For nearly a decade the Marvel Cinematic Universe has carefully constructed an interconnected roster of characters and worlds that has resulted in one of the most successful film series in the history of film. DC Comics, the Coke to Marvel’s Pepsi, at one point had the upper hand in the cinematic comic adaptation game, thanks to heavy hitters Batman and Superman. However, after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy wrapped up, DC has scuffled to keep up with the quality and popularity of Marvel’s efforts. Films like Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad tried to make up for lost time by forcing character developments and being, generally speaking, not great; and Warner Bros. executives simply haven’t seemed to realize that it takes years and several films to build the kind of all-encompassing stories that Marvel has been so good at telling.
Yet DC can finally claim a victory over Marvel with Patty Jenkins’ new film, Wonder Woman. Somehow, even with ten years of product and a more than capable option in Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Marvel has never produced a female-lead superhero film, a notion that’s ridiculous at best and downright sexist at worst.
Luckily for DC, they have a universally recognized and criminally underused property in Wonder Woman Diana Prince that they finally decided to give the big screen treatment to. They also found the perfect actress in Israeli actress/model Gal Gadot. Perhaps best known for her recurring role in the Fast and the Furious films, Gadot made waves last year with her scene stealing turn in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice in her first appearance as Wonder Woman. Given a feature-length starring role to work with, Gadot does not disappoint, delivering an earnest and magnetic performance as the titular heroine.
Directed by Patty Jenkins (who also directed Charlize Theron’s Oscar winning performance in 2003’s Monster), Wonder Woman is a rousing origin story that feels like a merger between Marvel entries Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Beginning in the mythical land of Themyscira, a hidden island that’s occupied solely by Amazonian women, Diana Prince’s childhood and early life are told with just the right amount of cheese. Diana was allegedly sculpted out of clay and given live from the god Zeus, but God of War Ares took out Zeus and all of the other gods and goddesses before being banished with Zeus’s dying efforts.
As a little girl, Diana was forbidden to fight as the only child of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), but her determination to learn the ways of an Amazon warrior are fueled by her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright). As Diana grows older, her prowess as a fighter and her curiosity of the outside world finally come to a head when a World War I pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) accidentally crash lands right outside the island while fleeing German troops.
These events lead to Diana leaving Themyscira to try and aid in what Trevor describes as “the War to end all Wars”, fearing that Ares has somehow returned and must be behind the efforts. Once Diana and Steve are in the real world, the bright and heavenly look of Prince’s home island are replaced by the dank and dingy palettes that have permeated throughout all other DC Cinematic Universe, though appropriately so as the setting changes to WWI London. Diana is determined to take down General Erich Ludendorff (perpetual heavy Danny Huston), who, along with Doctor “Poison” (Elena Anaya), plans on using a deadly new gas to wipe out the populations of allied nations. With the blessing of Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), a speaker for peace in England’s war cabinet, Diana and Steve set out with a squad of ringers to try and save the day.
Wonder Woman is by no means revolutionary as a superhero film, outside of its having a female lead, but the film injects some much needed fun into the ever-morose world of DC. Chris Pine delivers a great supporting turn as Diana Prince’s love interest and comedic foil in Steve Trevor. He helps Prince adjust to the world outside of her mythic homeland, and there are several fish-out-of-water moments that provide some much needed lightness to the proceedings. A squad of three of Trevor’s trusted allies, a spy, a smuggler and a marksman (played Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock and Ewen Bermner respectively), add to the film’s sense of humor whilst adding diversity to the film’s cast.
The film features several entertaining action set-pieces, and watching Wonder Woman do her thing is particularly enjoyable. Prince takes down her enemies with courage and conviction, as she comes to grips with the harsh realities of the real world. The World War I backdrop also makes for an interesting setting, as the Great War of old is often neglected in modern film, and certainly has never supplied the environment for a superhero flick.
While this critic is not convinced that one strong effort can save DC’s universe building ambitions, or make the forthcoming Justice League as successful or significant as the Avengers films, Wonder Woman at the very least proves that there can be viable comic book films with female leads. The film makes a star of the charismatic Gal Gadot, and gives girls all over the world a big screen idol of their own to emulate. For those reasons alone, Wonder Woman should be considered a rousing success.