suicide Squad it received almost universal disdain, despite its Academy Award for Makeup & Hairstyling. That being said, Wonder Woman is the best of the bunch thus far and a legitimately good and entertaining film. It shows promise of what the DC Universe can and should look like by presenting a strong central character worthy of our adoration and with enough context and compassion to pull the audience in, avoiding the clunky CGI battlefest that has befallen the Batman and Superman installments of the franchise. Wonder Woman kicks ass, rest assured, but director Patty Jenkins also makes sure to take the time to sculpt the character with care.

What stands out most about the narrative to me is the feminine touch. While it may not fully pass the Bechdel test after the scenes on the island, there is a distinct feminine point of view throughout which goes past just simply having Diana be the lead character. There is a sense of humor throughout which points out the sexism of the time and helps highlight the both the strength and heart of Diana, the woman in the film. It’s not perfect, but it is a great leap forward within the genre, and gives DC a leg up over Marvel in this department. Gadot embodies the character so well, with great strength, compassion and curiosity throughout, carrying the film as she should. She’s a revelation in the role. And while the script is penned by a male, which is likely why the feminism is there, but not perfect (also why my perspective as a male is also imperfect), director Patty Jenkins shows women are more than capable helming a smart, female driven comic book movie.

As far as superhero origin stories go, Wonder Woman doesn’t have some horrible ghost from her past motivating her, she’s just a god who wants peace on Earth. With this film, we get a little bit of everything thrown into the formula, and while none of it really stands out, it’s all done well. The action is strong and explosive, but never disorienting from CGI overload. The performances are convincing and good all around. The ragtag team around Diana is good, if not also forgettable. But the adventure and main story line provide plenty of enjoyment and excitement, making the more than two hour run time fly by without lull. And merging this superhero into a new era, and a war torn one at that (yes, this is World War I, not II for those wondering), creates a unique landscape for Diana’s story to unfold. I applaud DC for producing a good movie like this. Now I just hope this becomes a trend instead of a one-off for the series.

*** – Very Good

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