Finally, A Win for the DCEU
Warning: Spoilers for Wonder Woman follow. If you have not watched the movie, read on at your own risk. Also, go watch Wonder Woman.
Remembering Old Friends
Man of Steel was divisive. Batman v Superman had a big opening, then a steep dropoff to go with all the hate from critics. Suicide Squad was, well, I’m still not sure what it was. Suffice it to say that the DCEU needed Wonder Woman to be a major success. At that endeavor, it succeeds. Wonder Woman used a new spin on an old formula to produce a visually enticing, and mentally engaging movie.
The bulk of the movie takes place during World War 1, save for the beginning and end. I’m going to skip straight into when we first see Themiscarya, and Diana as a young child. We know from Batman v Superman that Diana is a pretty fierce warrior in the present day, but we get to see here that she’s pretty much always had a warrior spirit. It’s hard not to be in awe of Themiscarya during this sequence. There’s a reason you here it referred to in comics and throughout the movie as Paradise Island.
The time the movie spends in paradise also lends to some of the strongest supporting characters the movie has to offer. Both Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and General Antiope (Robin Wright) turn in great performances. The two are sisters in the movie, and the actresses look very much like real life sisters. They also work well together on screen. Hippolyta is, at first, apprehensive about Diana receiving any sort of combat training. Antiope is on the complete opposite of that spectrum, going so far as to train Diana in secret behind her back.
Both sides of the argument are easy to support, given what we are told of the Amazon’s purpose in life, but ultimately that training would prove to be vital. During one training sequence, we learn that there is something special about Diana that sets her apart from the other Amazons. What that is, we aren’t told, but soon after Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) plane crashes into the ocean off the island of Themiscarya. True to her convictions, Diana dives in to save him.
Taking a Turn for the Worst
It’s after Trevor’s arrival that things begin to take a turn. Trevor is being hunted, and a battle ensues on the beach. The Amozonians would be victorious, but not without suffering casualties. Antiope would lose her life protecting Diana, and that sacrifice would end up being the event that sets her on the path to becoming Wonder Woman.
At first, Trevor is reluctant to say how or why he has arrived in Themiscarya. The lasso of truth would solve that easily. After hearing his story, Diana is convinced that Ares has returned and is the cause of all the suffering in the world (she would not be entirely wrong about this). She pleads for the Amazonians to fulfill their purpose and hunt down Ares, but Hippolyta refuses.
Of course this leads to Diana leaving the island along with Steve Trevor, but only after she takes a pretty sweet set of armor and the Godkiller sword. For Diana, her departure is a defining moment in her journey. Whether her mother Hippolyta literally meant that she can never return to Themiscarya or just that her mission was doomed does not make a difference. Diana made a choice to leave, or you could say that she made a choice to be a hero.
The Real World
The movie injects a lot of humor after leaving Themiscarya. A lot of credit is due to Gal Gadot for the humor being so successful. She really portrays Diana’s ignorance of the world outside of Themiscarya, and her innocence because of that ignorance, well. Since she does so well, the humor feels very natural. In superhero movies, more often than I would like, the humor often feels forced. Almost as if the writers were told that had to meet a certain quota of jokes in the movie. Wonder Woman largely avoids this. Patty Jenkins deserves a fair share of credit for this as well.
Another aspect in which the movie succeeds wildly is in the way supporting characters react to Diana. You could say that we watch the movie through the eyes of Steve Trevor. I’ll compare it to Captain America, because that seems to be what everyone is doing. In Captain America: The First Avenger, we see the origin of Captain America. From skinny kid, to super soldier, we watch his journey. We experience what he experiences. In a way, we never actually get to awe at what Cap accomplishes, because we’re experiencing it through his perspective. Cap is never in awe with himself.
Diana, likewise, is never in awe of herself. The people she encounters, however, are a different story. Steve Trevor, most importantly, is constantly amazed by what Diana accomplishes. In fact, she completely changes him. Not just because he feels invincible fighting next to someone who is practically invincible, mind you.
Comparing Wonder Woman to Captain America in that way is kind of rough. Captain America inspires in a similar way, but in his origin story we’re rooting for him to inspire. In Wonder Woman’s story, we are being inspired. That’s the best way I can explain it. Wonder Woman essentially follows the same origin story formula that has worked so well for Marvel, only from the opposite perspective.
Back to the Movie
In London, Diana learns the hard way that the world isn’t as black and white as she sees it. Her mission is simple, find and kill Ares. The powers that be, however, don’t see it that way. The fact that she’s a woman makes it hard for her to get any man to take her seriously apart from Trevor. Trevor is certain that the intel he gained from his time as a spy will be enough to convince his superiors to back out of whatever peace agreement they are about to reach. It’s not however, so Steve and Diana have to form their own team of outcasts and basically go rogue.
I have to say quickly how great Lucy Davis was in her role as Etta Candy. As far as supporting characters go, she was not given very much screen time but she absolutely made the most of what she was given.
Wonder Woman Joins the War
The action picks up after leaving London. Wonder Woman’s fight scenes are a thing of beauty. She’s incredibly powerful, but not completely invincible. There’s a sense of threat when she’s under heavy fire from the Germans. I said early that Wonder Woman inspires the viewer, and one scene in particular encapsulates that sentiment perfectly. After arriving on the front line, and discovering the military stuck in a trench due to the German defense on the other side, Wonder Woman decides she must help at any cost. Despite the seeming impossibility, she climbs out of the trench and charges ahead. Many have said that this is the defining moment of the movie. For me, that comes a bit later and I will get to it.
It’s safe to say that, after that, Diana had officially become Wonder Woman. People started believing that she would actually make a difference. They started to believe that they could see an end to all the fighting, and that Diana would be the one to bring that end. There would still be a lot of push back on her desire to rush forward without contemplating anything, mostly from Steve Trevor, but for the most part everyone believed that she could save them.
War is Hell
I’m going to rush through the end of the movie, because honestly you should watch it instead of reading my review for every plot point. I said earlier that Diana is convinced that Ares is the cause of all the suffering in the world. She ultimately succeeds in killing Ares, but learns that the world is a lot grayer than she sees it. Ares death does nothing to stop the war. Also, the reveal of Ares identity was a twist that, for me at least, kind of fell flat. It was too obvious, and the ensuing fight felt like I was watching an episode of Dragonball Z instead of a superhero blockbuster. Really, that’s my only big complaint about the movie, so it’s very easy to overlook.
It would be during the final fight that what I believe the defining moment of the movie would occur. In the midst of her fight with Ares, when Diana seems ready to give up her hope in humanity, that her journey to becoming a hero would reach its peak. After everything they had been through together, Steve Trevor pushed back. He told her over and over that you can’t just beat the big bad and everything be okay. His message was, essentially, everyone is a little bad or at the least has the potential for maliciousness. Most importantly, he was talking about himself.
Throughout the movie it’s evident that he was right to an extent. The German’s, despite their general being defeated, send a plane full of poisonous gas to be released that will kill thousands of people without discretion. Diana could stop it. Easily so with her strength. That’s when Steve makes a sacrifice. To me this is the defining moment of the movie. The man who could not believe that the world could be a better place, who could not believe that he could be a better person, was changed by Wonder Woman. He was inspired. It was because of her that he would make the sacrifice to take the plane into the sky and blow it up, losing his life in the process. His death would also be the inspiration for Wonder Woman to realize her full power and overcome Ares.
Wonder Woman Review – In Conclusion
Where the DCEU has failed so far, Wonder Woman succeeds. The supporting cast was strong, and Patty Jenkins directing deserves significant celebration. Gal Gadot and Christ Pine are wonderful in lead roles. The action is exciting, the story is compelling, and Wonder Woman inspires. If you have not watched this movie yet, you really should. I’m not yet ready to say it’s one of the greatest superhero movies, but it is more than just a good movie.