Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Wonder Woman is wondrous, equal to, if not better than, any other superhero film I've seen. I can't recall if I ever read any of the comics, and watched very little of the '70s TV show. I know she's an Amazon princess, but was she the daughter of Zeus? Did any of her other incarnations exhibit such superhuman strength and powers? Not that it matters, and it takes almost the entire movie for her to realize all the powers she possesses. The character was introduced in comics in late 1941, and in most of her early adventures she fought on the side of the Allies against the Axis Powers in World War II. For some reason, this film is set during World War I instead.
We first saw Gal Gadot in last year's disappointing Batman v Superman (I did see it but couldn't work up the interest to review it). This time we get her origin story, as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). As a young girl she longed to train as a warrior, but her mother forbade it, even while knowing it was her ultimate destiny. Her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) disobeyed and began training her in secret, and Hyppolyta finally relents when she sees Diana's progress. The queen still wants to keep her protected and isolated on their hidden island, but Diana's inadvertent use of a powerful weapon makes that point moot. The barrier around the island breaks down, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands a hijacked German plane, and the world of men, and their war, invades the island.
I could nit-pick quite a bit about the plot, beginning with what happens, or rather what should have happened, when pursuing Germans also make it through the barrier. I won't though, what's the point? This is a story about heroic deeds and great sacrifice. Brave warriors will die and others will be tested to the limits of their endurance. We won't let a bit of logic interfere. There is some light humor related to the clash of cultures, the fact that Steve is the first man Diana has seen, along with her fish-out-of-water story when they reach London. That is short-lived though, as they get into the heat of battle quickly. They clash over tactics. Steve, being a spy, wants surreptitious surveillance and infiltration, her sense of honor in the midst of the carnage compels her to brazenly take the fight to the enemy head-on. Her audacity wins out, and they help liberate a Belgian town with a surprise attack. Her march through No Man's Land is probably the highlight of the film. It's where we see her take on the mantle of hero, inspiring her comrades to follow, and eventually motivating the others who have cowered in the trenches far too long. She's not the hero just because she wins the battle, but because of her compassion for doing the right thing, ending the suffering of innocents.
No hero accomplishes anything in a vacuum, and there are more heroes in this film than just Diana. Several smaller, quieter moments are as effective in setting the tone just as much as the action scenes. Steve assembles a team of rogues, all of whom are willing to face great danger in spite of obstacles. Sameer (Taghmaoui) knows the color of his skin casts him as less than human to some, but is still willing to fight for justice; The Chief (Brave Rock) acknowledges that Steve's people have stolen so much from his, but still knows there is greater evil in the world; Charlie (Bremmer) is valiant in battle even though his nights are haunted by the many men he has previously killed. This is not just a strong feminist story, even though its lead and its director are women. Steve Trevor embodies purity of spirit and sacrifice for the greater good, without regard for reward or accolades. He also knows Diana is wrong that it is only the god Ares who's to blame for the war. All men have within them the capacity for darkness if they succumb to the wrong influence. They also have the capacity for greatness if they put the benefit of all over their own safety.
It's not perfect (what is?), and it might be a bit long, although it would be hard to say what should have been cut. Hippolyta's telling of the creation of their island is short enough, rendered in effective minimalist animation. Perhaps some of Diana's fight with Ares, but then again, they are both gods, so difficult to defeat. Other than that, everything flows smoothly, each character gets their moments, not much in the way of padding, plot-wise. As much as I have been growing weary of overblown CGI action fests, I'm happy to say this one is an exception. Highly recommended, and it will rightfully be the #1 movie, probably exceeding even the high projections.
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