Superman’s got nothing on this woman.
In an industry as sexist as Hollywood, Wonder Woman is a blessing both to the cinema and to gender equality, a film that propels its female protagonist as not only just as capable as the men around her, but in many scenes, is better suited for more difficult tasks. Even before watching the movie, Wonder Woman has faced scrutiny just for being a female superhero in a male-dominated genre. How is it that by 2017, we’ve already had six Batmans, three Supermans, Spider-Mans, Hulks, and Punishers, but we’re just now getting our first Wonder Woman on film? If that isn’t an example of under-the-radar sexism in Hollywood, then what is?
In this prequel to Wonder Woman’s debut in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman follows Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazonian born on the hidden island of Themyscira, where hundreds of her Amazonian sisters live, play, and train into fierce warriors. As a child, her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her stories about how the island was created after Zeus stopped his son Ares, the God of War, for corrupting the souls of mankind. With his dying breath, Zeus created the island that Diana and her Amazonian sisters live on now, and they’ve been at peace ever since.
One day, Diana witnesses a plane crash-landing into the ocean. After diving into the sea to save the pilot’s life, Diana finds out the pilot’s name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and she learns that he’s fighting in a devastating world war to end all wars. Rationalizing that Ares is somehow behind this, Diana suits up in her island’s sacred armor, lasso, shield, and God-Killer sword and sets out with Steve Trevor to find and kill Ares, saving all of mankind from destruction in the process.
If you’ve been keeping up with the DC Cinematic Universe as of late, then you know the series has been struggling for quite some time. Man of Steel, for instance, was extremely divisive among its fans, with a seemingly equal amount of viewers both loving and hating it. Batman V. Superman was just all around terrible and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that actually did enjoy it. Suicide Squad was equally polarizing, but it at least had some great performances and fun action to go along with it. Overall though, the DCEU has been very inconsistent with their properties and its core fan base is equally questioning their commitment to the series. At this point, the future of the DCEU is looking very uncertain.
The best praise that I can give Wonder Woman is that it works as a rebirth for the DCEU: a clean slate, if you would. That’s because Wonder Woman breathes new life into the franchise, telling an epic story brimming with action, adventure, excitement, heart, humor, and relevance. In a day and age filled with cold, bleak, heartless blockbusters, Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air we all desperately needed.
The heroic tag-team behind this success is the dynamic duo Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot, the film’s director and lead respectively. Jenkins, who’s last time directing a feature film was with 2003’s Monster, comes forward here as a master storyteller, handling both visually spectacular scenes and emotionally grounded moments with a surprising amount of finesse. The action, of course, is fast-paced and enthralling, with Wonder Woman charging through German soldiers and toppling over buildings like the aftermath of a Superman battle. Yet, I’m more impressed by the moments leading up to the action, the softer scenes revealing Diana’s character and her finding her place in a constantly shifting world ruled by male conflict and ego.
In her first scenes adjusting to life on Earth, Diana is coerced to try on big, clumpy, awkward dresses to conceal herself in a mostly conservative society. When she accidentally wanders into a war room, all of the men in there suddenly stop conversation to ask why a woman was in their presence. My favorite of these scenes involves Steve’s secretary Etta explaining to Diana what a secretary is. “I go where he tells me to go, and I do what he tells me to do,” Patty says. “Where I come from, that’s called slavery,” Diana responds.
But it isn’t just ideas of feminism and gender equality that Jenkins elaborates upon. This is also an expansive drama on the decreasing human condition, man’s capacity for violence and conflict, and ultimately loss of innocence. Through battlefields and warzones, Diana feels like a child fighting for ideals she believes in, yet are hopelessly obsolete in the face of bullets and bomb fire. If you live in a world where your ideas don’t exist, what do you then? Do you change with the rest of the world, or do you stand firm in yourself, waiting for the world to change with you instead?
Gadot remains emotionally persistent throughout the picture, hitting all of the right notes that she needs to at the right moments. We got an early look at her talents in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, where she was one of the few saving graces of the picture. Here she is on full display, not only embracing the rough physicality of the character, but also her courage, loyalty, honesty, perseverance, and goodness. She’s not just a strong action hero: she’s a strong character, fleshed out with her own dreams, ideas, aspirations, and insecurities. We need more superheroes as compelling as Wonder Woman in the movies, regardless if they are male or female.
This is quite simply one of the best superhero films ever made, let alone one of the best DC films. I put it right up there with The Dark Knight and Superman II, albeit for clearly different reasons. In a world where our entertainment revolves around chauvinism and sexual domination, Wonder Woman stands proud, strong, and adamant in that women can be just as empowering in our media as men can be. And so it is.
The greatest moment of this picture comes when our heroes are walking through the trenches of No Man’s Land, an explosive hellhole where there’s death and destruction in every which way and direction. In this moment, Diana desperately wants to help the people suffering around her, but the men tell her that it’s impossible. That’s why it’s called No Man’s Land, because no man can cross it. But a woman could, and she did.