Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero universe has had trouble finding its groove. Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad all underwhelmed critics and failed to excite audiences. The first three entries in the studio’s DC Comics cinematic franchise also fell short of the $1 billion mark that Christopher Nolan’s last two Dark Knight films and so many Marvel movies with lesser-known characters crossed with relative ease. Is it any surprise audiences are left wondering when – and possibly if – the studio will ever have its first bona fide hit?
Wonder Woman may be that hit, if it performs as well at the box office as it does on the screen. It isn’t perfect, but it is a fun, focused movie that’s a joy to watch.
The most exciting, genuinely heroic film so far in the studio’s universe of DC Comics superhero movies, Wonder Woman is helmed by Monster director Patty Jenkins, with Fast and Furious franchise actress Gal Gadot reprising the title role after making her debut as the character in 2016’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Gadot’s performance in the latter film was widely regarded as one of the high points in the otherwise disappointing mope-fest, and her first solo feature confirms that what she brought to that film was no fluke.
Wonder Woman is exactly the sort of movie the DC Comics movie-verse has needed from the start.
Wonder Woman offers an origin story for Gadot’s Diana, princess of the Amazons – a race of women created by the god Zeus and sequestered away on a magical island where they train to protect the world from Ares, the god of war. After rescuing the American spy Steve Trevor (played by Star Trek actor Chris Pine) from a downed plane off the coast of the Amazons’ island, the cloud of World War I soon engulfs both the island and Diana’s destiny, drawing her into the world of man. She sets off (with Steve) on a quest to end the war by finding and defeating Ares, who she believes to be hidden among the ranks of the German army.
Diana’s first adventure in the war-torn world of mankind is filled with learning experiences – not all of them pleasant.
Behind the camera, Jenkins’ relatively short list of big-screen credits made it anyone’s guess how well she’d handle something like Wonder Woman – a film featuring one of the most popular superheroes of all time. However, the first trailer for the film received widespread praise and ignited a level of optimism among audiences that had been sorely lacking in the studio’s superhero universe after the trio of disappointing films.
Fortunately, Wonder Woman offers far more than just a good trailer.
Beautifully shot with a refreshingly wide palette of colors, brisk pacing that makes it feel shorter than its 140-minute running time, and a satisfying story that keeps the focus where it matters most (on Wonder Woman), the film is the most complete superhero package offered up by the studio. Jenkins clearly has an eye for cinematic action, and Wonder Woman shines especially bright when the camera follows Gadot’s sword-wielding, lasso-swinging, shield-charging heroine into battle.
Rumors about the demise of Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero universe have indeed been exaggerated.
As Diana, Gadot is calm and capable, brimming with the sort of confidence that sells the film’s more outrageous super-heroic moments and makes them cheer-worthy instead of campy. The Fast & Furious 6 actress rewards Jenkins’ faith in her – a trust exemplified by how little time the camera spends on anyone else in the story – by diving into the role deeply enough to make it her own in much the same way many of Marvel Studios’ leads have done.
That’s not to say that Wonder Woman is without a fair share of pesky problems.
Pine’s smooth-talking spy is a relatively bland presence, and his chemistry with Diana feels forced at best, and non-existent the rest of the time. Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright’s island-dwelling Amazons, Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope, are under-utilized, given how talented both actresses are – and the trio of eccentric freelance agents that accompany Diana and Steve on their mission behind enemy lines are given depth in one scene and forgotten in the next. Even the villains played by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya are short-changed.
Basically, there’s not a lot going on for anyone except Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman also suffers from a similar issue that was problematic in Batman V. Superman and some of the Marvel movies, in that its climactic final battle relies too heavily on computer-generated visual elements. There’s an impressive, tangible physicality to Gadot’s fight sequences throughout much of the movie, only to have Wonder Woman‘s grand finale stretch that suspension of disbelief too far, and end up feeling like a video-game brawl.
Rumors about the demise of Warner Bros. Pictures’ superhero universe have indeed been exaggerated, and Wonder Woman proves it. Despite the film’s shortcomings in certain areas, Wonder Woman is exactly the sort of movie the DC Comics movie-verse has needed from the start. It’s exciting, beautiful, and most importantly, memorable for all the right reasons.
It’s taken a long time – some would argue too long – to finally get the Wonder Woman movie audiences and fans of the character deserve, but the final product is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest superheroes of all time.
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