Thank God for Patty Jenkins.
I mean, seriously, could you even imagine the kind of pressure that comes with helming not only the very first big budget film adaptation of the most iconic female superhero of all time, but also taking on a project that follows three DCEU films that have been critically panned, being the focus on industry’s attention in terms of the future of both female driven blockbusters and female directed blockbusters, and having to satisfy demands of the studio machine that wants to continue said panned comic book universe, and also delivering a film that is still wholly her own? Yeah, no pressure.
And the good news is that she pulled it off! It would’ve been damn near miraculous if it was just good, but the fact that it’s great means we should collectively bow our heads in shame that Patty Jenkins’ follow-up to her 2003 critically/commercially successful and Oscar winning debut, Monster, was a single fucking episode of Arrested Development.
What I’m talking about is, of course, Wonder Woman. It’s a period piece, set during WWI, where Diana (Gal Gadot) goes off with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to put an end to the war after he crash landed on her Amazonian island, Themyscira. That’s about all you need to know, and while it may not be a film full of surprises, it’s one that demands to be seen, so I’d rather let you go in knowing as little as possible.
What Wonder Woman has that the previous DCEU films hack really lacked is focus. Wonder Woman is centered purely on Diana and her journey understanding mankind. It absolutely understands the essentials of the character, and as a longtime fan, it was greatly appreciated. Her belief in love, truth, and the goodness that can be found in anybody is executed and explored very well, especially considering how she is thrown right into the morally murky areas that are involved in the first World War. It’s thematically tight, and while it may not be diving into the most deep ideas, the simplicity in the general plea for hope, empathy, and compassion is brought to life with grace and efficiency. Like I said, it has focus, and it’s one of the better things about it.
Then you have Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and she is damn near perfect. She is a fascinating and magnetic screen presence, and she effortlessly embodies everything about the character without feeling the need to wink to the audience. Like the film itself, her performance is totally earnest and totally believes in everything it’s saying, even when it gets to some ridiculous moments. It also helps that she has a really top notch supporting cast. Chris Pine is wonderful, playing to his strengths as a comedic actor while keeping it grounded, and his chemistry with Gal Gadot is exceptional. Others such as Connie Nelson, Robin Wright, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Lucy Davis, David Thewlis, et al. are really good, and many of them make the most out of what may have been very little on paper.
Now, that’s not to say the film is perfect, but when it works – which is at least 85 to 90% of the time – it is beyond exceptional. The parts where it does falter are few and far between, but they are certainly there. Some shoddy visual effects are sprinkled throughout the film, certain plot elements don’t really go anywhere (for example, a gas that is introduced which gives momentary super strength), it’s structurally generic, and there’s an unnecessary framing device. There are two things that could qualify as major problems. One is the villains, which won’t leave much of an impression on you, and are about on the same level as the more forgettable Marvel villains. And I’m willing to forgive it here for the same reason I do for most Marvel films, and that’s because the focus is primarily on making us understand and root for the hero. The other problem is the climactic battle, which unfortunately relies on the worst habits of not just previous DCEU films, but superhero films in general. No, there’s no sky beam, but it does devote a lot of time to a computer generated sensory overload. It may not be as bad as other films that have done the same, but it still felt disappointing considering how well the film did with its action. It does take it down a notch, but once it gets past that, it ends on a great note.
In a year that’s given us two great comic book films with Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (hell, let’s include The LEGO Batman Movie here too), Wonder Woman comes in and shows off why she is one of the comic book industry’s most enduring characters. Patty Jenkins and screenwriter, Allan Heinberg, have done justice to the character, and has made her more relevant than ever. There are so many great things about it that the bad elements just don’t matter. It’s rousing, it’s exhilarating, it’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s accessible, and it has a (thankfully) distinctive lack of irony and angst. It has practically everything you would want out of a summer film, and it gives us a hero worth getting behind. She is Wonder Woman, hear her roar.