Verdict: Wonderfully sincere and inspirational, Wonder Woman is both classical and novel, funny and tear jerking. It’s an in-theaters must see. Go. Right now.
The Good: Engaging action and great pacing all support the spotlight: Gadot’s performance as the titular hero
Now seventeen years deep into the modern superhero film genre, seemingly every kind of origin story has been told. Wonder Woman stands out above this well worn crowd largely for one reason: sincerity. While some are serious and brooding and others light and humorous, the genre as a whole has grown increasingly more in need of rationalization. Heroes with idealistic world views must be justified through Christ parables or contemporary political narratives (Superman). Those with darker views must be tortured, in need of salvation (Wolverine).
Wonder Woman is completely and unabashedly sincere, shying away from authenticating its main character or her ideals. And that is undoubtedly the right choice, since the film rides entirely on Diana. There is no gimmick or style card to play, as is the case with Deadpool’s dark absurdity or the boggling visuals in Doctor Strange. There is only Diana, her motivations, and her choices.
This absolute focus on the character alone succeeds, in large part, because of Gal Gadot. The entire movie relies on her, and she delivers in spades. She is inextricably linked to Diana, inhabiting all facets of the character, including her naivety, strength, pride, and kindness. Of particular note is Gadot’s comedic talent, seen prior in Keeping Up with the Joneses. She continues to delight here, proving to be a very capable physical comedic actor, as well as her obvious skill in drama.
Chris Pine delivers one of the best performances of his career as the charmingly sheepish spy Steve Trevor. Importantly, he never takes the spotlight from Gadot/Diana, but elevates her character and performance with his own. His own emotional sincerity feeds into hers, the result of which is a palpable chemistry.
Beyond the performances, Wonder Woman‘s has two great achievements, the first of which is its action sequences. In an absolute breath of fresh air, cinematographer Matthew Jensen (Chronicle) allows the audience room to see what’s happening in a combat scene with wider shots pulled back from the action. The result is far more engaging action. The zenith of this is the “No Man’s Land” sequence, seen in the trailers, in which Diana crosses the hellish space between trenches. This scene will be talked about for a long time to come.
The pacing is Wonder Woman‘s other delightful surprise. Historically, pacing has been one of DC’s greatest weaknesses, with overstuffed and dragging second acts. Here, the first and second acts are nearly flawless, giving a sense of constant progression while still allowing the characters the breath in smaller, intimate moments.
Of course none of this would be possible without the obvious love and competence displayed by director Patty Jenkins. The depth with which the film explores the lore and mythology of Wonder Woman, the air tight first and second acts, and the consistently pure performance from Gadot are all thanks to Jenkin’s hand, which never feels absent for a moment.
The Bad: A rough third act
Wonder Woman, like many of the Marvel films of which it feels familiar, has a rough time in the third act. There is a successful twist, though its introduction feels jarring, and unexplained. Character motivation becomes muddled as plot supersedes organic development. And, again like many Marvel films, the antagonist feels incomplete. Luckily the third act is not terribly long, so the rest of the film can carry this misstep.
The Ugly: None. It’s about damn time.
It’s the first major woman led superhero film, ever. While Catwoman and Elektra both predate it, they were treated by studios as second fare, and therefore received as much. And neither of those characters has quite the same reach or meaning as Diana.
Wonder Woman has existed for 75 years, in many forms. Subversive wartime heroine. Feminist icon. Fashionista. Campy TV icon. Animated warrior. UN ambassador. Demigoddess.
No matter the version, she has always been a character who inspires, both in canon and the real world. And that does not end here. Within the film itself, it is made very clear the level to which Diana inspires others. Leading up to the film, social media was replete with pictures of young women in awe, or embrace, or both, of Wonder Woman.
And that is perhaps the greatest thing this that Jenkins, Gadot, DC, and WB have done with this property. They have created a world in which my littlest sister, who at the time of writing is a whole nine years old, can grow up having a Wonder Woman film in her life. She can choose to be inspired by one of the greatest superheroes ever conceived.
And that’s a beautiful thing.