Movie Review: Wonder Woman

From director Patty Jenkins, the first female filmmaker to helm a major superhero blockbuster, comes our first official cinematic introduction to the Amazonian warrior known as Wonder Woman. With the film detailing the mythical origins of its titular heroine, as well as her later exploits on the front lines of World War I, Wonder Woman not only paints a vivid portrait of a modern female hero, but crafts a throughly-compelling period-piece that stands as one of the most memorable comic-book films of recent memory. While it might struggle at times to deliver dialogue above the ordinary, the fourth feature in the DC Extended Universe soars with dynamic set pieces and a phenomenal leading lady.

At a time of great turmoil and violence on the battlefields across war-torn Europe, the mystical land of Themyscira remains concealed from the outside world of hatred and the horrors of mankind. Following the crash-landing of a war plane on the beach of the hidden paradise, the all-female Amazons who inhabit the island are soon thrust into a war they never wanted. Led by their queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and the Amazon general Antiope (Robin Wright), the Amazons struggle to accept that the so-called "war to end all wars" is truly their battle to fight. But after the naive daughter of Hippolyta, Diana (Gal Gadot), gathers the courage to follow pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) into the front lines of the first world war, the mythical realm of the Amazons is soon revealed to mankind. As Diana discovers her true potential as a goddess-turned-warrior, the world of gods and men will be changed forever.

After one moderately memorable Superman reboot, a glorified clash of the titans muddled by messy storytelling, and a star-studded yet underwhelming adventure centered around DC's plentiful rogues gallery, the cinematic universe focused on the characters of DC Comics finally found hope in the darkness with Wonder Woman. A film more than 20 years in the making, the tale of Diana Prince has been struggling to get the proper live-action entry she deserves for far too long. With the film now giving us one of the most promising DC films since Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, Wonder Woman proved not only that the character deserves her time on the silver screen, but also that the fearless warrior-goddess might be the figure of hope and justice the DC Extended Universe has been waiting for.

Right from the start, this film looked beautiful. Before going into the technical notions of how significant a character Diana Prince is, and how smart her live-action film debut truly is, I have to first mention the cinematic quality of Wonder Woman. From the chilling set pieces of war-torn Europe to the intricate detail of the "painting-come-to-life" storytelling of the origins of the Amazons, Wonder Woman was a breathtaking film from start-to-finish. While the previous DCEU films like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice have their own cinematic treats (mostly thanks to the visionary eye of director Zack Snyder), Wonder Woman presented not only an ambitious new color palette for the typically-grim franchise, but also some fantastic directing from Patty Jenkins. Presenting us with everything from the grand landscapes of the mystical Themyscira and the grim trenches of Belgium, to a handful of impressive fight sequences, there was a strange passion in the filmmaking that made the film feel altogether new and exciting.

Throughout the film, I felt a similarly strange passion in how Jenkins and her team handled the character of Diana Prince. Introducing us to the warrior-goddess beyond what we saw in Dawn of Justice, the film presented a brilliant balance between strength and fierceness, and innocence and purity. With the character of Wonder Woman acting as a symbol of female empowerment, the film never felt forced to jump straight to making her invincible or super-intelligent. Diana, in her adolescence, is far from invincible, rather she is quite vulnerable to the world she steps into. The character -- propelled by not only Jenkins' directing, but also Gal Gadot's dynamic portrayal -- never became the all-perfect heroine, impenetrable to the world and its horrors. She remained flawed because her innocence, but empowered by her will to never give in. Making for a compelling focus for the origin story, Diana is shown as always struggling with her ideology, but standing up for what she knows to be true when her time comes.

When I first heard about the character of Wonder Woman making her live-action film debut in 2016's Dawn of Justice, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot of Fast & Furious fame, I wouldn't say I was over-the-moon excited. While I had once enjoyed the character in the 2001 animated Justice League series, I knew little to nothing about the character. Following Gadot's casting, I was of course skeptical about how influential the character would be to the film, as well as how Gadot's acting would propel the superhero boxing match. Becoming, to my surprise, one of the best elements of the 2016 film, I retained an ounce of hope in the prospects of a faithful Wonder Woman film. When the moment finally came, and a female director had jumped aboard this ambitious venture to proceed November's Justice League film, I settled in a bit closer. With that, my interest in Wonder Woman as a character was reawakened with Gal Gadot's stunning performance in this film. Coming a long way from her minor role as Gisele in the Fast & Furious franchise, Gadot managed to convince me right away that she was the perfect pick to portray the Amazonian warrior. Teeming with a fascinating range of purity and fierceness, in both her beauty and her acting, Gadot quickly solidified herself as the film's dynamic yet naive heroine.

As Gadot propelled the film along with her struggle with ideology and her fearlessness to jump into the violent hell of World War I, the remaining cast also managed to deliver compelling performances. From Chris Pine's quippy but impassioned pilot Steve Trevor to Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen's fierce female warriors, the cast had an interesting dynamic of playful and poignant characters. With Lucy Davis' ditzy but hilarious Etta Candy balancing out the semi-melodramatic performances of Danny Huston and David Thewlis' antagonists, the film knew when to be funny and when to be dramatic. That of course played into the film being very balanced altogether, its tone and pacing wringing out the story's hope and lightheartedness, but leaving in elements of stirring emotion at the proper places.

Another memorable element of the film had to be its score. With its thunderous yet sensitive soundtrack booming to life as the camera panned over its many set pieces, from the hellish landscape of "No Man's Land" to the grimy streets of war-torn London, the film's score composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams managed to evoke an entirely different set of emotions than the film's performances. Reminiscent of composer Hans Zimmer's work on the Sherlock Holmes films, as well as the work of Gregson-Williams on last year's war drama Hacksaw Ridge, the film's music compelled the film through both its breathtaking action sequences and its slower, more emotional scenes. To little surprise, the inclusion of Zimmer and Junkie XL's dynamic Wonder Woman theme from Dawn of Justice, also brought a smile to my face more than a few times.  

Overall, while Wonder Woman was surely not a perfect superhero film, the film played it safe in terms of delivering a functional origin story for a well-deserving hero, and gave fans hope that the future of DC Extended Universe will be as bright and balanced as this film. Competent in its storytelling, and teeming with fantastic war-time set pieces and vibrant characters, Wonder Woman proved that a comic-book film can have fun with its mystical elements and not get bogged down by hyperrealism and unsatisfied expectations.

I gave Wonder Woman an 8 out of 10 for its fearlessness to finally bring the character to the big-screen in her full glory, its wartime aesthetic reminiscent of Captain America: The First Avenger, and its impassioned writing and characterization that, while at times a bit cliché, manage to sell me once more on the true worth of a strong-willed, female superhero.            


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