Review: Wonder Woman
While one could argue that a broader social meaning has been foisted onto this film and this character, none of that would really make a difference if the film was not quality. Representation certainly matters and knowing that little girls and young women will see themselves in Gal Gadot's brilliant portrayal warms my heart to the nth degree. But above all else, the film has to stand on its own merit to earn praise, and girl, does it ever! All too often these films fall flat for a lack of a compelling villain, overly serious dialogue and an inability to focus on a self contained story. Wonder Woman exhibits none of these flaws in what should be a universally adored film.
The film picks up following the events of Batman v. Superman, as Bruce Wayne sends Diana Prince (played dynamically by Gal Gadot) a photo he discovered that appears to show her days as Wonder Woman. The film then unfolds as she recalls the events leading up to the photo. We start with her as a young child, yearning to become a warrior like her mother and the other inhabitants of her all-female island home. The film moves quickly to her teenage years as she begins to grasp her powers as a unique weapon created to fight the gods. The film shifts when she reaches adulthood and rescues a pilot, Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine) who crashes on the island's shores.
Steve Trevor is a British Spy who was at that time being chased by German soldiers. In the process of rescuing him, Diana comes to realize that she must leave her island to stop World War I. Together, they traverse through multiple European warfronts as Diana fully embraces Wonder Woman and her responsibilities to rescue humanity from itself.
The movie works on any number of levels as it establishes very early on what it cares about and is trying to do. War, as a human condition, is bad. Diana's realization of this fact is slow to take, as she initially finds pleasure in battle, but once she understands the loss that is possible, it becomes the underlying fuel for Wonder Woman's eventual efforts. The ravages of conflict are on display throughout, with timely references to PTSD and the ways in which people and places never really recover from war. It is this level of perspective that makes the movie hard to fault. Regardless of how its technical merits and stylistic choices strike you, the film has something to say.
And while the film is riddled with strengths, it did feel a touch too long at 141 minutes. These days, with budgets that spill into the hundreds of millions of dollars, studios feel the need to pack the experience. The result feels slightly bloated, but still a far cry from some of its peers with far less to recommend. Part of the reason it still works so well is that its villains are given purpose even before we meet them. This isn't Wonder Woman happening upon some colossal threat in some haphazard way; this is Wonder Woman trying to fulfill her purpose by seeking out the foils she was created to dash.
I can't say I wasn't worried even before the opening credits. As company logos unfurled across the screen, one for DC Films featured the other members of the Justice League as a not too subtle reminder that this film is a part of a broader universe. My biggest fear these days with the big budget super-hero fare is that the studios use them as trailers to sell future iterations of the franchise. This movie introduces that character and this storyline opens the door to future stories. Gone are the days when films like this could be expected to stand on their own. So it was genuinely refreshing to see Wonder Woman get a story that stands on its own and relies on nothing but the charms of Gal Gadot and the moviemaking prowess of Patty Jenkins. If this is the only film you ever see in the DC universe, you have made a good choice.
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