SPOILER ALERT: While I won't discuss every plot point, I will discuss major themes and characters. If you have not seen Wonder Woman, I encourage you to watch it before reading this review.
I enjoy superhero movies, but I wouldn't say they are my favorite genre. Still, I am not one to espouse the belief that simply because a film is a superhero film that somehow makes it lesser art. In my opinion, too many films in the genre have not pushed the limits and attempted to move the genre forward, and this has given the genre as a whole a bad name. But there are a few that stand out. Wonder Woman is certainly one of those.
Gal Gadot gives an effervescent performance as the titular character. Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman is such a legendary persona, but Gadot embodies the character in a way that jumps off the screen. She is fun to watch and she is strong. On top of that, she shows how loving and caring Diana is. There are many nuances in this character. For instance, you can certainly see elements of the fish-out-of-water story here. At the same time, Diana is a very powerful character who clearly has unique skills. She is, at the same time, confident in her abilities but unsure of her place in this society and whether or not she should fully give into her destiny. I thought Gadot did a fine job of nagivating these nuanced parts of the character.
Along with Gadot, director Patty Jenkins stands out for her brilliance in crafting a unique superhero film. It isn't solely that this is a female-centric story - though that is obviously the core of the film's power. Jenkins simply crafts a quality film, first and foremost. Specifically, she has an eye for pivotal moments and striking images. The result is a beautiful film that is incredibly fun to watch. There were two moments in particular that stood out to me. But first a quick note about the film's plot.
The storyline of this film takes place concurrently with World War I. In the film's early sequences, we see Diana on her home island of Themyscira along with her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and General Antiope (Robin Wright), the leader of the Amazon warriors. Antiope wants to train Diana, but Hippolyta is initially reluctant. She tells Diana of the beginnings of their people - how Zeus once ruled the heavens and had a love for mankind. But Ares, the Greek god of war, brought corruption before being banished by Zeus. Many believed that Ares was still out there beyond the safety of Themyscira. Zeus had given the Amazons a powerful weapon to defeat Ares, but Hippolyta had hopes it would never be needed. It is clear that Diana is special and has a powerful destiny, but Themyscira has been closed off from the outside world, and Hippolyta does not want to subject Diana to any unnecessary pain. Soon, interaction with the outside world is thrust upon them in the first of the two moments that stood out to me in this film.
Fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane in the ocean while simultaneously breaking through the barrier that closes Themyscira from the outside world. Diana sees the crash and swims out to help. In this scene, as Steve is drowning, the camera looks up through the water to see Diana amid the shimmering light above. It might be my favorite shot of the entire film, and I again applaud Jenkins for such a fantastic directorial choice. Diana takes Steve back to the island, but he has been followed. The Germans make their way to the island bringing with them death and pain. After a beachside battle, it is clear to Diana that she must go and help in the fight.
And so the basic plot of the film is set - Diana seeks to meet her destiny and defeat Ares by helping mankind in their dire time of need.
The interplay between Diana and Steve is extremely fun, and both Gadot and Pine deserve credit for how they embody these characters. As the film progresses, you really feel invested in their relationship and you certainly begin to root for them. As for the supporting performances, Wright and Nielsen are given some powerful scenes early in the film, and they do a fine job with them. I also enjoy David Thewlis as an actor, and he has a good role in this film as Sir Patrick Morgan. Lucy Davis also gives a good performance as Steve's secretary. However, one of my main issues with the film is the preponderance of other supporting roles that are not sufficiently explored.
There's the team that helps Diana and Steve once they return to the war zone. Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) are Steve's counterparts, but none of them are really explored. We meet them and we see them throughout the film, but they don't really have all that much to do. On the villanous side, there's Germany's General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his chief chemist Dr. Isabel Maru, AKA Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya). I never found either character to be especially compelling villains. Overall, I would have preferred to either have these characters and their intentions explored more fully or reduce their screentime to focus more on Steve and Diana.
I think that is more of a comment on the power of Gadot's performance than anything. Her screen presence is arresting. You simply want to see more of her character. In the months after the release of this film, it has been so wonderful to see the response of young girls who now have this strong female superhero depicted on screen. It is that message of empowerment that I think will give Wonder Woman a longer shelf life than most superhero films. There is no better example of that message than in the scene that I will remember most from this movie. In fact, I think it is one of the most memorable moments in all of film from 2017.
There is a battle scene where Steve is telling Diana that "no man's land" cannot be crossed. But Diana disagrees. In full Wonder Woman armor, Diana deflects the enemy fire while Steve and their army follow. Jenkins shoots much of this scene in dazzling slow motion. It is a powerful sequence.
This scene is powerful thematically, as I think it is important to have strong female characters that young girls can look to and admire. I know I had so many male characters like that to choose from when I was growing up. Representation matters, and the ideals and themes that Wonder Woman represents are extremely important.
But even simply from a technical standpoint, this scene is incredibly powerful. I mentioned Jenkins' use of slow motion earlier, but she also uses a striking overhead shot when Diana is taking the full brunt of enemy fire. It is brutally gorgeous, and it is a fantastic showcase of filmmaking.
Diana is undeniably beautiful, and multiple characters comment on her looks (Gadot is a former Miss Israel). Unfortunately, it has become all too common for female characters to be overly-sexualized on the big screen. Historically, the character of Wonder Woman has been viewed as somewhat of a sex symbol. But this film makes a powerful choice to show that Diana is more than her looks - she isn't just a pretty face. Jenkins acknowledges that her beauty is a part of Diana's character, but that is not all she is. Diana is a fully-realized character in this film, and the movie becomes more powerful because of it. (More on content at the bottom of this review.)
Overall, I found Wonder Woman to be an incredibly enjoyable experience. I do think that some of its supporting characters lacked depth, and I think its final act devolves into some tropes of the superhero genre that we have come to expect. Its ending especially seemed like a shoehorned attempt to connect it to the ever-present larger cinematic universe. Still, even with those flaws, I think the movie as a whole is one of the best superhero movies I've seen. More than that, it is a quality film outside of its genre categorization. It has an eye for craft, and its themes and messages are powerfully realized.
This is a film about the power of love. I chose those words carefully, because I think we often view love as passive and somehow different than power. But love is strong and multi-dimensional. This film depicts that beautifully, and I think we will still be watching and discussing it for years to come. I certainly hope that is the case.
Note on content: This film is rated PG-13, and it is branded as a film suitable for younger audiences. As with any film, parents will need to make that decision for their specific children. There are many instances of war violence and fight scenes, although none of it is grotesque or gory. There is also minor sexual dialogue at various points. The most overt sexual content is when Diana walks in on Steve bathing on Themyscira. No nudity is shown, but it is somewhat risque in terms of dialogue and context. Overall, the sexual content in this film is quite tame. There is very little profanity as well.