After the dual debacles of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, many wondered just how much of a future there would be for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). While the movies did pull in a generous amount at the box office, the films were divisive and certainly not the crowd-pleasers required to launch a sprawling, multi-character franchise that would span for years and rake in billions upon billions of dollars. Suddenly the most important movie in the DCEU’s early history would be Wonder Woman. Thankfully, director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot have turned in the best movie in the DCEU, a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that’s not without its faults but when it works operates on a level that has been unseen in this expanding world of DC Comics on the screen. Wonder Woman is unmarred by the cynicism, grim and gritty attitudes, and humorless self-seriousness that have plagued the early entries in the DCEU. More importantly for the studio and its stockholders, it’s able to build enough goodwill that it’ll likely assuage moviegoer fears about the direction of these movies for at least one more installment.
Wonder Woman opens in the modern day. Diana Prince (Gadot) is walking to work at the Louvre in Paris where she oversees a variety of historical artifacts. She is delivered a case by Bruce Wayne, and just to be sure you know it’s coming from Bruce Wayne the camera lingers on the Wayne Enterprises logo that delivers the package. This, however, is a bit of unnecessary teasing for the impending Justice League movie that is thankfully short, operating as the bookends for the film. In the package is the original picture that Bruce Wayne saw on his computer in Batman v Superman, all of which brings a world of memories swirling back for Diana Prince to her days in World War I.
Those memories take Diana back to her youth in Themyscira as the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her training as a warrior by her aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright). These scenes serve as a massive exposition dump that establishes the expansive mythology of the Amazons and the Greek gods that created them, including the God of War, Ares, whose shadow looms over the events of the film. When young Diana is overhearing the mythological stories of her origins, the film displays these moments as if they were classical paintings come to life. Overall, these opening scenes are a somewhat rocky start to the movie but one that moves at a brisk pace in establishing all that the filmmakers wanted before kicking the film into its high gear.
Wonder Woman really comes to life when the bubble of comfort surrounding Themyscira is popped when American soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the shores of the mythical land. On his tail are German soldiers and a battle breaks out between the Amazonian warriors and the Kaiser’s soldiers. Diana is convinced that the war that has broken out across the globe is the cause of Ares, and agrees to help Steve on his mission to return a notebook of stolen chemical weapons secrets devised by General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Houston) and Dr. Maru, aka Dr. Poison, (Elena Anaya) to his superiors in what could change the tide of the war.
What’s so refreshing about Patty Jenkins’ film and the screenplay by Allan Heinberg (from a story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs) is the character of Wonder Woman herself. Diana is a character that experiences tragedy but tragedy isn’t the driving factor in her heroism, which stems from the lessons imparted upon her during her youth. They’ve collectively crafted a cinematic superhero that won’t allow others to tell her what can and can’t be done, and it leads to some great action scenes that are inspirational and rooted in the character’s pure heroism that is completely free from the angst and cynicism that has stained the previous DC movies. Also unlike the previous DC movies, Wonder Woman has no problems finding the fun and humor in its characters and the situations. It’s not always perfect, but when it’s flying high Wonder Woman is an absolute delight to behold.
Jenkins, who hasn’t directed a feature film since 2003’s Monster, seems to take quite a bit of inspiration from Zack Snyder in her action scenes. It’s especially noticeable in the training scenes in Themyscira, the director constantly ramping the speed of the action up and down. When the story finds itself in the trenches of World War I, the stylistic tics of speed ramping slow down and the movie provides some of the most engaging action sequences to appear in the DCEU. It really does matter that Wonder Woman is fighting for what she believes is the right thing to do and not channeling some darker rage to fuel her battles. Believe it or not, Patty Jenkins has made Wonder Woman into a better version of Superman than present in the last few Superman movies.
All of which is not to say that Wonder Woman doesn’t have its problems, but most of its problems are contained to certain scenes so much of the movie is an uninterrupted string of delightful moments. The worst part of the movie comes at the end, when it turns into a bombastic, punishing action sequence that doesn’t have that same level of awe and inspiration of what came before it. Simply, the big finale is a disappointment because it feels remarkably generic when compared to what worked so well before it. Wonder Woman is sorely lacking a menacing villain that leaves much of an impact, though it’s easy to overlook such things when you have such a great hero. Finally, it’s time to ditch that theme composed by Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer. It doesn’t fit the character and always feels out of place when the screeching electric guitar ramps up, especially in war torn Europe in the early 20th century.
One thing that stands out about Wonder Woman is the fact that the film should’ve come out well before Batman v Superman. It would’ve made Wonder Woman’s appearance, which is pretty much the one thing most people liked about that movie, so much more effective than it was. However this movie ties into the larger scheme of the DCEU doesn’t really matter because much of the film stands on its own and is all the better for it, shunning excessive teases to the next installment in favor of a thrilling tale of selfless heroism. The past couple movies have left this emerging universe on shaky ground and here comes Wonder Woman to deliver that crowd-pleaser they sorely needed and providing a bit of stability that has seemed, until now, elusive. This is the path that DC needs to follow in the future, with a sense of fun and optimism in a superhero blockbuster that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to mimic what works for Marvel. Patty Jenkins has delivered a satisfying blockbuster and Gal Gadot has a breakout star moment. There’s a lot of wonder with these women.