Wonder Woman Review: We Finally Have a Great DCEU Movie
I approached Wonder Woman with a sense of distrust and fear. This was a film that could save the DCEU before the release of Justice League: Part One, an upcoming picture that I have little faith in. Wonder Woman has a credible director at the reins, an iconic character as the star, and a track record of poor DC films behind it. Given how many times the DCEU had disappointed me before, my expectations were low. When I heard that audiences loved the film, I had flashbacks of the initial fan reactions to Batman v. Superman, and the letdown that would follow. I expected this film to disappoint me, until I woke up on Tuesday morning. I saw the Rotten Tomatoes score at 97%, and nearly broke into a dance out of sheer joy. I knew that just because critics seemed to enjoy it didn’t mean that I would enjoy it, but I remained hopeful nonetheless. And I can finally tell you that the DCEU produced a film that balances its character, action, and themes with a sense of elegance and fun. Wonder Woman is a great film, and although it contains some flaws, it is a film that I expect audiences to fall in love with.
Wonder Woman tells the story of its titular character, Diana Prince, one hundred years before the events of Batman v. Superman. After a man named Steve Trevor crashes near her home island, Diana learns of a Great War and leaves with the intention to stop it. The Great War she learns of is World War I, and once she leaves her homeland Diana is greeted by the disturbing reality of a war-torn Europe.
The world she finds doesn’t please her, and there is a clear reason for this. Although Diana is clearly intelligent, and arguably the smartest character in the entire film, she is incredibly naïve. Because of this there are times when Diana’s reaction to the war frustrated me, but I think this was a smart choice. Wonder Woman made the wise decision to make its main character flawed, rather than a perfect hero who alone can save the world. This created opportunities for thoughtful interactions between characters.
The best example of this Diana’s relationship with Steve Trevor. Trevor is a spy for British intelligence who has been fighting in the war for years, and because of this his outlook is very different that Diana’s. Wonder Woman is a romantic idealist throughout much of this film, while Trevor acts as more of an realist who doesn’t try to save everyone. The two are idealist compared to others in the film, but their beliefs vary enough to produce some thought provoking dialogue. Their interactions also serve to entertain while the film takes time to establish its characters and settings.
In fact, half of this film functions as exposition for the characters and it is a refreshing change of pace for a superhero film. When The Avengers premiered in 2012, there was heavy criticism against the subsequent Marvel films for separating the heroes after they had already assembled. Now however, the novelty of team films seems to be wearing off. Since The Avengers debuted we have had two more Avengers films, two Guardians of the Galaxy films, X:Men Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, and later this year we will see the Justice League film.
Deadpool, Doctor Strange, and Logan thrived in reclusion from their own cinematic universes. The writers and directors could tell stories they wanted to tell, rather than stories that needed to tie in with seven other films.
This is not to say that cinematic universes are always bad, as Captain America: Civil War worked so well because nearly all its characters had been previously established.
But Wonder Woman thrives just as Logan and Deadpool did: it established its own world with its own characters, and told a great story using those as a backdrop. And given that Wonder Woman would have had to connect with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, two films that disappointed many audience members, it makes the decision to seclude the story even more sensible.
But aside from the writing, there is a craftsmanship on display here that isn’t present in other DCEU pictures. The acting is great across the board, the tone and music work to establish the world, and the action proves the be the best the DCEU has seen yet.
Here, director Patty Jenkins shows that she is better at filming action than most directors in Hollywood. The slow motion did annoy me by the end, and the climax does resort to a heavy amount of CGI. But the action works well as a whole for two key reasons. Firstly, Jenkins stayed away from using flashy imagery throughout most of the fighting. This gives the film a very realistic feel, because even though you don’t believe the action could happen in the real world, you believe that it is happening within the story.
The action at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse was so overblown, and used so much CGI, that I didn’t believe it was happening. The climax of Batman v. Superman suffered the same setback.
In Civil War however, even though I know that people can’t grow fifty feet tall, I believed that Ant-Man had turned into Giant-Man during the airport battle. The scene didn’t force me to remember that I was watching a film.
Wonder Woman works the same way. It is fictional, and nowhere near the realism of The Dark Knight. But the action, while clearly surreal, does not break the illusion of cinema.
Because of this there are many scenes from this film that are destined to be iconic, and my personal favorite was the image of Wonder Woman blocking a barrage of bullets as the men behind her advanced towards enemy lines.
The second reason why the action works so well is because we care about the characters who are fighting. This is something directors seemed to have forgotten: if we don’t know who’s fighting, the action will never reach its full potential. When the action finally starts in Wonder Woman, we care so much about Diana that we feel involved in the moment. We don’t just want to watch bullets fly, we want to see her succeed.
Wonder Woman makes the audience feel like a participant in the action, rather than a passive observer, just like any good action film should.
The one problem is the villain. He presents a theme that we have seen before, and is himself a villain that we have seen before. The villain hardly hinders the film, but given that I have only loved one supervillain in the past year (that being the villain from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), it was disappointing to see another weak antagonist in a superhero film.
Even with a weak villain however, the film manages to present a compelling story with a fantastic protagonist.
It is also important to note that this is a female led superhero film directed by a woman, projected to gross $95 million this weekend. That makes this film important beyond the fact that it is a great entry in the DCEU. Young girls are going to watch a film starring a woman, directed by a woman, that portrays a strong female character.
In short, the DCEU has finally, finally produced a film worthy of its title character.