WONDER WOMAN is not great film because a studio finally decided that a woman led superhero film is an acceptable act. It's not great because it promotes a strong female lead while being a symbol for empowerment either. While those statements are accurate, that is not the base of praise upcoming. It's a great film because it's engaging, funny, beautifully shot, dramatic when need be, features a pitch perfect performance by Gal Gadot as Diana of Themyscria, and finds itself comfortably next to Richard Donner's SUPERMAN and Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT. It's that good.
Diana Price was the best part of the misfire known as BATMAN V SUPERMAN, where the film started off on the wrong foot when the title was chosen, and she proves here that it was no fluke that shined despite the mess surrounding her. Gal Gadot embodies a Diana that is learning, a bit naive, and full of energy to do the right thing. She is full of wonderment when seeing simple, yet new to her, sights such as snowfall. When despair is the environment that resides, she measures it and tries to make sense of the horror. She is also ready to absolutely whoop someone's ass when pushed. From start to finish, she is the centerpiece and unlike her fellow Justice League members to this point, she is allowed to take pride in what she is accomplishing and does not see it as great burden that one must only suffer through. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, but it's her job to ensure the sun will indeed rise tomorrow.
As director, Patty Jenkins achieves what all had hoped for in this release by bringing a humanity to DC's universe of Gods and monsters, while also making it a large, bombastic, summer adventure. She takes time on the character building scenes to provide a connection to the talent, then delivers a ballet of action with Diana on center stage looking graceful and deadly. The action sequences are never confusing either. You always know where you are and see the effort put into the choreography while not having it forced down your throat with overly flashy camera movements that shout "Look at me, look at the camera thing we did!". This is the closest that anyone has come to matching Richard Donner's SUPERMAN in terms of a correct tone where "dark and gritty" was not plastered on every inch of celluloid, digital or not. The myth of Diana is embraced without cynicism. That is not a knock on Nolan either. He understood what Batman is. When that tactic is misused though, it can be disastrous. Jenkins balances the wonder of the woman with the horrors of war all while containing the ever dangerous origin story to a smart, effective opening that never feels familiar or tiresome. And guess what, it's actually funny in many spots. It never feels like it "trying" to be funny either. Nothing in the film feels like a round table of executives sat around and decided it needs to be this or that. The film simply exists on its merits.
With that praise aside, there is a third act problem that all superhero films face and, not counting a clever play by Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE, seem to fail at cracking a satisfying finish in terms of facing off against THE villain. Punches and large objects are thrown back and forth onscreen until the hero lands the final blow. It never really goes beyond that. The final conflict does dish out a fair bit of character history revelation though, so on that side, the unavoidable monologuing at least has important information being delivered regardless of whether it is much of a reveal. Additionally on the plus side, this film achieves a level of investment into its characters that many others in the realm of superhero, fail at, which aides in making the finale have some stakes. Much of that is due to the chemistry between Chris Pine's, Steve Trevor, and Diana herself. While Marvel did excellent work with Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter in Captain America, DC films, Nolan included, have never really notched an impressive mark when it comes to on-screen romance. Here, Pine and Gadot are given ample time to learn about one another and we are shown, not simply told, why these two would find a connection. From Steve Trevor's position, it's not exactly rocket science. Gal Gadot as Diana, and in practically any scenario I can imagine, is breathtakingly beautiful but also independent and strong while having a sweetness and caring that would win over any human being, or God for that matter. The real work is making me believe that Trevor would catch more than Diana's glance after getting over that fact that he is the first man she has ever seen. Pine, while to his own description is "above average" compared to most males, has a heart and pulse within his character that matches wonderfully with his onscreen counterpart. Their difference in upbringing could not be more different, but their inner workings are beat for beat. That all creates a meaningful care towards the finale. Full marks to the script on that note.
Reversing the engines a bit, the opening scenes of Themyscria provide the film with some gorgeous vistas and introduce the method of shooting the action that will carry for the film's remainder. For the story portion, Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen do excellent work with building a foundation for Diana to grow from. Myth is introduced and the pace is established. We also begin to like Diana immediately which goes far going forward.
The smaller part players here also are given time to shine in spots. Lucy Davis is quite fun as Etta while the endlessly classy David Thewlis brings a sense of dignity every time he steps in front of the camera. Our front billed villains, Danny Huston as Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as Dr. Poison, are not given too much to work with but they fit the mold really well in this pulp type setting. Steve Trevor's buddy trio of Sameer, Charlie and The Chief, bring a rounding out to the hero circle with each their own personality, charms, and even weaknesses.
In short, this film not only works but really excels throughout most its run-time, which is not short mind you. Third act issue aside, WONDER WOMAN is a film that should be appreciated for its acceptance of fun and excitement while also making the timeline of human events seem respected. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman and DC has finally put together a feature film worthy of the name on the billboard all led by director, Patty Jenkins. Let's hope this is the start and not the exception to future offerings in the DC universe.