While Wonder Woman is technically the fourth entry in DC’s Extended Universe, in many ways it’s a movie of firsts. The most prominent novelty – the fact that it’s the first female superhero movie to be directed by a woman – has been an oft-noted distinction in the build-up to the film’s release, and the feminist lens is apparent throughout. But what stays with you long after the credits roll is the movie’s heart and hope. That’s a first that DC fans like this writer have been waiting on for four years from the DCEU, and Wonder Woman has it in spades.
We begin with an extended opening sequence in which we’re introduced to Themyscira, a magically secluded island populated entirely by Amazonian women who spend their days preparing for a battle against Ares, the God of War. One such warrior is Gal Gadot’s Princess Diana, but her training is interrupted when American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, on charismatic form) crash lands on the island and informs the Amazons of the Great War. Suspecting Ares’ involvement, Diana accompanies Steve back to the world of man to end the conflict once and for all.
Wonder Woman takes its time in the early going as it sets the table for Diana’s adventure. The slower pace is both refreshing and necessary; from the two leads to the supporting players, almost everyone gets a chance to flesh their characters out.
It helps that Wonder Woman has a better handle on its titular hero than other movies in the DCEU. Batman and Superman’s characters have been messed with almost to the point of being unrecognizable, but director Patty Jenkins and her screenwriters make sure to keep the ideals of love and compassion that have helped Wonder Woman endure for over 75 years in the script. All of those qualities are beautifully embodied by Gadot, who handles both Diana’s good-hearted naiveté and earnestness with aplomb. Indeed, she’s easily the most (only?) likeable hero in the DCEU to date, and she’s ably supported by Pine’s Trevor. Their back and forth banter as they learn more about and from each other is a consistent highlight, and their romance is one of the more affecting we’ve seen in the genre.
Although occasionally mired by distractingly-poor CGI and overdone slo-mo, other high points in Wonder Woman can be found in its action sequences. An early skirmish between Amazon warriors and German soldiers is thrilling, but the sequence in which we first see our heroine in full red, blue and gold garb charging into battle is a fist-pumping moment to rival any superhero movie. As hero reveals go, it’s right up there with “You’ve got me. Who’s got you?” in 1978’s Superman – another big influence here – and “I’m Batman” in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, and it’s worth the price of admission alone. Thanks to her scene-stealing appearance in Batman v Superman Gadot’s action heroine credentials were never in doubt, and when it’s time for Diana to fling her lasso of truth and swing her sword she frequently delivers the goods. It’s all set to Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score, which builds and improves on Hans Zimmer’s memorable electric cello theme in smart, unexpected ways.
Sadly, that thrilling second act sequence is where Wonder Woman peaks. There are some great ideas in the final 20 minutes as Diana finally comes face to face with her nemesis – including a beautiful moment mid-battle – and thematically it just about holds up, but it’s hampered by poor execution and awkward editing. Indeed, it’s been a while since a villain in a comic book movie has really left their mark, and Wonder Woman doesn’t change the trend.
But there are plenty of other trends that Wonder Woman is at the forefront of reversing. It’s the first superheroine movie directed by a female to have cost $150 million or more to make (a number sure to be eclipsed by Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden in a couple years). It’s the first of a series of live action superhero films to be headlined by female characters (in addition to Captain Marvel, Gotham City Sirens, Ant Man and The Wasp, and Batgirl are on the way). And with any luck, it’s the first of many excellent DCEU movies. Here’s hoping Batman, Superman and co follow her lead.