There’s a moment in Wonder Woman when our titular character is walking through the trenches that so distinctly define WWI. All she sees is pain, bloodshed and fear.
She’s following a group of men with the intent of bypassing the front lines of the Great War because their specific mission requires it. But she cannot. With great power comes great responsibility to borrow a line from another superhero.
“It is our sacred duty to defend the world. And it’s what I’m going to do,” she says.
She takes off her coat to reveal her iconic uniform and as she walks up the steps to face certain death (At least for any mere mortal), she has a look on her face that suggests, “Don’t worry, I got this!”
What follows is our hero deflecting bullets, providing cover fire for her men and a thrilling sequence in a village where she snaps guns in half like they were kindling, use her shield in ways that would make Captain America curious and toss an armored car like it was nothing.
This spectacular scene not only defines the character of Wonder Woman, but director Patty Jenkins’ film as one that is fun, exciting and light.
The first three films in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has followed a distinctive tone: darkness. With Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. has crafted a world where cynicism, corruption and cruelness are major themes. Is it all part of a grander plan or simply reactionary to what Marvel is doing with their cinematic universe?
Who knows. But what Jenkins does is use those themes as obstacles in Wonder Woman’s way. But it doesn’t all come at once.
Remember, this is an origins story so we have to see our character from the beginning in all her naivete.
Young Diana is born in a world of privilege. The daughter of Zeus, Diana is princess of the Amazons on an island paradise full of women. But from an early age, she yearns to be a fierce warrior.
And she will get her chance. A pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on her shores and unwittingly brings a hoard of Germans with him. The Amazonians make quick work of the men, but Diana witnesses the death of a close friend which motivates her to follow Trevor back to civilization to confront the war to end all wars.
It is here where Wonder Woman resembles two Marvel properties, Captain America and Thor. You have the young idealist looking to make a difference and end the war in any way she can and a fish out of water struggling to learn basic things in the modern world such as how to dress or how to act.
The difference between Thor and Wonder Woman however is of course, gender. Jenkins plays with early twentieth century stereotypes against women by having our main character be told what to wear or when to address men. But rather than feel forced or political, Jenkins maneuvers threw this subtext with grace and efficiency. Again, Diana doesn’t see stereotypes or the cruelness of men because she has yet to be desensitized by it. She’s pure, which leads to a terrific arc throughout the film.
Setting the film during WWI is also an interesting decision. This was the first mechanized war where you didn’t see who you were killing. Jenkins not only highlights this thought, but uses it as motivation for our main character. War is always senseless in her mind. Especially when done in a dishonorable way.
She has a singular vision; stop the men or man responsible for the atrocities going on in the world. Along the way she witnesses these horrible things which certainly effect her, but also drive her even more.
This allows the action sequences to have purpose and meaning. They’re not mindless filler to even out the runtime.
The major concern heading into Wonder Woman was whether star Gal Gadot could carry the film on her shoulders. The physical performance was never in question. But could she deliver dialogue, convey different emotions and make you root for her? She doesn’t speak the greatest english and she’s never led a film on her own. These were valid concerns going in. But overall Gadot is terrific. She plays the character with great conviction and grace and she’s surprisingly funny.
Her chemistry with Pine is also fantastic. Jenkins perfectly balances their relationship throughout the film by having it be more of a respected partnership rather than a love story. She needs him to help her navigate through this unknown place. But in the grand scheme of things, she’s perfectly fine on her own.
“What I do is not up to you,” she says to Steve at one point.
The finale features the usual third-act mayhem for a superhero film, but unlike Zack Snyder, Jenkins is a bit more coherent in her direction of the bigger set pieces. There’s a lot of slow motion shots and while they don’t quite have the style (Or budget) of a Snyder film, Jenkins uses them to great effect.
Back in March, Fox released Logan which is the antithesis of Wonder Woman. That’s a movie about a superhero at the end of his run who has to deal with all the demons he’s collected over the years.
Wonder Woman is just getting started. Reminiscent of Richard Donner’s original Superman, Wonder Woman is refreshingly earnest, fun and inspiring. It’s the type of crowd-pleasing summer movie we don’t see too often any more.