SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for the Wonder Woman movie follows.
I went into Wonder Woman hopeful, but with low expectations. I had been disappointed with the two previous DC Extended Universe movies I had seen (Man of Steel and Batman v Superman) and even though the early Rotten Tomatoes reviews had been favorable, I was trying to avoid getting my hopes up. What I found is that while Wonder Woman is flawed in similar ways to other DCEU movies, it differs from those movies in that it is genuinely enjoyable to watch, which was a pleasant surprise. There’s a lot of talk about the historic nature of this movie, with a female director and female superhero, but don’t let that mislead you. This isn’t “just” some feminist movie or some PC-induced pity score. This is the best DCEU movie so far and places Wonder Woman on the same level of her Justice League allies Superman and Batman.
So what worked? For starters, the acting was great. Gal Gadot was convincing as the naive amazon who can throw a tank over her head while being blown away by unfamiliar concepts such as ice cream and babies (after all, there likely weren’t a lot of babies on an island populated exclusively by women). In many ways, Diana of Themyscira is more multi-faceted than the DCEU heroes that have come before. While Superman and Batman seem to be dominated by their nobility and vengeance respectively, Wonder Woman comes across as a much more complex character. She’s naive, innocent, and idealistic, with a great deal of sympathy for those around her. Yet at the same time she is also supremely confident and determined and capable of righteous indignation when the situation calls for it. Gadot did a great job balancing these myriad facets of Diana’s character and making them seem like complementary parts of a greater whole.
Chris Pine was also every bit Gal Gadot’s equal as Steve Trevor and was perfectly cast as the cynical realist opposite of idealism of Diana. His comic timing was impeccable, and he did a great job playing a regular guy trying to explain the sometimes bizarre cultural norms of the world of men to his superhuman savior. The chemistry between Diana and Steve was great, and some of the best parts of the movie involved just the two of them talking and explaining their worlds to each other.
Speaking of best parts of the movie, a word has to be said about what people have been calling the “No Man’s Land Scene”. There have been a number of people who have had particularly emotional responses to the scene. While the scene didn’t quite bring me to tears, it was definitely a highlight of the movie and a great culmination of events. We see the first reveal of Diana in her Wonder Woman costume, and the moment where she is tired of having been told “no” by all the men around her and instead decided to take matters into her own hands. There’s even the Eowyn-slays-the-Nazgul terminology of “No Man’s Land” and how Diana is clearly not a man. The images of Wonder Woman batting away mortars and standing against machine gun fire with her shield raised are powerful ones.
Lastly, while I had some mixed thoughts about the ending of the movie, I did appreciate the wake-up call that Diana received after she thought she had killed Ares, yet the war continued on. Superhero movies can sometimes feel like battles between good and evil where everything is black and white and there is no shades of grey. It was a nice change of pace to have a movie acknowledge that sometimes humanity does evil all by itself and without the interference of super villains or aliens or gods.
Of course, a lot of that good will with fake-out Ares death got ruined with what happened afterwards. For starters, both the twist that Diana herself was the god-killer and that Ares was Sir Patrick Morgan were too easy to see coming. Hippolyta alluded one too many times to the secret of Diana’s origin and the movie was trying too hard to make Ludendorff seem like Ares, including his mysterious medicine which “restored” his strength and his odd propensity for quoting Greeks. And while I did appreciate that Ares wasn’t the obvious sneeringly over-the-top evil German general and that the movie instead played with the idea of Ares subtly influencing humanity behind the scenes, a lot of that gets tossed out the window when he throws on a massive suit of armor and starts throwing lightning bolts around.
The ending battle itself also felt a little too much like the Doomsday battle from Batman v Superman with too much CGI and questionable looking physics. It was also difficult to get intimidated by David Thewlis. He did a great job playing a nondescript British politician, but was a less convincing god of war. I honestly felt like the movie would’ve worked better with no Ares at all. After Diana kills Ludendorff and the war continues on, she can still have her crisis of confidence and her idealism shattered while still coming full circle to her message of “love” saving the world without having to kill a giant armored Remus Lupin with her magical lightning shooting bracelets.
It was also a little strange that the Germans all basically stopped fighting once Ares was defeated. Were they actually under his control after all? That would really undermine the power of Diana’s realization that humanity is capable of great evil on their own without godly influence. Also, if the Germans were under Ares’ control the entire time, that means Diana killed a bunch of fairly innocent brainwashed people.
Although it’s not necessarily the film’s fault, the prequel nature of it leaves some unanswered questions. It’s hard to believe that everybody who saw that fight between Wonder Woman and Ares (or simply saw Diana charging through No Man’s Land earlier in the film) conveniently forgot about her to where the only evidence of her existence was that single photograph taken. Really? Not even rumors or a legend that the troops spread? Also, where was Diana during World War 2 or the events of Man of Steel? The ending of Wonder Woman implies that Steve’s sacrifice has motivated Diana to stick around and help humanity, but by the events of Batman v Superman she appears to be leaving a reclusive life outside of the spotlight. It’s hard to believe the idealistic Diana decided to sit out events like the Holocaust.
While not perfect, Wonder Woman is a very enjoyable movie that does a great job of mixing humor with romance, and action moments with philosophical contemplation. In a larger sense, it shows that a good DC Extended Universe movie can be made, and is the first DCEU movie where I’m looking forward to a sequel.