Ever since its comic-book debut in 1941, William Moulton Marston’s revolutionary superheroine was ahead of the time. A girl-power icon in a male-fantasy universe that rarely had much use for powerful women simply damsels looking to be undistressed. However, Wonder Women consistently (or even the majority of the time, anyways) refused to play with those rules. Even a demigod warrior-princess made from clay by her Amazonian mom, Queen Hippolyta, Wonder Woman has been a distaff badass with all the guts, superpowers, and gee-whiz doodads to match her man peers: The Lasso of Truth, indestructible golden bracelets, and just a sword that may bring the Celtics down. She used them to shatter the superhero glass ceiling.
It’s just in the movie’s unnecessary closing half-hour or so that Wonder Woman eventually meets her match: the special-effects imperatives of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking against which even the Germans onscreen seem insignificant. When Diana realizes that the villain she has been pursuing all this time is, in fact, not the end but only the start to a line of villains to be trotted out, no doubt, in subsequent chapters, the movie turns into an eye-rolling digital smackdown that mirrors each other late-period DC (and, to be honest, Marvel) movie smackdown. It would be nice one of those days if some epic editor just lopped off the previous half an hour of each one of these things. But it’s tough to quibble about what’s wrong with a film that gets so far, particularly when it comes to Gadot’s revelatory portrayal of Wonder Woman. The DC movie you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived.
As World War I is apparently winding down along with an armistice is all about to be signed, a holdout among the German high command, the evil Gen. Ludendorff (Danny Huston), is actively making a noxious biological super-weapon to turn German defeat into success. His chief chemist, a disfigured sadist called Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), is now a vision of villainy right from comic-book nightmares, sporting a female faceplate that hides her hideous scars. Some may wonder why a character who was conceived in 1941 and who is eventually being brought to the big screen in 2017 has been plopped into 1918? But I’d argue that Wonder Woman’s time frame is a pretty smart stealth weapon to explore a few of the movies more progressive themes (more on this in a sec), and of course the simple fact that it provides the picture a retro-cool charge reminiscent of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger. We have grown so used to seeing superheroes display their powers on the screen that it’s refreshing to see people react with amazement, as they’re witnessing miracles. The wonder of this film — or at least the great first two-thirds of it — is that the viewer feels that same book rush. Since Diana deflects machine gun-fire together with her bracelets, flips military tanks with a single hand, and hammering German troops around like ragdolls with her luminescent Lasso of Truth, we feel like we are seeing her feats with new eyes.
He is the very first guy that she’s ever laid back. The very first man that any of those Amazons have set eyes on. They all want him to depart. But Diana is curious. Especially after he tells her about the horrible war that is raging back in his own world. Diana, increased onto the Amazonian creed of peace along with her people’s duty to resist against Ares, the God of War, sees his warfare as her war. She’s found her fate.
That’s the identical protagonist we first meet in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman — a rollicking origin story with a clear and distinct feminist message that never bludgeons you with its gender politics. It’s much too assured and sly because of that. The film opens to the island of Themyscira, idyllic heaven with chalk-white cliffs and turquoise waters that was gifted to the Amazons by Zeus. Invisible to the remainder of the planet, the island has been hidden by a protective atmospheric cloak. It is just like the Bermuda Triangle if the Bermuda Triangle were inhabited solely by a race of she-warriors dwelling in harmony and training in battle beneath Robin Wright. Zeus made the Amazons to put love back to humanity’s hearts and restore peace. But under Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), they’ve stayed in hiding, practicing the ancient martial arts into strappy gladiator sandals and on horseback while speaking in a thick Arabian goulash of accents that give you the impression that Themyscira might only be located somewhere near Transylvania. Hippolyta has a young daughter called Diana — a curious, rebellious, and bullheaded small moppet eager to understand to fight like her elders. She’s nothing like the others, however. There is something special about her — a secret connection to the Gods that no one told her about. However, since Diana grows to become Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, her present shows itself.
Ever since Christopher Nolan’s last great Batman film, 2008’s The Dark Knight, DC was in a fairly brutal big-screen slump. Watchmen. Jonah Hex. Green Lantern. Suicide Squad. The different Superman movies. A few of the films have been able to make a nice chunk of change at the box office. But they are the type of hits that exist more on a studio’s balance sheet than in the hearts and minds of all moviegoers. Unlike its crosstown rival, Marvel, DC has had a hard time finding the right mix of darkness and lighting, seriousness and humor, gravitas and fun. They just haven’t managed to decode the magical nut. It’d be crazy to think that the suits at Warner Bros., the custodians of the DC celluloid franchise, so we’re not getting twitchy and envious whenever a new Marvel flick hit theaters. Now, however, using their latest superhero saga, they can finally be quitting chewing over their cuticles — if there are some left. Wonder Woman is so smart, glossy, and gratifying in each the ways superhero films ought to be. How deliciously ironic that at a genre in which the boys seem to have all of the fun, a feminine hero and a female director are the ones to show the fellas how it’s done.
The atmosphere also can help create the film’s resonant feminist subtext feel more natural and less pressured. At a time when girls were still with no right to vote and were subjugated into some situation of being seen and not heard, the inexplicable Diana becomes a spokeswoman in deed and word of empowerment and resistance. She fails to be treated like a second-class citizen by politicians and generals. No one puts Wonder Woman in a corner. On the battlefield in Belgium, she exhibits martial courage her brothers in arms (even including Pine) don’t have. She is completely fearless…not to mention a way from Lynda Carter.
However, there was not anything in those installments that triumphed at the undeniable star power she gives away as Wonder Woman. Granted the Fast & Furious movies are not exactly acting showcases, but nevertheless… Her Diana is equally awesomely ferocious and surprisingly funny, especially when she arrives at war-torn London using Trevor and gets her first taste of 20th-century modernity. Whether she is reacting to the unknown sight of automobiles or constricting early 20th-century women’s fashions, she’s taken it all just like a fish-out-of-water naïf. If she has her first taste of ice cream, then she swoons and tells the salesman, “You ought to be quite pleased,” like he’s performed some kind of miracle. Gadot sells the humor and innocence in these minutes every little as convincingly as Daryl Hannah in Splash. Her chemistry with Pine is equally as unexpected and electric. Catching him in the naked rear Themyscira, she has a peek at him in the buff and asks: “Can you say you are a normal example of your sexual activity?” He answers, “I am above average”