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After Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad all seemed to fall short of viewers’ and critics’ expectations, it was easy to get the impression that the DC Extended Universe needed a little onscreen redemption.
So let it be known: Wonder Woman has saved the day.
In the title character’s first solo film, and the first blockbuster superhero film directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins), actress Gal Gadot and a strong supporting cast deliver a truly impressive performance, delivering an abundance of combat and explosion-fueled action with equal doses of whip-smart humor and cutting social commentary. Wonder Woman strikes a balance between laughs and explosions that a DC Extended Universe film has yet to achieve. Add the representation of an empowering female hero that we’ve been waiting for since the dawn of superhero film franchises, and you’ve got a hit.
Say it with us: It’s about damn time.
Wonder Woman tells the origin story of Diana (Gadot), an Amazon warrior-princess on the hidden, all-female island of Themyscira. As we learn, Diana is adamant about learning to fight from early childhood, although her mother and ruler of the Amazons, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), disagrees. Diana is heavily influenced, and later trained, by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), who also happens to be the fiercest warrior the Amazons have ever known. The Amazons live undisturbed by the outside world, training for the day that an age-old enemy returns to Themyscira.
Enter Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American spy who crash-lands his plane into the waters off of Themyscira and is plucked from the wreckage by Diana. He tells the Amazons about the horrors of World War I, which Diana sees as her chance to fulfill her duty to protect mankind from the Amazons’ problematic enemy: the god of war, Ares. Despite his thinly veiled disbelief in her story, Trevor takes Diana back to London with him, where she is utterly, adorably amazed by everything she sees, from babies (Amazons are made from clay by Zeus) to women’s clothing (Themysciran fashion doesn’t venture far beyond leather tunics and metal bracers).
Diana is eager to get to the front of the war, where she’s sure Ares must be. With the help of Trevor’s assistant Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) and Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), Diana, Trevor, and a team of Trevor’s misfit friends make their way to the Belgian front. It’s exactly where Diana wants to be, where the fighting is at its most intense and General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his top chemist, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) are on track to bring Germany to victory and kill everyone in their path, depite the country’s dwindling supplies and starving troops. Faced with a conflict much greater than she’d ever expected, Diana must decide if mankind deserves her help.
The overwhelming theme of the film isn’t just Diana’s immense power, but her naivety and then discovery of both her abilities and the nature of mankind. She leaves Themyscira as an embodiment of her secluded island—hopeful, principled, and full of love. The transition into Western society amazes and amuses her, leading to some of the film’s best laughs and jabs at societal norms—particularly those that confine women to subordinate places. Even though Wonder Woman debuted in the comics around World War II, the writing team’s decision to drop her in a 1918 setting facilitates a commentary on sexism and women’s rights through Diana’s reactions to the norms outside of Themyscira. When a bunch of stuck-up Allied diplomats try to exclude her from their business, she persists. In one scene in particular, she decodes a language that no man is able to decipher, proving that she’s not what the men expect her to be.
At first, Trevor tries to hold Diana back. But in the end, he’s confident in her, working with her rather than trying to control her. His taking a step back allows her unparalleled strength to shine through as she herself discovers it throughout the film. Their relationship adds lighthearted humor and deeply affects Diana, both as she discovers the modern world and especially as she finds that mankind may not be all that she thought it to be. Gadot and Pine’s chemistry on-screen made a relationship between a mortal and demi-god seem complementary, depite Diana’s supernatural power, and is one of the most resonant themes that lifts Wonder Woman beyond mere special-effects schlock.
Of course, there is plenty of that: Like its DC predecessors and Marvel competitors, Wonder Woman delights in plenty of fighting and explosions, although it doesn’t cross the line into “too much” territory until the end. While the vast majority of Diana’s fights, especially with the Amazons, are as balletic as they are badass, the end of the film becomes a little bit too CGI-heavy. Even as Diana discovers the extent of her martial capabilities, the scenes start suddenly and ultimately feel over-the-top. And even though the villain’s development is abbreviated at best, Gadot’s undeniable charisma still leads to a satisfying end.
Overall, Wonder Woman is a formidable bit of redemption for DC, and will likely be a relief for everyone rooting for the Extended Universe franchise.
DC Entertainment’s Wonder Woman, written by Allan Heinberg and directed by Patty Jenkins, hits theaters on June 2, 2017.