“Wonder Woman” brings grace and much needed heart to the DCEU
DC Comics scores their first win with its first female hero
Film: “Wonder Woman”
Release Date: June 2
Studio: DC Films
DC Comics needed a win. “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” did very well at the box office, but both were rightfully panned by critics and any discerning fan. “Man of Steel,” the first film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), received mixed reviews at the time of release and looks worse in retrospect for establishing the grim tone of this universe and prioritizing spectacle over any sort cohesive vision or characterization.
Luckily, “Wonder Woman” avoids those pitfalls that have come to define DC’s cinematic offerings in the heroine’s first feature film.
Gal Gadot (“Fast & Furious”) reprises her role as Princess Diana from “Batman V. Superman.” Gadot was one of the few well received aspects of that film, despite the minimal screen time she had to work with. She shines here, proving she can lead a blockbuster as well, if not better, than any of her male counterparts at DC or even the competition at Marvel.
After a brief introduction to threaten viewers with Diana’s connection to the upcoming “Justice League” film, “Wonder Woman” dives straight into the character’s origin. The Amazons were created by Zeus to usher in an era of peace with mankind. Man responded by enslaving the women, partially due to the influence of Ares, the god of war, and partially because enslaving an entire race of people is man’s go-to move when confronted with anyone different from themselves. Freeing themselves, the Amazons have hidden away on Themyscira, an island paradise free from man’s corruption.
Diana is raised on Themyscira and trained by her aunt Antiope, played by Robin Wright (“House of Cards”) doing a truly implacable accent, to become the fiercest warrior in paradise should man ever find their way to the island. Cue man’s arrival in the form of Steve Trevor, played by the blue-eyed devil Chris Pine (“Star Trek”), who is being pursued by German forces during the height of World War I.
Also cue the film’s best action sequence, in which a group of Amazons on horseback with bows and arrows decimate the German troops armed with rifles and machine guns. Director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) takes inspiration from DCEU collaborator Zack Snyder, utilizing the slow motion to speed up effect to highlight particularly impressive spots. The technique has undoubtedly been overdone since Snyder popularized it in 2006’s “300,” but Jenkins uses it to great effect to demonstrate the grace of the Amazons in battle as they fire three arrows simultaneously in midair and hang off horseback by their legs to retrieve weapons from the ground. When they are knocked off their steeds, they even fall elegantly.
Trevor tells the Amazons that he must deliver a journal containing German military secrets to his superiors in England in order to end the War. Diana joins Trevor on his quest, believing Ares to be behind the War and hoping to restore peace to mankind as the Amazons were created to do.
Gadot and Trevor have a nice chemistry. Perhaps the film’s greatest accomplishment is the way it handles the character's interactions. Trevor is allowed to be a comedic foil for the more stoic Diana, but is never portrayed as a bumbling buffoon just because he is a man. Likewise, Gadot perfectly balances Diana’s warrior persona with the naiveté and idealism of someone who was raised in a utopia.
She comes off as both adorable and powerful in an early scene in which she scales a tower while testing the extent of her burgeoning powers.
Wonder Woman is a tricky character to nail. Even the comics historically have a hard time with her, despite her being one of the medium’s most iconic characters and filling out DC’s “Trinity” with Batman and Superman. No one can seem to decide if she is a blood-thirsty warrior or an ambassador for peace and love; a cheesecake sex symbol or the embodiment of feminine power; a superhero or a god.
The film boils the character down to the essential elements thanks to a wonderful screenplay by Allan Heinberg (“Young Avengers,” “The O.C.”) with story credit by Heinberg, Snyder and Jason Fuchs (you bet he does). In “Wonder Woman,” Diana is allowed to be all those things at once.
She is dead set on her mission to bring about peace and end the War, but will chop off some heads to protect the innocent. Gadot may be the most beautiful thing ever captured on film and wears something as close to the original Wonder Woman costume as possible without devolving into pure camp, but it never feels like pandering or sexualization.
“Wonder Woman” is one of the few comic book movies to feature a female lead. Marvel is set to release their first female-led film in 2019 with “Captain Marvel,” but that is still two years off.
It is preposterous that we live in a world where Ant-Man got his own film two full years before one of the most iconic characters in pop culture did, simply because female-led blockbusters are viewed as risky investments.
“Wonder Woman” should serve as an example to studios that this can be done and when done well can be just as profitable as another “Whatever-man” film.
Hopefully it is also an indication that DC has finally gotten their act together and is ready to produce quality films again. “Wonder Woman” is an action-packed superhero film with as much heart and grace as its main character.
David Tunis-Garcia is the co-senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.