I grew up reading Marvel comics, not DC, so most of what I know about the lore of Wonder Woman is what I absorbed from the 1970s Lynda Carter TV show plus vague memories of the Super Friends. I’m aware that the character has had many reboots and reinterpretations, but my perspective is that of many viewers who come to the movie with only a small amount of background knowledge. I think most of them, like me, will love it. (Spoilers, with a warning, appear about halfway through this review.)
“Wonder Woman” is a very satisfying film, even if it isn’t perfect. I have some logical quibbles with some of its elements in the beginning, and it is not exactly subtle; however, the notes it hits ring true all the way through. By the end, tears of both sorrow and joy were trickling down my cheeks.
There’s a lot of building up and following through, from the quiet, simple, opening narrative to the firm statement of purpose at the end. It doesn’t have the snappy patter of many Marvel movies, but the emotional payoffs are pretty great.
Diana, Princess of Themyscira (the Amazon island), is of course the main character, and she is perfect. She is naive in some ways, especially at the start, yet that very lack of cynicism acts as a shield as she plows her way through the world of men to reach her goal. She is darling as a stubborn little girl and breathtaking as a woman who refuses to take “you can’t do that” for an answer. She’s matter-of-fact about things and tender-hearted about people, in the best way.
The supporting cast is also great. I adore Diana’s awesome Aunt Antiope, the Amazon general, who realizes that the best way to protect the princess is not to shelter her, but to teach her to defend herself (and others). But the big surprise for me is Steve Trevor, since I’ve had a ho-hum reaction to the Star Trek role of the actor who plays him. Here, Steve is patient with Diana’s mythological worldview without being condescending, passionate in his convictions, smart enough to know when to back down and go around an obstacle, and brave enough to keep fighting, no matter what. There are a couple of getting-to-know-you scenes that could have come off as cheesy, but the performances of Gal Gadot and Chris Pine make them fairly light character-based humor instead.
There are a quite a few nice interactions like that. Many of the other supporting characters have good moments, from Hippolyta and Etta to Sameer and The Chief. I’ll save the villains for after the spoiler warning.
There’s a lot of lovely imagery in the movie, particularly in sunny Themyscira (which balances well with the gray battlefields later). I’m really pleased that director Patty Jenkins takes her time establishing the Amazon society before Diana decides to leave it. Solid-looking fighting gear for Diana and the other Amazons, and details like practical short fingernails, help keep everything believable.
The fight scenes are good — I’m not a fan of slo-mo, but it’s not used enough to really get under my skin. Acrobatics look convincing, impacts feel jarringly hard, the mid-movie No Man’s Land scene was spectacular, and the final battles conveyed all the pulse-pounding heft that they required.
The film is pretty immersive throughout. I emphatically agree with the decision to set everything but the beginning-and-end framing device during World War I instead of World War II; the poignancy of knowing that The War to End War did no such thing brilliantly underlines the theme.
The movie is pretty long, at 2 hours and 20 minutes, yet I sat through it twice, enthusiastically, on opening weekend (cried both times, at different moments). It may help to know that although there are fun images at the beginning of the end-credits, there’s no coda/stinger.
And now, SPOILER TERRITORY!
First some minor irritations, and then more about what I loved:
What happened to the warship that passed through the magical veil shrouding Themyscira? The only Germans that interacted with the Amazons were the ones that landed the small boats on the beach, but why didn’t the gunship fire on the women who’d just killed its men? True, it looked like it was listing pretty badly, so maybe it just sank, but it was a loose thread that didn’t need to be there.
How exactly do the Amazons speak modern English? Yes, they say they study and speak lots of languages, but it’s stated that once Diana leaves, she can’t return, so it’s not like the Amazons have been sending out people to take samples from the changing world, a la Shangri-La. They don’t have a magic mirror to watch the world, either, or they’d know about guns.
I always thought the Lasso of Truth just compelled people through magic, but here, the goddess Hestia’s gift heats up fast, so it’s basically a torture device that scorches Steve into divulging more than name, rank, and serial number. No, he’s not permanently damaged, and he doesn’t even seem to resent it, but it’s not very pure-hearted.
However, I am not particularly bothered by the fact that Diana and Steve’s sailboat trip from Themyscira to London took only one night. Maybe Themyscira is in the Mediterranean, but there are clear indications that there are funny things going on with distance and time (e.g. sightings of an armadillo, not native to Europe, and an aurochs, long extinct). I’m willing to handwave the magic there.
I said before that Steve was both patient and passionate, and I’ll expand on that now: I LOVED his arguments with Diana. They did not make him a jerk or an idiot just to have him disagree with her; by his lights, he was being perfectly reasonable when he told Diana that they had to stay on mission instead of stopping to help all the refugees that they saw in Belgium, as well as when he later tried to get her to help in his side quest (which to him was the main, achievable goal).
MAJOR SPOILERS HERE:
Returning to the supporting characters, I loved the villains, too. Gen. Ludendorff was just a good scenery chewer, but Dr. Maru showed some delicate vulnerability along with her poison-gas obsession. And the fake-out with Sir Patrick, who seemed to be an ally but turned out to be the boss villain instead, was great! His bureaucratic cover reflected how evil is sometimes banal instead of bombastic. My only problem with him was his moustache; I could believe a clean-shaven Greek God, or a full-bearded one, but he just didn’t look very godlike with that soup strainer.
The movie did a fabulous job conveying Diana’s bewilderment when she killed the man she thought was Ares, and the war continued anyway. Steve was great in his attempt to convince her that even though people may not be innately good, and may not deserve to be saved, it’s not about that, it’s about what YOU believe. She still couldn’t process her disillusionment, and so he ran off to save the day himself. Later, Steve’s actions and the memory of his words helped motivate her to resist the real Ares’ attempt to seduce her to the dark side/Hate (or as he called it, the Truth), and win the final battle against him, because she believed in Love instead. It was beautiful.