Review: Wonder Woman Is an Unapologetic and Sensational Superhero Film

Considering how long we’ve waited to see the DC Comics character get her own live-action feature film, and how much it’s been debated, Patty Jenkins made bringing Wonder Woman to life look easy.

[Editor’s Note: Spoilers to follow.]

Early reviews said Wonder Woman was the DC movie universe’s best film to date to which others replied, “That’s not a very high bar.” Both are true but Wonder Woman didn’t just meet that bar, it pole vaulted over it while doing a 360 spin and throwing a spear. It is one of the best comic book superhero films period.

Created by William Moulton Marston (with great influence by Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne) in 1941, Wonder Woman has traveled up a very steep hill to 2017. Directed by Patty Jenkins from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg and story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs, our current Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is depicted as a superhero in the most traditional sense. You may have seen Jenkins comparing her to Christopher Reeve’s Superman and that is spot on.  She’s naïve by design but it’s not presented as a negative trait. She has a lack of experience in many things but she’s charging forward and using the skills she already has to overcome the challenges put before her. And she really, really wants to save people.

Wonder Woman is an origin story but one that is slightly skewed from what most of us know. She was still formed from clay (very shocked they kept that, though we don’t see it happen) but in this version her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) had help from Zeus instead of Aphrodite. In fact, while we get a gorgeous telling of the creation of the Amazons themselves, there are no female deities given space in the film. Zeus and Ares are all that remain after infighting. It’s an odd choice considering we begin the film with an island populated by remarkable women. Our introduction to the Amazons on Themiscyra is momentous and I marveled at them throughout their too-brief segment of the film. Considering just how many diverse and talented women were cast as Amazons, I was slightly disappointed to see only a few had speaking roles. I would love to watch a whole film about them.

But of course, we needed to get to the crux of the matter – “Man’s World” invading theirs. A force of German soldiers follows Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) accidental entrance into Themiscyra’s invisible boundary and the Amazons are quick to dispense of them, but not without some casualties on their side. Diana, having lived a very sheltered life (for what Hippolyta thinks is good reason), is quick to want to help once she realizes there’s a greater threat at work – World War I. The journey she embarks on with Steve is filled with humor, grim reminders of the toll of wars, and hope.

While Wonder Woman is canon bisexual in DC Comics, there isn’t explicit mention of it in the film. There is, however, a delicious line served with simplicity by Gadot when Steve asks Diana about her creation. The Amazons know all about procreation and physical pleasure you see, but after study they concluded “men are necessary for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.” Because, well, duh. Obviously some of the women on the island are getting it on with each other. Speaking of which, there was a brief moment after Antiope (played as a supreme baddass by Robin Wright) is killed where Menalippe (Lisa Loven Kongsli) runs to her side with a distinct level of emotional distress. It made me think perhaps they were hinting at there having been a relationship between the two but it probably wouldn’t even be enough to get a mention in next year’s GLAAD Hollywood report if it were so. Though not specified in the film either, the two are traditionally depicted as sisters so it may be as simple as that.

A romance does develop between Diana and Steve though it’s not heavy-handed and filled with trope reversals. Steve himself is not heavy-handed and played with a lot of heart by Pine. He’s already a hero in his own right, taking on the role of spy, but he assists Diana on her path without condescending (even when he doesn’t agree with her). Together with a band of other recruits – Lucy Davis’ Etta, Eugene Brave Rock’s Chief, Ewen Bremner’s Charlie, and Saïd Taghmaoui’s Sameer – they make for a interesting, if somewhat underdeveloped, team.

While certainly not a comedy, Wonder Woman has just the right amount of humor you’d like to see in a comic book film. And it doesn’t feel forced. A lot of that is credit to Gadot’s earnest delivery (no matter what emotion). Babies! Ice cream! Dancing! Her new discoveries are a joy to behold. That said, she has a lot of negative things to discover in Man’s World as well. Our villains of the film aren’t as villainous as I expect my comic book foes to be but they serve a particular purpose. Both Danny Huston’s Ludendorff and Elena Anaya’s Dr. Maru are there to prove just how evil mankind can be. Even with Lundendorff’s hand-waved strengthening gas from Maru, neither of them are a true match for Diana. That’s also due to the fact that they aren’t the real villain. Ares was Diana’s target all along, though she wasn’t quite correct about where he’d show himself. It’s not the biggest shocker when David Thewlis’ Sir Patrick is revealed as the God of War but it is a refreshing take on the usually hyper-masculine character.

The final fight is CGI-heavy, which some are taking issue with, but it didn’t bother me. It was a big epic bad guy fight but it wasn’t just that. It revealed more about the character and her heroic journey and it was interspersed with Steve’s sacrifice. Compared to the more grounded feel of the rest of the film it definitely sticks out but seeing Diana come into her own was beautiful to watch. In fact, any time Diana went really heroic it brought tears to my eyes. Even when others were too cautious to forge ahead, she resolved to put herself in harms way to help. That’s a hero. That’s Wonder Woman.

Speaking of which, we get “Diana” and “Diana Prince,” but she’s not called Wonder Woman in the film. That makes sense of course but I hope Lois Lane gets to dub her so in Justice League (coming in November), I can’t think of anything else that would feel right.

After I got out of my Wonder Woman showing I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. For years. Wonder Woman was finally here. And it was good. No, it was great. It far exceeded my expectations and left me truly happy which, for someone who hasn’t picked up a comic in over a year, was a really nice feeling. It reminded me of the true power of superhero stories and of course female-focused stories in particular. There were so many women in this film and so they were able to have varied personalities, friendships, rivalries, and more. It’s refreshing and something I hope Hollywood is keeping a close eye on. Also, it didn’t hurt they reminded us of the power of love, in all its forms.

The critical (and likely financial) success of Wonder Woman may help open some eyes as to the power, and potential, of these stories but it doesn’t mean the fight is over. Wonder Woman is not a fluke but it’s also not the be-all-end-all of stories told by and about women. There are so many stories to be told and so many different perspectives they can be told from. In the female superhero realm we still have slim pickings but with Warner Bros’ Batgirl and Marvel Entertainment’s Captain Marvel on the way, and what looks like to be a significant role played by the Dora Milaje in Black Panther, I’m excited for what’s to come. Wonder Woman will help the cause but let’s remember to keep speaking loudly for that next foothold. And the next. And the next. It’s what Wonder Woman would do.

18 Responses to “Review: Wonder Woman Is an Unapologetic and Sensational Superhero Film”

  1. I didn’t want to be the first to comment, since I’m nominally critical…but I’ve given myself a rule on this one: given how important the movie is, and I completely agree, while I have mixed feelings, I’ll only talk about the things I liked…or the things I’d like to poke fun at. For example, Gal Gadot was impeccably cast (although I still wish someone had simply hopped into another dimension where all of Alex Ross’s paintings were of real people and hired the woman from that world), and my favorite part of the movie had to be when Diana learned that the purest form of love is, apparently, murder.

  2. WheelchairNinja says:

    Did anyone else feel like parts of the lore were kind of intentionally vague? Jill says the clay origin was kept, but I interpreted that as a fairy tale made up by her mother. But then I thought Lupin meant she was a full god, only given to Hippolyta to protect from Ares, while other people understood that the Queen and Zeus had her the ol’ fashioned way à la the Nu52. When I saw it the second time I realized the line was worded in just the right way that you could interpret it either way—same with Diana being told “if you leave you may never return to Paradise Island.” The way Connie Nielsen delivered the line (and I’m pretty sure her faux-Israeli accent was part of it) left it up in the air whether it meant “you will never be allowed back” or “you might not be able to find your way home again.”

    • Oh I only meant they “kept” the clay thing as in they included it at all (I think Ares in the lasso later makes it pretty clear that Zeus had a more direct hand in her “creation,” unless he’s also able to overcome the power of the lasso). When a WW film had been discussed for ages the “made out of clay” thing was always one thing pointed too as TOO WEIRD for people to understand so I was shocked they said it at all. That said, even if she was the product of a birth from H an Z, she’d still technically only be a demi-god so ¯_(ツ)_/¯

  3. A pal noted on Twitter that apparently she IS called Wonder Woman in the film, but in French:

    • WheelchairNinja says:

      At least that. That was one of my biggest annoyances when I saw the credits and realized she was only listed as Diana!

  4. A pal noted on Twitter that apparently she IS called Wonder Woman in the film, but in French:

  5. […] thought Wonder Woman was sensational and audiences came out in big numbers to see the Amazon Princess on the big screen in her first […]

  6. shelleybear says:

    Let me know when we get She Hulk, Big Barda or Zatana.

  7. I’d say this is the best of DC’s mega-franchise movies, but I don’t want to damn it with faint praise. It’s a legitimutantly good movie in its own right.

  8. Alexa says:

    I’m still very annoyed there was zero mention of any goddesses. Its part of why I didn’t fully love the movie among other things. But it was good and had some really warm moments and I loved every part with Wondy wielding her lasso, just some issues that prevented me from loving it as a whole.

    • Erin Snyder says:

      Yeah, that bugged me. Having Diana – and the Amazons’ – power come from Zeus is a pretty big thematic misstep. I still loved the movie, but it was a bad choice.

    • Its handling of the Olympians was the worst part of an otherwise great movie.

    • yuna says:

      Hestia gets a mention during the Lasso of Truth interrogation scene, since she’s the one who awarded the lasso to the Amazons and to Diana. I thought that was cool, since the lasso gets a lot of use in the movie. I don’t think we get to see any female goddesses in the painting flashback scenes, though… which is too bad.

      • Oh wow, totally missed that!

      • Alexa says:

        Nope not one mentioned. Its just very obvious the screenplay was written by a bunch of dudes. Patty Jenkins did a great job but she was confined to a kind of flimsy script imo…

      • WheelchairNinja says:

        There were some, but they didn’t really stand out. Not like Athena standing bravely against Ares or anything cool like that.

  9. VindicaSean says:

    So, y’think we can finally get a damn Black Widow movie outta Marvel, after this? I’m seeing it Sunday with my wife regardless, just going by the early buzz (and anything that pisses off The Guardian in the UK is right in my book anyway).