How did it take this long? Wonder Woman, a.k.a. Diana Prince, has been a beloved and iconic character basically since she first showed up on the comics page in 1941, and after the success of Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman proved to Warner Brothers that superhero films could be a worthwhile venture, in a perfect world she should have been next in line. But alas, it’s not a perfect world, so we had to wait until 2016 for the character’s first live-action appearance on screen in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and until 2017 for her to get her own standalone picture. Despite that, it was almost worth the wait to have this be her real cinematic debut, because it is about as perfect an introduction to this character as one can get.
Diana (Gal Gadot) lives alongside her people, the Amazons, on the hidden paradise of Themyscira, going against the wishes of her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), to train with General Antiope (Robin Wright) for a long-prophesied battle that may never come. However, when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy working for British Intelligence during the first World War crashes on the island while fleeing German troops, Diana becomes horrified by his stories of suffering innocents and opts to accompany him back to man’s world, to stop the war and bring peace to man’s world.
Director Patty Jenkins (of the ever-so overlooked Monster) has cited Donner’s Superman as her primary inspiration for the film, and it shows. Wonder Woman even shares that movie’s primary flaw — that being an overcooked finale that slightly murks up the themes of the previous running time. But it also shares all of Superman‘s strengths, especially in regards to one: the essence of the character. Wonder Woman believes that humans are inherently good, and that with compassion and love, she will show them the way to peace, and the movie absolutely nails Diana’s devotion to that principle.
Speaking of Diana, Gal Gadot absolutely knocks this out of the park. Gadot is everything Wonder Woman is and more: passionate, warm, inviting, tough, and witty. Gadot has astounding chemistry with the entire cast, handling herself extremely well during the lighter, comedic moments and absolutely slaying dramatic scenes. There is one moment in the film that completely encapsulates Diana as a character, where she dresses down a British general for refusing to act on information that Trevor brings back about a new gas weapon that could add millions more to the war’s already devastating death toll. It was that moment where I completely fell in love with her performance, because Gadot sold Diana’s sincere devotion to what she believes in. She is an absolute revelation here in every way imaginable, and I imagine that in 25 years people will talking about this turn the way people still discuss Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent.
She also has a damn fine supporting cast to back her up. Chris Pine shines as Steve Trevor, playing a shining light of non-toxic masculinity in a world where that was the default. Trevor is sweet and funny and charming, but best of all is that he never once feels threatened by Diana, instead being nothing but supportive of her mission, even with some doubts. If anyone had any doubts about Pine, I’d imagine that they’re all gone now. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright shine in their brief roles as Hippolyta and Antiope, as do Eugene Brave Rock, Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, and Lucy Davis as the team Steve rallies to assist Diana.
This leads us to the villains, played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya for a large part of the film before a third act reveal that I won’t spoil for those who have not looked it up yet. For the most part, Huston and Anaya ham it up as standard, fairly one-note villains. But while Huston’s sadistic German general never really gets more development outside of that, Anaya as his chemist henchman, Doctor Poison, becomes fairly sympathetic. There’s a scene during a banquet where Steve Trevor is trying to get information out of her, and Anaya delivers an absolutely beautiful monologue in response that leads to a fantastic moment in the final battle.
But what really pulls the movie together is Patty Jenkins’ direction. Thank the gods that she’s directing movies again, because this film is absolutely stunning. The first act on Themyscira is absolutely gorgeous, but even when it transitions to the David Yates-esque color palette of WW1-era London and Belgium there is visual beauty to behold, especially when the Lasso of Truth is involved. Even after a decade out of the game. the action is still far above average; It’s clean and clear, confident and assured, and fun as hell to watch. Jenkins’ use of speed-ramping may be grating for some, but I absolutely adored it. The middle-act showstopper, a raid by Diana and her team across a trench battlefield in order to save the citizens of a nearby village, is arguably the greatest action set-piece of the year so far, a propulsive and cathartic sequence that will be hard to top in future movies featuring the character.
Wonder Woman is nothing short of a triumph, a fun and hopeful movie that is downright inspirational. It is almost exactly the movie I imagine that many people have been waiting ages for, and not only does it deliver, but it delivers in spades. It is an absolute must-see, and I cannot wait to see it again.