It’s been a while, but at long last, we have a DC superhero movie worthy of our attention, and that movie is WONDER WOMAN (2017).
DC has long been operating in the shadow of their competitor, Marvel Comics, who have been churning out one quality superhero movie after another, often several a year, while DC has struggled to make even one hit, often trying to imitate Marvel’s lighter style with disastrous results. Perhaps the best part of WONDER WOMAN is that it succeeds without being like a Marvel movie at all. It stands on its own, and it stands tall.
WONDER WOMAN tells the origin story of Diana (Gal Gadot), a princess of the Amazons, living on a secret island, hidden from the rest of humanity by a protective shield of camouflage. She is a little girl on the island populated by female warriors, the strongest being her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). As Diana grows to womanhood, she is trained by Antiope (Robin Wright) and soon becomes the fiercest warrior on the island.
When a British World War I pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) flies through the barrier and crashes into the ocean near the island’s shore, Diana swims to his rescue. Moments later, German soldiers break through the barrier as well and attack the island. There is a fierce fight and many are killed.
After questioning Steve and learning about the war, Diana decides to go back with him to stop it. She believes it’s being waged by the god of war, Ares. Find and kill Ares, and the war will end.
And thus Wonder Woman is born.
The rest of the movie follows Diana’s and Steve’s efforts to thwart the Germans who are planning to unleash a new deadly gas, and to do this, they have to rely on a small team of Steve’s rogue buddies, since officially, the British want to de-escalate the fighting since they are close to signing an armistice.
By far, the best part of WONDER WOMAN is the performance by Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She is phenomenal here, just as she was in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), a deeply flawed film that was better whenever Gadot was on-screen. She pretty much stole that movie. Here, she has a movie of her own, and she’s terrific.
Gadot does for Wonder Woman what Robert Downey Jr. has done for Iron Man, and Chris Evans for Captain America. She has put her stamp on the role and made it her own.
Chris Pine is also very good in the supporting role of Steve Trevor. Pine makes Trevor a genuine war hero, and better yet, helps Diana see the good in humankind.
While Pine has been enjoying success as Captain Kirk in the new STAR TREK movies, he’s also been churning out some truly fine performances of late, in films like HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016) and THE FINEST HOURS (2016).
Trevor’s sidekicks also stand out. Said Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock as The Chief are all memorable. They’re a lot of fun and are developed rather well as supporting characters, more so than Captain America’s war buddies in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011). Taghmaoui in particular has some of the better lines in the movie, like when he’s recounting Diana’s story of her island, saying, “You mean it’s an entire island full of women like her? Let’s go there!”
Likewise, Lucy Davis is enjoyable as Steve Trevor’s secretary, Etta. She has some fine moments in some comical scenes, like when Steve introduces her to Diana as his secretary, and Diana asks what a secretary does. Etta tells her, and Diana says, “Where I come from that’s called slavery.” To which Etta smiles and responds, “I like this girl.”
Connie Nielsen adds class as Diana’s warrior mother Hippolyta, and Robin Wright from TV’s HOUSE OF CARDS is up to the task of training Wonder Woman as Antiope.
One way that WONDER WOMAN is similar to the Marvel superhero films is that it stumbles with its villains, and like the Marvel movies, the fact that the villains are weak doesn’t seem to matter.
Danny Huston plays the main baddie, General Ludendorff, a rather cliché military villain, made even less impressive because Huston he played a similar role in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009). His performance here offers nothing new.
The far more interesting villain is Dr. Maru, played by Elena Anay. Dr. Maru wears a mask that covers part of her face, and she’s the main force behind creating the deadly gas. Anay is very good in the role, but sadly, the character isn’t really developed all that well.
David Thewlis plays another character of note, Sir Patrick, who officially opposes Steve’s mission, but behind the scenes helps him to achieve it.
Patty Jenkins directed WONDER WOMAN and does a nice job. The film looks awesome, and the action scenes are all done very well. At times, the pacing is slow, but the story remains interesting throughout.
And that’s because the screenplay by Allan Heinberg is a good one. It does a nice job telling Diana’s origin story, showing how she grew up on the island. The World War I sequences are also well done, but most of all, the strength of this story is its theme of empowering women. The story presents an all-powerful superhero, who also happens to be a woman. And you might be tempted to say, this isn’t news. Wonder Woman has been around for a long time, but not in the movies she hasn’t.
If you’re not a comic book reader, and you’re basing your superhero experiences on television and the movies, you really don’t know a whole lot about the Wonder Woman character. As such, it’s a case where audiences don’t really know what they’ve been missing. They’ll know now.
WONDER WOMAN has a lot to say about women. Having this latest badass superhero to hit the big screen be a woman is a breath of fresh air, and showing the way women were treated during the World War I years is relevant because similar struggles continue today. Likewise, the way Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor treats Diana and looks out for her, and she for him, sets up a love story that really works.
All in all, WONDER WOMAN is a superior superhero movie, one of the best of its type.
The DC superhero movies are back on the map. Wonder Woman has saved the day.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.