Wonder Woman for a lot of people is the breaking point for DC Films. If it's good, maybe there is a shot at this universe. But if it's not, maybe it's time to give up. Well, luckily, Wonder Woman is good.
Themyscira is beautiful. The land where the Amazons live is hidden away from the rest of the world -- man's world -- and Diana, Princess of the Amazons dreams of being a warrior as a young child. She stands to watch her Aunt Hippolyta -- strong performance from Connie Nielsen -- train warriors, dreaming. The amount of time chosen to be spent in Themyscira is great. The eight-year-old Diana played by Lily Aspell is great and her relationship with her Mother, Antiope -- played by a wonderful Robin Wright -- is built mostly with young Diana. Here director Patty Jenkins builds the mythical side of the DC Universe, as well as showing the strong Amazons and their polar opposite world to what's happening outside their island.
Hidden away from the rest of the world the Amazons don't know what is happening outside. But war is raging outside their doors, the war to end all wars, World War 1. Steve Trevor while attempting escape from the German's flies through the island's hidden barrier and crash lands on the shores of Themyscira. By this point into the film, it is established the Amazons aren't too fond of outsiders because Ares, the god of war had raised hatred into the hearts of man. Zeus, with the last of his strength, saved the Amazons and helped hide them away from the rest of mankind, and this makes Diana's eventually decision to go help mankind and hopefully end the war even greater.
Most important to this film is Diana, Wonder Woman herself and the performance by Gal Gadot is perfect. Diana is wonderful, she's full of heart but naive to the bigger world. She's strong and caring and her motivations are pure-- all she wants to do is help. Diana's relationship with Steve grows along with the rest of mankind as she moves through her new adventure in the world. And Gal is amazing. She made an impression in Batman V. Superman, but here, she cements herself as Wonder Woman once and for all.
Diana's and Steve's relationship in the comics has always been an important one. It's because unlike most romances in comics, she saves him first. From then on, they are quite often seen as partners on missions even and they work well together. Chris Pine and Gal pair together perfectly to encapsulate this feeling. The two have amazing chemistry together and it helps for the characters stories. Especially by the time you reach the film's credits, the story told feels earned between these two, their relationship never feels corny or pushed. Patty often holds long shots between Chris and Gal where the story is told through the actor's eyes, and it's wonderful.
Moving Wonder Woman's usual original story from World War 2 to World War 1 was an interesting choice that pays off greatly. It's a great place to introduce Diana to the world as she learns that the world isn't as black and white as she perceived. Setting Diana's entry to the bigger world here also allows her progress by the time we meet her in Batman V. Superman to mean so much more. She has many more wars to witness mankind go through yet, let alone what this one does to her.
The interpretation of The World War here isn't glamorous and it doesn't try to paint a clear 'they're the bad guys, we're the good guys' either. Although of course, Diana is on a certain side, there is a certain level of ambiguity eventually reached. The casualties of war aren't hidden away as children and mothers are left screaming in bunkers, people flee from their houses and soldiers are left screaming with missing limbs. It's done tastefully, it isn't gory, but it's represented to bring a bigger understanding of the war and what Diana doesn't get at first: she can't help everyone.
The first two-thirds of Wonder Woman are excellent. The last one, however, is very different to the rest of the film, and not in a good way. The last third is very much (for a lack of a better term) the Zack Snyder inspired finale. It's a giant CGI battle that was very obviously filmed in a giant green room. Here Wonder Woman suddenly starts looking a lot like 300. The biggest issue here is that reaching this video game boss battle ending never felt like it was coming, nor did it feel necessary. The main villains up until the finale are Ludendorff -- Danny Huston, trying not to play William Stryker again -- and Dr Maru -- Elena Anaya -- serving as quiet but serviceable antagonists in the background. The Doctor is working on a poison that will be able to kill anyone, even those wearing gas masks and she's working with Ludendorff who's a General, or something in the German army. They provide enough threat to move the characters forward. Diana's mission is to end the war and you could have easily written and ended with these two antagonists that didn't need to end in a twist and shove into a CGI crapfest. As I've said before: you don't need to end your comic book movies in a giant CG battle just because that's the norm. If there was any part of the story that needed re-writing, it was this.
What makes that final battle sequence so annoying is that only a moment before we have a fantastic action sequence as Diana steps up onto the battlefield and leads all the men into battle. It's fantastic and the action is shot well, barring a few too many slow-motion moments.
The importance of that scene though has more to do with the overall importance of Wonder Woman as a feminist icon, and how it can't be understated how important this film was for the superhero genre. It's the first female superhero lead film, and also the first female-directed one-- and of course, fittingly. Diana doesn't take too well to being cat-called or thrown out of rooms with men speaking simply because she's a female and of course she finds the implication she can't go to war because of her gender also quite infuriating. She's was created as a hero for woman, and this movie lives up to that title. She is a hero that stands not only against the evil in the world but also for equality in the world. And in a world where people are upset a cinema chain in America are doing a female only showing and raising money for charity -- yeah, people are upset about that -- it only goes to show that Diana is still an image for something, even today.
Wonder Woman has a fantastic first and second act that nearly falls apart in the finale. The characters and performances save any misgivings though, especially Gal as Diana. When she first steps onto the battlefield and leads the men in a charge against the enemy, I started to tear up a bit. They've done Wonder Woman right. Seeing all the photos of girls dressed up at premiers and being excited about this film, it excites me to know they'll love it and have this hero. Thank you, Patty Jenkins, you did well.