Let’s get this out of the way first – Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman. The Israeli-actress is so convincing as the do-gooder Amazon princess that I wanted more. Her wonderfully earnest performance brings out the best in the rest of the cast while anchoring the film in a stark WWI reality. It’s a credit to Gadot and Director Patty Jenkins that they accomplished this. Diana is as much an idealist as Superman but her film employs it with much more candor while Supes has been bogged down by Snyder-smashing masculinity. Diana is not only the superhero we need in 2017, she’s the superhero we’ve always wanted.
The first 30-minutes of the film take us to Diana’s home island Themyscira. The island is the land of the Amazons – female soldiers created by Zeus to defend humanity from the evils of Ares – the God of War. Here is where we meet Diana as a young girl, drawn to the teachings of her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) – the leader of the Amazon army. This draws the ire of her mother, the Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) who wants to protect Diana from the battlefield as well as her true self. Still – she persists, training in secret until the Queen has no choice but to indulge those impulses – even against her better judgment.
The world of Themyscira is some of the best (if not the best) world building in a superhero film ever. Jenkins builds a deep mythology against the backdrop of white sand beaches and beautifully rich, green hillsides. It’s alien and altogether human – awe inspiring barely does it justice.
After a particularly intense training session Diana retreats to a cliffside to witness a German airplane crash-land in the sea. She dives in to rescue the pilot and bring him to shore. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is an undercover American spy – working for the British government – who has infiltrated the German military to thwart a chemical attack on the allies while a peace treaty was negotiated. Unfortunately for the Amazon’s Trevor has led a large contingent of German soldiers to their shores, leading to a spectacular seaside battle – shot with more visual fidelity than any Marvel or DC film that’s come before it.
This sets in motion Diana’s first foray into the world of man – here she believes she will find the corrupting force of Ares – whom she must defeat and restore order to humanity (thus ending the first World War.) Steve isn’t sure what he’ll find but he certainly understands the power he’s wielding with Diana by his side.
From here Jenkins thrusts us into a World War I ravaged Europe that she realizes just as beautifully as Themyscira. She initially uses it as a fish-out-of-water device for Diana to witness the power of men over women and her complete lack of self-awareness is refreshing and hysterical. Diana finally trades her Wonder Woman costume for threads of the day but that doesn’t stop her from consistently interrupting Steve’s interactions with his military superiors. She believes the faster they can get to the front – the faster she can defeat her enemy.
Gadot and Pine’s chemistry carries the latter half of the film as Diana pushes closer to her goal. Jenkins brings them closer as her purest intentions are made clear (and holy Moses, do they earn that on-screen kiss.) One battle scene in particular is stunning as she draws German gun fire to herself so the allies can advance. Jenkins uses slow motion and speed ramping better than anyone since the Wachowski’s in The Matrix. Her action scenes (save for a pretty rough ending) do away with the quick cuts of the Bourne-era and give us a sense of space and timing, I can’t stress how beautiful it is.
All criticism of Wonder Woman aside, the best part of seeing this film was seeing it with my wife – and still discussing it days later. We’ve had so much fun breaking it down – something we’ve never done with a tentpole superhero release before. This is the first superhero movie to feature a female superhero lead AND a female Director. We shouldn’t be discussing that in 2017 but alas here we are. Jenkins and Gadot have crafted something powerful and timeless while also intensely modern. As we scrape the bottom of the barrel of the patriarchy in America, Diana is exactly the icon we need.