It took three mediocre-at-best outings that generated more than a little bit of apathy out of many audience members, but the DC Extended Universe has finally created a movie that’s worth seeing. Yes, the bar was set that low. Wonder Woman clears it pretty easily. It’s so nice to come out of the cinema not feeling like you just wasted two and a half hours of your life being disappointed by a DC superhero movie.
Set primarily during the first World War, Wonder Woman is an origin story for its title character, whose real name is Diana (Gal Gadot). We watch her as she grows up on a hidden island consisting solely of Amazons, learn tales about Greek gods, and eventually follow her alliance with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who crashes just off the island’s coast and spews tales of countless deaths and new weapons that threaten to wipe out all of humanity. Deciding that she is the only one who can stop the war—believing that Ares, the god of war, is behind it—she heads off to London and eventually the front lines to throw her lasso into the ring.
Most superhero movies offer escapist entertainment and not a whole lot more. Wonder Woman succeeds because it does that but also marries it with an exploration of human nature. We often joke about whether or not an action movie does this—often as a self-deprecating comment about how critics look too deeply into things that aren’t trying for that—but Wonder Woman actually pulls it off. Diana comes from a secluded island, one with a strict society that rarely deviates from its rules. Once she leaves it and begins interacting with and viewing mankind, she gets to experience humans—both pros and cons. We view it from her fresh eyes and learn a little bit, too. It doesn’t shy away from things like the horrors of war, which is something that these kinds of movies often forget about. How many people died, without so much as a second thought, in Man of Steel‘s climactic fight scene again?
Wonder Woman also, thankfully, works as a fun action movie. Not only does it throw in a splash of humor every now and then—most of which comes from the culture clash and misunderstandings between Diana and the humans—but it’s also got some strong action scenes. They (unfortunately) sometimes suffer from Zack Synder-esque slow-motion, and some of the CGI isn’t the greatest, but they’re well-shot and edited, stylish, and somewhat creative. They entertain, and watching Wonder Woman get to kick all sorts of tail is very enjoyable. She was the sole highlight of Batman V. Superman, and you get a lot more of that here.
Wonder Woman is the first movie in the DC Extended Universe that isn’t, at best, mediocre.
If there are problems with Wonder Woman, they come from one of two areas. The first is that, since it’s still part of the DCEU, it has to adhere to the aesthetics and style that’s already been established—and that’s not the greatest thing in the world. It works here since it can contrast the bright, colorful island scenes with the grim, grimy, darkness that comes from the war, but it would’ve been nice to avoid some of that slow-motion and maybe have a brighter costume. The second is just how similar it feels to Captain America: The First Avenger. They’re not scene-for-scene clones or anything, but there are a lot of similarities—to the point that it’s actively noticeable and distracting.
It’s odd to think that Wonder Woman might be the best acting that Gal Gadot has ever done, but it’s true. It’s the first time she’s really shown any sort of chops—or had to. There was a lot of doubt about whether or not she’d pull it off, but she absolutely does. This is the kind of star-making turn that actors dream of, and she nails it. Chris Pine works really well as the love interest, and reliable actors like Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, and Saïd Taghmaoui do good supporting work.
Wonder Woman is the first movie in the DC Extended Universe that isn’t, at best, mediocre. It’s a great movie that delivers both the escapist action one would want from most superhero movies as well as some unexpected thematic depth as Diana experiences both the good and bad sides to humanity through fresh eyes. It’s stylish, entertaining, and contains a star-making turn from Gal Gadot. What a good movie.
Conclusion: Wonder Woman is entertaining as a pure action movie while also delivering surprising thematic depth.
Recommendation: Even fans who have given up on the DCEU will find something to like about Wonder Woman.