Unlike most women my age, I did not grow up with any special affection for Wonder Woman. Since I didn’t read comic books, my exposure to superheroes was limited to the occasional movie and television show; I cut my teeth on Adam West’s Batman, Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Christopher Reeves as Superman and Spider-Man on The Electric Company (who honestly freaked me out a little because he didn’t talk). Honestly I wasn’t all that interested in superheroes when I was I kid; to the extent that I cared, I was far more invested in Batman then I was in Wonder Woman. On some level, I kind of resented not Wonder Woman herself, but that idea that I should like Wonder Woman best just because she was the only female option. I was glad that she existed, but wasn’t going to be forced into liking her just because we were similar. My gender politics were nuanced even when I was young.
Even though I wasn’t a huge Wonder Woman fan, as I got older and superhero movies became box office catnip, I bemoaned the fact that no female superheroes were given the chance to headline their own movie. Sure there was Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005), but those existed before the modern resurgence of the genre. The lack of female-led superhero movies coupled with failure to incorporate female superhero characters into promotion and merchandising was problematic. I knew it was only a matter of time until this changed – thankfully plenty of people have called out Marvel and DC on this double-standard- and when they announced that Wonder Woman would get her own stand-alone film I was elated – and also a little concerned.
Adapting Wonder Woman has been tried many times in the past and none of them got off the ground. Anyone remember the much ballyhooed Wonder Woman TV series from 2011? Even written by David E. Kelly and starring Adrianne Palicki, the pilot never aired. The CW also attempted a Wonder Woman series that never came to fruition. Joss Whedon wrote an entire script for a Wonder Woman movie that never got off the ground. I’m sure that other men and women tried as well. Wonder Woman is capable of vanquishing a lot of enemies, but she couldn’t seem to escape herself from development hell. There was a lot attached to getting a Wonder Woman adaptation right, not only to appease the usually rabid fanboy/girl base, but because what Wonder Woman represented. Any adaptation was going to be under a microscope and held to a ridiculously high level of scrutiny. Rightly or wrongly, the reception of a Wonder Woman movie was going to be a barometer for female-led superhero movies going forward. There was a lot at stake.
This led to my larger concern – that the DC universe was the company nurturing Wonder Woman to the big screen. While the Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman movies were great, once creative control for the DC film adaptations was handed over to Zack Snyder they have basically gone to hell in a handbasket. Man of Steel and Suicide Squad were both terrible and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was downright unwatchable – it was so bad that for the first time in years I didn’t even bother to go see a new superhero movie in the theater, instead waiting until it was on HBO. Admittedly, the only ray of light in Batman v. Superman was Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, but I didn’t have a lot of faith that this was the crew to deliver on a Wonder Woman movie. I would have had a lot more trust if it was a female Marvel character breaking the modern proverbial glass ceiling; the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t perfect when it comes to depictions of female characters either, but they at least have a history of making good movies. I look forward to Marvel movies, but mostly I endure the recent DC films. With so much on the line with Wonder Woman, I didn’t necessarily think that the people who messed up Superman should be entrusted with such an important mission. Female-led superhero movies should have the right to be as crappy as some of their male-helmed counterparts, but unfortunately we aren’t there yet.
Thankfully Wonder Woman was a solid movie – not great, but good. It’s definitely the best of the recent DC movies, but that is a pretty low bar. The promise that Gadot showed in Batman v. Superman is fully realized as she makes the most of her starring vehicle. She’s wonderful throughout the film, doing a nice job of balancing Diana’s ability to kick ass with her naiveté about the workings of the outside world. And my goodness, kick ass she does; though conscious choices were made to keep Wonder Woman PG-13 so that young fans could go see it, Gadot and her female co-stars completely deliver on all the action sequences. This shouldn’t be a surprise, of course, but the power of this representation should not be lost. Even my cold, dark heart warmed a bit to see Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, and others depicted as fierce warriors who are more than capable of taking down a battalion of men. I could have done without all the slow-motion dubbing of some of these sequences, which is fine in moderation but was used far too often throughout the film. I mean, this isn’t The Matrix. The final climatic scene also relies a little too heavily on the CGI, but that is par for the course with these types of movies.
Wonder Woman covers a lot of ground, covering Diana’s childhood on Themyscira, among the Amazons. As a young woman, Diana rescues pilot Steve Trevor (Pine) who crashes on the island. Upon learning that World War I is waging on outside of Themyscira, Diana resolves to leave with Steve to kill Ares, the god of war, whom Diana believes to be responsible. When they arrive in London, Diana is something of a fish out of water and begins to realize that her understanding of mankind and their inherent goodness may not be completely accurate.
Gal Gadot also has excellent chemistry with her co-star/love interest Chris Pine, who as usual is a delight to watch. The way that they depicted the relationship between Steve Trevor and Diana Prince would set a lot of the tone of the movie and I think that they found a pretty good balance. Steve is more than capable in his own right, but he has no problem taking a back seat to the even more capable Diana. Gadot and Pine play quite nicely off one another, as evidenced by the fact that one of the funniest scenes in the movie was improvised between the two of them. There’s been some criticism that Steve was unnecessary for the film or that he steals the hero spotlight from Wonder Woman. Those complaints are not without merit – I have never understood why they have to foist a love story into almost all these films – but that wasn’t the lens through which I saw the film. For me, there were more than enough heroics to go around in the film and Wonder Woman didn’t play second fiddle to anyone.
One of the major strikes against my full enjoyment of Wonder Woman was that it was just way too long. Clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, there were definitely moments in the film that I thought dragged. Personally I thought too much time was spent on her origin and some of the subplot with Doctor Poison probably could have been cut. I checked the time on more than one occasion, which is a clear indication that I wasn’t fully engaged. I thought the story was a little clunky too; a lot of characters are only vaguely drawn, including Steve’s buddies that join their team later in the film. Gadot’s performance minimizes a lot of other potential issues with the writing. DC still insists on wading in the emo end of the superhero pool, but for once that focus makes sense. Diana’s journey over the course of the film is an emotional one and while I still prefer a few more laughs in my superhero films, Wonder Woman felt less dour than many of the other recent DC films.
Overall, I did enjoy Wonder Woman, though probably a little less than most people. This film is a star-turn for Gal Gadot and has proven that there is definitely an audience for female-led superhero movies. It’s easily the best of the recent DC slate and I’d probably put it middle of the pack when taking all the Marvel movies into consideration. Wonder Woman is a solid movie that has hopefully paved the way for more women in the superhero universe – both in front of and behind the camera.